Is there really anything more American than ice cream? Sure, some may argue that there’s baseball or apple pie. But really, nothing beats a scoop of melting ice cream on a hot summer day or a banana split dripping with chocolate and caramel. It’s this very thinking that prompted Nicholas Morgenstern, the man behind Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, to launch his flagship shop’s new piéce de résistance, a soda-fountain-esque sundae counter that’s straight out of 1950s suburbia.
“Most Americans, when they think of eating ice cream in a shop,” he says, “think of a scoop shop—it’s what we know, it’s what works, and it’s what’s sustainable.” But as much as his business has been about innovative flavors and good ice cream, Morgenstern, whose background is as a chef, also wanted to highlight the process of making his treats and the experience of eating them.
Within a few months of opening his original Rivington Street shop on the Lower East Side, almost five years ago, the founder started searching for a place to house his second location. He had the vision and the plan, but it wasn’t as simple as that. “I own the business by myself,” Morgenstern explained, “and I don’t have a trust fund.” Even when he finally had the money to buy a chunk of New York real estate, it wasn’t easy to find the right spot. In 2018, though, he found a 2,600-square foot space on the corner of Houston and LaGuardia, and by the fall, Morgenstern’s new flagship was open to the public.
The Greenwich Village shop remains true to the vintage Americana aesthetic but is spread over a long stretch of storefronts. Most of the white and blue space is devoted to the traditional scoop shop, where customers can choose from Morgenstern’s famous Durian Banana, Salt & Pepper Pinenut, and Cinnamon Whiskey Caramel, among others. There are a few indoor tables and an expansive patio to sit and enjoy the treats, and a separate shop next door sells to-go pints, pies, ice cream cakes and souvenirs. And as of this weekend, the counter began serving a host of new sundaes, all 88 flavors of ice creams, and for the first time in Morgenstern’s history, cocktails.
Some menu items will strike visitors as familiar, with an entire section allotted to American classics like the Hot Tin Roof, Brownie á la Mode, and of course, a banana split. “These are all things you can find almost anywhere,” says Nicholas, “but they’re often made with less than great ingredients.” At the new counter space though, only the richest of chocolate sauces and the ooziest of caramels are poured atop the creamy ice creams. These classics also include a Grasshopper Sundae and a Butter Pecan Sundae, which Morgenstern notes was always his grandpa’s favorite. “Butter Pecan is such an old man flavor,” he jokes.
Another part of the menu lists “Morgenstern’s Delights” — four original ice cream creations. There’s The Rosenthal, named for “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator and Morgenstern’s customer, Phil Rosenthal, and dubbed “the best chocolate peanut butter anything ever,” and there’s The Vegan Mango Sundae, which fuses mango passion rice ice cream and cashew sorbet, topped with whipped coconut cream and champagne mango, pineapple, orange and lemon. The Delights also feature the Vietnamese Coffee Tiramisu, a $15 feast of Vietnamese coffee and mascarpone salted hazelnut ice creams, Vietnamese coffee-soaked lady fingers, with condensed milk, mascarpone cream, cocoa powder and shaved chocolate, and finally, the Black & White Profiteroles, an homage to the famous black & white cookie.
In addition to the various sundaes, all priced between $10 and $16, the counter will also offer individual servings of the pies and ice cream cakes sold next door. These include Lorne Michaels’s Blueberry Pie, named for the prolific SNL creator, and the Koppelman Ice Cream Cake, a peanut-butter-and-jelly-flavored treat that honors Brian Koppelman, the man behind “Billions.”
In its entree into the cocktail scene, Morgenstern’s has partnered with pioneer New York bartender Lynette Marrero to create a range of cocktails inspired by the ice cream parlor’s most well-known flavors. In a tribute to its famed (and divisive) Banana Durian, there’s the Banana Durian Highball, which combines mezcal with banana-durian purée, coconut milk, soda and an egg white to cut any bitterness.
“There aren’t a lot of places in New York where you can get durian, let alone a durian cocktail,” says Morgenstern.
The Salted Caramel Pretzel Old-Fashioned puts a sweet twist on the traditional whiskey drink, using Old Grandad bourbon, salted pretzel syrup and bitters, while the Burnt Honey Daiquiri (already a favorite among staff) fuses El Dorado 5-Year rum, lemon juice and burnt honey syrup. There’s also the Cardamom Lemon J Highball, in honor of the popular Morgenstern’s flavor, which the owner says is the most gendered ice cream in the shop, with about 70 percent female customers, and the Chocolate Cherry Scgroppino, the only cocktail to actually use one of the ice creams (or this case, sorbets) as an ingredient.
“The cocktail program, to me, is so great because we’re really taking that side of it as seriously as the ice cream,” Morgenstern says.
As of right now, the eight-seat sundae counter service will only be open on Friday and Saturday evenings, from 6 p.m. to midnight, but this is subject to change. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.