Creamy Whip & Other Delights

The Tao of one of America’s finest frozen dairy treats, illuminated. (Cones, cups, and spoons not included.)
Me: Hey, look.
She: I’m looking.
Me: Wanna stop?
She: Do you?
Me: If you do.
That’s a verbatim conversation my wife, Lauren, and I have had dozens of times while out driving around. A conversation that if we’re lucky, we’ll have a few more times this summer. Allow me to explicate the conjugal subtext.
Me: THERE’S A CREAMY WHIIIIIP!!!
She: I see it, I see it!
Me: WE’VE GOTTA STOP!!
She: Hurry and stop!!!
Me: I’M STOPPING, I’M STOPPING, I’M STOPPING.OK, I admit it’s not a particularly urbane duologue, above or below the surface. But we both grew up on the West Side, give us credit for having any subtext at all.
Illumination #1: The Lexicon

It is vital that one know the correct terms and their usage when it comes to all things creamy whip. To wit:

1. Creamy whip is a type of ice cream that flows in twists and coils and globs and does not scoop. Usage: “I like creamy whip.” “How’s your creamy whip?” “I could eat a football helmet full of creamy whip every day for a year.

2. When preceded by an article, creamy whip becomes a place where creamy whip is served. Usage: “Let’s go to the creamy whip.”  “Is there a creamy whip around here?”  “Think the creamy whip will fill this football helmet with creamy whip for me?

Note: The only other linguistic parallel of product and place I’m familiar with is White Castle, as in: “Ha! You’re so drunk you just barfed all those White Castles you ate at White Castle.” Which, I think you’ll agree, is a terrible image and I apologize.

3. Soft serve is not creamy whip, per se. And by “per se” I mean “to me.” Soft serve is, admittedly, a similarly chilled, significantly sugared, gelatinous dairy food product—but with one monumental and indefensible distinction: It is dispensed at large chains like McDonald’s or Sonic or, dare I say it, Dairy Queen. A simple test to determine what manner of frozen confection you’re eating is this: Before finishing, ask yourself, “Where did I get this creamy whip?” If your answer is not  “At the creamy whip,” you are eating soft serve.

Oh, and if you’re eating your cone in the winter? Definitely soft serve. Real creamy whip dies back in the winter.

I’ve tried to sort out  what it is about this humble strain of ice cream that appeals to and attracts me so. Especially since I live in a city where “regular” ice cream, the firmer, dippable kind, is so well established, so pervasive, so revered—from UDF to Graeter’s to Aglamesis to emerging gourmet boutique brands. Here’s where I net out:

Singularity/smaller scale: With one glaring, national exception (Dairy Queen), creamy whip–centric operations are dependably independent-run.

Limited availability: Fleeting as summer, I succumb (and succumb again) to the “hurry before it’s gone” mindset.

Greater value: My last transaction at a boutique ice cream shop concluded with the putting up of collateral.

Healthier: A lower butterfat content (4 to 6 percent in creamy whip vs. 10 to 16 percent in traditional ice cream) makes creamy whip a mere coronary waiting to happen rather than a massive coronary waiting to happen.

Of course, it’s also possible that, like my bashful bladder and fear of Jewish afros, my fervor for creamy whip is rooted in childhood experience.

You see, I grew up eating creamy whip. Often. Far more often than regular, scoopy ice cream,  and mostly because I was lucky enough to have a creamy whip within walking distance of my house. Every summer between the ages of 12 and 16, when boredom, heat, humidity, cadged change, and the overpowering urge to gorge on parentally proscribed foodstuffs aligned (about once a week), my friend Chris and I would hoof or bike it to the creamy whip for relief—and to do our part to kick start the childhood obesity epidemic.

In those years, I wasn’t dogmatic about my order; I sampled many of the available delights. (Full disclosure: Until I was 23, I thought dogmatic was a vending machine that dispensed dogs.) But root beer floats were far and away my favorite. I was, frankly, in jaw-slackening awe of the exquisite genius of combining a fully sugared, carbonated soft drink (what the child-me considered the greatest invention since the ant-incinerating magnifying glass) with creamy whip (what the child-me considered the greatest invention since fully sugared, carbonated soft drinks). A root beer float meant not having to choose between favorites; they’d been lovingly combined. What’s next, I wondered, a go-kart with an on-board BB gun?

Illumination #2: The Order
These days, my creamy whip order is unwavering: a vanilla cone. It is the order of a purist. A minimalist. One who knows that when done correctly, the unadorned vanilla cone is the apex of the lactase arts: a delight of taste, texture, and sensory stimulation. Cone in hand, my nostrils fill with the vanilla-scented tradewinds of Tahiti; my ears discern the sound of distant lowing dairy cows grazing the emerald pasturelands of Wisconsin; I see the twinkling lights of the harvest festival of Esparza when the bounty of the guar gum orchards arrives from the piedmont of the Spanish Pyrenees.

Chocolate? No. Even though I’m an irredeemable devourer of all things chocolate, I’m never tempted by it, never get it. On my tongue, chocolate creamy whip seems anemic, flat. In a word, choco-latent.

As for the chocolate-vanilla twist, I find this integrated offering an ill-considered dairy marriage, a pairing with zero chemistry, the joining of a charming, worldly bohemian (vanilla) with the likes of a repressed tradesman (chocolate). If you’re a People reader, think Liz Taylor and Larry Fortensky, or Charlie Sheen and an abstinent non-whore.

Orange creamy whip? Blueberry blue? To what do we owe such abominations? These are flavors for liquid antacids or preschoolers’ toothpaste, in colors better suited for South American flags and exotic poisonous snakes.

As I said, I’m a purist. Or maybe Lauren is right and I’m more an overthinkist.

Decades later, the creamy whip of my youth is still standing (last time I checked), still operating, still no-starred by the Michelin Guide, on the northern intersection of Cheviot Road and Blue Rock in White Oak. It’s also an abiding exemplar of its kind: a stand-alone building with limited parking; at the white-to-beige end of the color spectrum; lots of glass out front, crowded with everything from menu boards to sun-faded third-party posters with photographs featuring idealized representations of the size, symmetry, and/or frothiness of various offerings; low windows outfitted with sliding screens through which transactions are conducted by teenagers on summer vacation who scribble orders in pencil on small pads of paper. And bees. Don’t be surprised if there are bees.

A quick survey turns up the same architectural and design aesthetic all around town: Zip Dip (in Bridgetown), Loveland Dairy Whip, Norwood Delite Creamy Whip, Putz’s, Mt. Healthy Dairy Bar, et cetera. Each is familiar in sum, distinct in detail. Not unlike, say, boy bands.

I know, I know. There are exceptions. Mt. Washington Creamy Whip only takes orders inside. The Cone in West Chester is shaped like an ice cream cone. And there are others. But, lest we forget, there are recumbent bikes, too. By which I mean: Kooks, they’re everywhere.

Illumination #3: The Serving
I generally order my vanilla cone large because of the notorious nebulousness of creamy whip’s size designations. One never knows how large a large will be, even if you order the same size at the same place five minutes apart. This, my field observation reveals, is a result of three variables:

1. No implement of measure: Traditional ice cream is served in and measured by a scoop. So a two-dip cone from, say UDF, will always be pretty much the same size, regardless of store location or counterperson. Creamy whip is “of a piece;” it flows. But unlike other flowing refreshments—say, fountain drinks—there’s no premeasured, limiting receptacle to receive the product. This necessitates employees to eyeball amounts for each particular cone size: three twists per large or two diminishing bulges per medium. Or whatever. It was this method of appraisal that gave rise to the old saw: eyeball, schmeyeball.

2. Teenage ennui: Creamy whip employees are not tradesmen. They do not serve apprenticeships, adhere to codified guild guidelines or, by my estimation, last beyond the age of 21. They are, in other words, school kids with summer jobs. And asking teenagers to adhere to standardized practices or make judgment calls is, at best, a risky business model. That they hit the cone with the creamy whip and don’t somehow catch it on fire before serving it is, to the average customer, sufficient.

3. Air: Inside a creamy whip machine are blades that turn and churn the milky mix. Depending on the mood of the machine, the age and function of the various parts, the vintage of the mix, the ambient humidity and temperature, level of sunspot activity and the operator’s proximity to an ancient Indian burial ground, the amount of air infused into a given batch of creamy whip will vary. More air, more volume per ounce; less air, higher mass and density per cubic centimeter. So a tremendously airy cone as big as your head could, in theory, be the same weight as an exceptionally low air cone the size of your thumb. If you need more information, I suggest you read Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Creamy Whip.

My taste for creamy whip may have blossomed here in Cincinnati but I take it with me everywhere. I’ve enjoyed my favorite frozen confection in a variety of destinations, including the megalopolises of New York and Los Angeles; the middlingapolises of Edmonton, Alberta, and Charleston, South Carolina; and the nonapolises of Watsonville, California, and Negril, Jamaica. Road creamy whip is like an out-of-town friend you haven’t met yet, but one that won’t try to reconnect on Facebook or expect a reciprocal visit.

Indeed, much as I hate to say it, the best creamy whip I’ve ever had was not on American soil and was not purchased at a creamy whip. We were in Paris, a city I like to visit because it allows me to start sentences with “We were in Paris…” It was late summer. One afternoon, while strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries, not far from the trés chic Rue de Rivoli, we happened upon a long, tall, narrow trailer, approximately the size of two queen size beds with box springs standing side-by-side. Covering one of the long sides were 25 to 30 spigots, each dispensing two flavors (separately or in a twist) of creamy whip: hazelnut and coffee and licorice and coconut and lemon and mango and kiwi and escargot and flannel and isotope (note: my French vocabulary, like my memory, could be better) and on and on.

The cones were of the cake/wafer type but instead of an American cylindrical shape, these had a conical bottom topped with from one to four wafer “cups,” with the multiple cup versions forming a crossbar on the conical upright, giving them something of a miniature candelabra appearance. This allowed customers to get from one to eight flavors per cone (for eight, you had to choose four twists). Why, I ruminated, isn’t this thing, rather than the stupid Eiffel Tower, getting all the ink in the travel brochures?

Not wishing to reinforce the stereotype of the American glutton (my grooming was already reinforcing the stereotype of the American slob), Lauren and I each opted for just two flavors each (adjacent, not twists). She: amaretto and chocolate. Me: coffee and vanilla. Exquisite doesn’t begin to describe the deluxity of the experience, from the tippy-top of the whip to the tippy-bottom of the cone. Rich, full, deep flavors. Creamy, velvety, sensuous texture. This was la plus haute classé de tout glacé. Or for lesser Francophiles: It totally sacre bleu me away.

Illumination #4: The Vessel
Creamy whip in a cone offers the eater a textural yin and yang: the creamy coexisting with the crunchy. Cones also finish with less waste, adding no plastic cups and spoons to the landfill. Thus can one feel satisfied and self-satisfied simultaneously.

In the cup’s favor, however, is the fact that cup portions often dwarf the cone equivalents, making them a better value. Countless times my large cone has had an equal or lesser amount of creamy whip than someone else’s small or medium cup. When that happens, I try to keep my salty tears from raining on my paltry serving.

The elephant in the room: DQ. Do I eat it?

Permit me an analogy: DQ is the cousin who stole your grandmother’s recipe for strawberry jam, added a lot of synthetics and extracts and preservatives, found a venture capitalist and now markets Grandma’s Down Home Preserves worldwide. Bastard. That said, if you’ve got a slice of warm, dry toast and the only available topping is Mama’s Down Home Preserves, you’ll gladly smear it on. Translation: DQ is strictly my ice cream bridge, carrying me from fall to spring. Don’t hate me for it. I’m already doing that for you.

Illumination #5: The Enticement
As anyone who’s ever been to a creamy whip knows, a dip top is a highly tempting, small, medium, or large cone that’s dipped “head first” into a flavored syrup which, through contact with the cold creamy whip, hardens into a thin shell. It’s enticing, for sure. But heed my words: Dip tops should be approached with high caution—if at all. Here’s a guide:

Do not order a dip top for children as it will only result in tears and stickiness (theirs); harsh words and insufficient napkins (yours); reproachful glares and whispered WTFs (mine).

Do not order a dip top if you are an adult. Dip tops require speed and/or management, two things that are, need I say, antithetical to full enjoyment of a creamy whip. Speed is required when the ice cream, slightly melted by immersion in molten syrup, starts breaching the shell. One must lick quickly to keep up; management, in the form of frequent cone-turnings and shell conservation/eradication, is required to anticipate drips and other failing areas.

Do you need that pressure? Do you not have enough going on in your life without turning a summer afternoon into a test of how effectively you can administer an ice cream cone? I think not.

Back in the ’90s, there was a creamy whip called Granny’s at the corner of Eastern and Stanley Avenues in Columbia-Tusculum. It’s no longer there but I remember it fondly. Lauren and I frequently stopped there on our way home from the Lunken bike trail, on a mission to over-replenish the calories we’d just burned.

Unlike the vast majority of creamy whips, Granny’s was not staffed with teenage girls in shorts. It was staffed by its namesake: Granny. And over the course of two or three years, we got to know the woman herself, albeit in a very casual way. I found Granny to be the quintessence of a creamy whip proprietor: a small, deliberate woman in her late sixties, permed silver hair, just fleshy enough to convey a fondness for her own products, with a welcoming manner and smile. For reference, imagine Mrs. Santa Claus without the baggage of a garrulous saint in a red velvet suit. If creamy whips are part-time, laid-back, mom-and-pop places, Granny personified those traits.

Kristen Fields is young (not yet 30), tall, and model thin. She is quick to laugh and has the kind of energy and ambition that makes a mockery of how little energy and ambition I have. Kristen, along with her husband Joe, owns Whipty-Do, a creamy whip in Maineville, on U.S. Highway 22. She is not Granny, but, I hasten to add and am glad to report, neither is she the anti-Granny. Turns out my vision of creamy whip owners as friendly bundles of warmth was not expansive enough to allow for good-natured balls of fire.

I met Kristen last summer at her full-time, four-season job at Red 212, a Cincinnati ad agency where she’s an account supervisor and I do some freelancing. One day, I overheard her telling someone that “the season” was “winding down” and they’d be “closing soon.” In retrospect, I don’t know why I heard all those quotation marks, but, regardless, it didn’t take much additional eavesdropping to discover that she was talking about Whipty-Do, where she works the window on weekends. I was dumbstruck, maybe even a bit starstruck: Me meeting a creamy whip owner was like a Bengals fan meeting Mike Brown, if Mike Brown had ever done a single thing to give pleasure to another human being.

Later, I asked Kristen why she and Joe had decided to go into the creamy whip business. “We knew we wanted to open a business and when we talked about it, this just seemed like a happy business,” she told me. “We were like, ‘Who doesn’t like ice cream?’ ” I’d never thought about it like that: a happy business. And from Kristen, it sounded less like an oxymoron than an oxy-Bob-you’ve-been-a-moron.

I made it a point to visit Whipty-Do before the end of their season. Like Kristen vis-à-vis Granny, the place refreshingly updates my tired, rigid stereotypes without forcing me to abandon them altogether. It is a free-standing building (check) but painted a sunny yellow with bright green trim (uncheck). Orders are taken at a sliding window (check) but it’s at chest rather than waist level (uncheck). They have a marketing plan, website and Facebook page (whaaaaa?) but eschew pre-packaged novelties, i.e., no Bomb Pops, no Choco Tacos, no Push Pops, no trendy Justin Bieber-shaped confections on a stick (huzzah!).

Kristen admits that, down the road, she and Joe might consider opening another store. Or stores. They like what they’re doing. They’re happy with their happy business. So, hey, maybe I know the next Dairy Queen and, by extension, King. Booyah, Prince William and Princess Kate.

I originally thought I’d have a lot of questions for Kristen about the creamy whip dodge, like, what’s the difference between foam and froth? Can yellow jimmies really sterilize you? Does the Mafia still control the banana split end of the business? Should calling creamy whip “whippy dip” be criminalized? But I found I’m less interested in the nuts and bolts, the ins and outs, the whys and wherefores of the business, than in the product they sell. Of course, as a reader who’d like answers, you’re paying for that lack of curiosity at this very moment.

Illumination #6: The Prospect
Because Kristen is such an upbeat, fresh, and au courant entrepreneur, I wasn’t surprised when I discovered Whipty-Do is one of the few local creamy whips to offer Flavor Burst. Flavor Burst is a system that applies a pinstripe of up to eight different flavor syrups along the ridges and twists of vanilla creamy whip (38 syrups are available but machines hold only eight at a time; Whipty-Do rotates flavors throughout their season). So you can have a Cheescake cone or a Green Apple cone or, because flavors can be combined, you could have a Mocha Pistachio Maple Green Apple Cheescake cone. (Psssssst. Hey, you: Don’t be a idiot.)

I can report that Lauren loves the mocha and, having tasted hers, I agree it’s good, quite tasty, very mocha—not an odious imitation or feeble approximation (though not Parisian, either).

But the system is pretty high-tech with a computer interface and (possibly) laser-guided omni-directional ensyruping embossers. And the Luddite in me wonders if the next step is genetically altered teenagers that can remember my single cone order without writing it down on a pad or root beer floats that actually float. (For the record, I’m against both of those things.)

Bottom line being, for now, I’ll be eschewing Flavor Burst. If that surprises you, you either have an amazingly low threshold of surprise or an amazingly low reading comprehension rate.

Obviously, I consider myself a creamy whip version of an oenophile (a coneophile?): a perceptively-tongued connoisseur, taste buds erect and alert, intrepidly seeking out and sampling frosty twists of velvety delight, evaluating, parsing, cataloging the subtleties of flavor and texture and body in a quest to discover the Frozen Dessert of the Gods. Mostly, though, I know that’s not true. I know that, in actuality, I’m far more like a wino: a man with a persistent taste, a craving, a problem, only interested in where his next football helmet-full is going to come from. A rather sad realization, really. Which I’ll happily ignore.

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