It wasn't until about six months after my move to Granville that I had my first tastes of the eclectic flavour combinations coming from the first branch of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, located in Columbus's North Market. And since that inevitable day back in April 2011, I have continued to support and enjoy the results of James Beard Award winner and Slow Food Columbus Central Ohio Terra Madre delegate Jeni Britton Bauer's creative and entrepreneurial spirit. This past Thursday, and despite the windy and very rainy weather, it was evident that the 200+ others (in my estimation) who literally braved the storm and remained in line were also there to support both Jeni and her ice creams, being among the first to do so on opening day of the new scoop shop at Easton.
Especially since joining Slow Food Columbus, I must admit I've been hoping for/patiently awaiting the day when I would get a chance to finally meet Jeni; lo and behold, I was able to meet her at the opening! (My inner geekiness was self-contained.. I think.) Incredibly personable, sincere and easy to talk to, Jeni is down to earth and seriously knows her ice cream. This leads me then to perhaps one of the most important questions I could think to ask her: what's her favourite available flavour? For the past 19 years she's been working with ice cream, Jeni shared that her favourite has been, still is and most likely forever will be Lemon Frozen Yogurt.
Not only was Jeni's passion for her work evident as she talked about the lemon frozen yogurt, but in the end, that piece of information was helpful for me in actually choosing from among the list of uniquely dynamic options. And on this note especially, I need to give a shout out to Jeni's Ice Cream Ambassadors as I think about how they managed to professionally and respectfully got the long line moving. Keeping cool under pressure (pun most definitely intended), I find that the success of Jeni's business model, though rooted in her flavours, is dependent on customer service à la her enthusiastic ICAs and their ability to translate those unique and individual flavours into equally unique and individual experiences for each and every customer. In the moments between uncertainty and excitement while trying different flavours and making on-the-spot, seemingly life-changing decisions, a relationship is built between the ICA and the customer, on the basis of flavour preferences (and by extension the relationship between food and identity). And in that trust-building exercise, the ICAs' enthusiasm for their work (I even met a few employees from other Jeni's locations who were there to support Jeni) translates to the very emblematic sense of pride that informs my desire to always return and also continue to support this company.
This being said, it almost doesn't matter where or how big the physical space is, as I would expect the "consistent, world-class service to every single customer" experience whether I'm in an ice cream shop or at an off-site event. Nevertheless, it seems important to note the obvious that this location in Easton is [or at least on opening day certainly feels] small; indeed, Jeni agreed that they definitely had to cram in a lot. Of course, and as the adage goes, "great things come in small packages" and this is no exception. Jeni's well-developed company concept and energetic vibe fills the space completely, from its consistent branding and décor to the sustainable and local ingredients that comprise the diverse and truly splendid ice creams. Concurrently, and I didn't quite notice this until just now, the hipster kind of motifs throughout the space seem to harmonise perfectly with the overall identity that is Easton.
Appropriately adding to this already overused sense of uniqueness, is the recently released sundae concept of "Jeni's Gravel." As if building the perfect cone or bowl of deliciousness wasn't enough, everything's been kicked up a notch to a differently level of foodie-ism. As a process, the sundae begins with the ice cream; I went with the lemon frozen yogurt and (though I think I initially asked for The Buckeye State) Dark Chocolate (which, in retrospect, was a much better complement to the lemon). [Side note: I tried the Chamomile during this visit.] Then, the customisation continues with your choice of sauce (salty caramel, honey butterscotch, roasted strawberry, and extra-bitter hot fudge). And given my combo, it was suggested I get the hot fudge (as a chocoholic, I certainly appreciated the end result). Distinguishing a "gravel" sundae from any other kind of sundae, is your choice from among four unique-to-Jeni's gravels, defined as "crunchy ice cream condiments in flavors inspired by American pop culture, meant to be enjoyed with Jeni’s ice creams and sauces (or just ice creams)." Of the six available gravels, I went with... wait for it... Chocolate Blackout Gravel. To finish everything off, there's no limit to the number of accoutrements (two points for labelling "accoutrements" as part of the overall menu) you can add. Hand-whipped cream, a waffle wedge and an Amarena cherry all made it to my sundae. On a related note, fellow foodie Dan joined me on this adventure to Easton; his sundae included Bananas + Honey, Buckeye, salted caramel and donut gravel, also with the hand-whipped cream, waffle wedge and Amarena cherry.
Lightened even more so by the hand-whipped cream, the lemon frozen yogurt was, is and always will be utterly delicious. It has a smooth, full-bodied richness to it, ending with an ever-so-slight tart finish. I've long been a fan of citrus and chocolate and so the depth of flavour from the dark chocolate was incredible, toned down from the lemon. I had never had a waffle cone yet from Jeni's, and so the wedge was the perfect size to give it a taste, while I saved the cherry for last to round out the bowl. Alongside the lemon frozen yogurt, if not even on a different scale all its own, the standout for me was the chocolate blackout gravel. Truly airy, as described online, the gravel added not only a great textural contrast to that of the ice creams but arguably more importantly a very important tasting element to enhance the flavour of the chocolate, given the quick sweet start and gradually salty follow-through. And held together by the hot fudge, this bowl seemed to be pure perfection, particularly as far as a well-balanced taste bud explosions go.
By the time Dan and I finished our ice creams, it was cutting close to 9pm (we had arrived just before the 6.30pm opening). And still, folks were lining out the door to experience the greatness of Jeni's. For more of my photos, click here, and visit this page of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream's tumblr page for some of their photos from opening day.