Saturday night, in Oakland on business from the East Coast, I found myself looking for dessert after a mediocre dinner at Kincaid's Bayhouse. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remember an article I once read about Fenton's Creamery. Obsessed with ice cream, having several times eaten my way through Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Boston, Northampton and a number of other calorically intense towns in search of the Holy Grail of Creameries, I went.
The parking lot off of Piedmont Avenue had a line five or six cars long tailing out into the street, waiting for someone to leave. Thoughts of a similar experience two years ago in St. Louis at Ted Drewes flashed through my mind. As at Ted Drewes I parked illegally on a side street and walked the block to Fentons. The two "dining rooms" were full and a handful of people were stacked up at the ice cream cases in the front of the building. I noted that several of the flavors really looked interesting: "chocolate chip cookie" had chunks of what looked like real cookie dough along with Greaeter's size chunks of dark chocolate buried in the vanilla base. Sundaes averaged about $8.50 with the menu capitalizing the word GENEROUS, advertising that a small cup was not quite as small as someone blowing a diet might have hoped.
I ended up living up to my true calling and went for a personal record of over 2,000 calories in one guilt free sitting with three "small cups" of different flavors: chocolate chip cookie dough, cookies and cream and vanilla. I thought about adding a sundae to this indulgence conceding that the likelihood of my returning was rather small, but, reality set in and I settled for the nearly one quart of ice cream that I was served in three separate cups.
Fenton's base is not rich nor particularly distinctively excellent. Certainly not in league with Badiani in Florence or even Bart's in Northampton. Flavorful, but probably 13 or 14% butterfat and simply not exceptional. However the cookie dough and the cookies and cream were another matter. The cookies and cream had whole, softened oreos (well, maybe Hydrox) with a ratio of two parts ice cream base to one part huge chunks of oreos. This was serious oreo ice cream. Butterfat aside, the overall flavor was among the best oreo I've ever had. The real test however was the cookie dough. The standard here is Cincinnati's Graeter's which has an 18%+ base with its own one inch long, 1/4 inch thick dark chocolate chips. My cup of cookie dough, six inches high, was topped with huge lumps of what tasted like real Toll House dough, along with round discs of dark semi sweet chocolate. This was awesome! So awesome that I even thought about going back and sacrificing a notch on my belt for another 1/2 pounds plus of it!
But sitting in my car, thinking about this, I decided that Fenton's ice cream was not extraordinarily good, just extremely, enthusiastically likeable. The ice cream itself, lumps, chunks and mix-ins aside, was really only very good-not any better. It was their formula for excessive amounts and excessive lumps, chunks and mix-ins that put it over the top.
No, for me, it won't replace the guilt free thousands of calories I've had in Cincinnati, Northampton or Milwaukee (Kopp's). But if I lived in or near Oakland I am certain that I would weigh much more than I do now in my ice cream and frozen custard deprived suburban Washington, D. C. Fenton's was worth the calories. Not the best but a wonderful experience with an appreciation for a local tradition still going strong. If only Washington's tradition, Gifford's, were still around.