A tour of the New Orleans' sno-ball stands nets some wondrous samplings

NEW ORLEANS -In this always-hungry metropolis hugging the Mississippi, there’s no shortage of iconic dishes that define its culinary soul. A sno-ball is New Orleans history in a chilly cup – a dessert of nearly weightless snowflakes drenched in richly hued and vividly flavored syrups that has bonded families, defined neighborhoods, created traditions and gotten generations through summer heat that could fell even the hardiest souls. A snow cone’s coarse, granular ice crystals can seem thuggish and pedestrian compared to a sno-ball’s angelic whispers of ice that quickly absorb whatever ambrosia is poured on top. Before I begin my trek through the land of ice peaks and rivers of sugar syrup, I decide to acquaint myself with a bit of sno-ball history courtesy of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, a nifty little temple dedicated to the gustatory treasures and spirit-fueled history of New Orleans. The museum (southern food.org), located in the Riverwalk Marketplace shopping and dining complex next to the Convention Center, features a sno-ball exhibit through July 31. The syrup concoctions (some house-made, but most coming from only a few syrup concentrate producers) are a sno-ball house’s calling card and bragging right. Off we go, armed only with our willingness to taste as many sno-balls as possible in one day, criss-crossing the city and its neighborhoods to find the ultimate frozen treasures. A stuffed sno-ball has a scoop of ice cream embedded in its arctic heart. Sno-balls can be drenched in sweetened condensed milk, slathered with crushed pineapple or marshmallow fluff, littered with sprinkles, gummy candies and nuts and topped off with whipped cream and a cherry. Wedding cake, it turns out, is just one of the dizzying assortment of flavored syrups available at some sno-ball shops. Other flavors I wouldn’t expect to see include king cake (apparently tastes like the frosting on the city’s beloved pre-Lenten sugar roll), yellow cake batter, peanut butter, cookie dough, key lime pie, vanilla malt, tamarind and buttered popcorn. […] it’s fruit flavors that are the most popular, said Scott Oestriecher, manager of Original New Orleans Sno-Ball & Smoothie. Unlike most shops that pack the top of their sno-balls using a mold to create a tidy helmet, Hansen’s are shaggy, free-form tops – call it the “natural” look. Pickles and sno-balls Since the morning, Walker had dangled a pickle over me. Guercio says that the house’s specialty syrup is the mysterious, blue-hued Droopy’s Cream, which, like all of Droopy’s syrups, is engineered by Guercio’s brother, Donald Guercio. […] creams are Droopy’s specialty; many “regular” flavors also are available as creams, which adds a depth and lushness.

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