The big chill
5 delicious ways to beat the heat
EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPH
Snow balls are amongst New Orleans best-loved summertime treats. Since the days of the Great Depression, snow balls have been popular, inexpensive sweets for those looking to cool off during the city’s hottest months. Seeing as how times are tough once again, it seemed an apt time to highlight a few good examples of New Orleans’ coolest budget-friendly dessert.
Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, 4801 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-9788, www.snobliz.com Inside the small, unassuming Hansen’s Sno-Bliz building, a thin yellow line painted on the pink floor directs customers along the queue; syrups, most made from Mary Hansen’s original recipes, are made fresh daily; and of course, Ernest Hansen’s hand-built machine is front and center.
Owner Ashley Hansen Springgate began taking over business responsibilities at the shop when her grandparents, founders Ernest and Mary Hansen, were in poor health in the late 1990s; both of her grandparents have now passed away, but Springgate carries on her grandparents’ legacy by running the family bliz-ness – down to the motto “There are no shortcuts to quality” – just like they did.
Though Ernest Hansen held down multiple labor-intensive jobs for most of his life, he found time to craft his mechanical snow-shaving machine, patented in July of 1950. Springgate says, “For my grandfather, it was never about money – it was about being near machines.”
As Ernest Hansen had crafted a fancy machine to shave ice, it was Mary’s charge to create a rainbow of syrup flavors. Springgate says some extracts used for the flavors are made in-house, as they were then, and some are special-ordered, but all of the syrups essentially comprise just spring water, cane sugar and extract, with no added preservatives.
Hansen’s serves a variety of plain, cream, tart and sugar-free flavors. Classic favorites, such as Nectar Cream and the namesake “Sno-Bliz” (a grapefruit/strawberry flavor), are still, literally. just like grandma used to make.
Springgate’s favorites, which of course are numerous, include nectar cream, chocolate cream, nectar cream and pineapple mixed, Satsuma and limeade (Springgate’s own recipe).
When Hansen’s first opened, “Snow balls used to be served piled-high on these little cardboard trays, and they weren’t served with straws or spoons,” Springgate explains. “You just lapped it up,” she says, sticking out her tongue like a thirsty bunny to demonstrate.
Today, Hansen’s serves their snow balls in six sizes (not counting giant party-sized tubs), ranging in price from $1.50 to $18. Sundaes here come in a few forms: a ‘basic’ sundae includes ice, syrup, cream, pineapple and a cherry; add marshmallow to the ‘basic’ and it becomes a ‘duper’; add ice cream to the ‘duper’ and it becomes an ‘atomic.’
As a side note, there is a noticeable lack of air conditioning inside Hansen’s – “a business strategy my grandparents used,” Ashley says with a smile.
Pandora’s Snowballs, 901 N. Carrollton Ave., 289-0765 Nick Pizzalato has owned and operated Pandora’s Snowballs on Carrollton Avenue for 14 years. Pizzalato, the third owner since the business’ inception in 1971, was in “the grocery business” for 20 years before purchasing Pandora’s; he says running a snow ball business is 10 times harder.
Pizzalato estimates that Pandora’s serves 200 snow balls per day. Pandora’s is one of few places that makes their ice in-house, thanks to a giant freezer capable of solidifying 40 large blocks of ice in just 10 hours. Pandora’s shaves ice using a SnoWizard machine, the first of which was built by George Ortolano in 1937.
The bulk of the 107 flavor extracts used in the syrups here come from SnoWizard, with a handful ordered from Parasol Flavors. Popular Pandora’s flavors include Bananas Foster – a secret blend of several flavors – as well as Wedding Cake (an employee favorite, too) and strawberry.
Believe it or not, Pizzalato is diabetic, a condition some might see as a setback in the snow ball biz. Pizzalato faced the challenge by creating sugar-free syrups, the most recent of which is a sugar-free chocolate that took three years to perfect.
In addition to snow balls, Pandora sells small snack items and nachos. Topping choices here include soft-serve ice cream, pureed fruit, chocolate, caramel and, of course, condensed milk.
One of Pandora’s most interesting features hangs from the ceiling almost out of sight – the “Ball of Fame” collection of snow ball-shaped cut-outs autographed by famous locals. Mayor Ray Nagin, for example, is amongst honorees. The Chocolate City mayor’s snowball of choice? “Ice cream-cream with ice cream on top,” Pizzalato says.
Beaucoup Nola Juice, 4719 Freret St., 430-5508 Owners Devin Meyers and Dylan Williams opened Beaucoup Nola Juice just this past June and already the shop is the talk of Freret Street. Murals, hand-painted by Meyers, make the space unique, and a long bench and a few chairs provide indoor seating.
Immediately upon entering the shop, the writing on the wall tells you these exotic cup-coctions are influenced by the flavors of Mexico, Brazil and Louisiana, a choice, Williams explains, inspired by Meyers’ time in South America.
Beaucoup Nola freezes spring water for their ice and uses a SnoWizard machine to produce snow. Real fruit and fruit pulp are used to make the syrups. Williams says the shop purchases locally grown fruits, such as watermelons and strawberries, when possible, but the more exotic fruits are imported in pulp form from Central and South America.
Some of the exotic flavors available at Beaucoup Nola include Ginger & Carrot; Green Tea & Honey; Pineapple & Mint; fresh-squeezed O.J.; “Guanabana”; and Chocolate Milk (made with milk from Smith Creamery). If you find there are just too many flavors to choose from, the shop offers a snowball sampler, four mini-snow balls for $5.
In addition to snowballs, Beaucoup Nola serves watermelon popsicles (frozen watermelon on a stick) at the budget-friendly price of $1 for a small and $2 for a large. Mango and watermelon-cranberry juices are also available.
“Nothing we have has preservatives,” Williams says, noting unused juices are usually thrown away after 48 hours.
For the truly health-conscious, Beaucoup Nola offers healthy fruit smoothies. One of the “Boxer Specials,” the “B-Hop,” is a blend of fresh berries, banana, yogurt and a whopping 25 grams of protein.
“[New Orleans] is probably the last in the nation to feel the health trend, but it’s coming!” Williams says. Keep an eye out for menu additions, Williams says, as the shop plans to work vegetable juices into the menu for fall.
Queen of the Ball, 8116 Oak St., 430-5718 The whimsical pink-and-black polka-dot decor inside this 3-year-old shop will make patrons feel like they’re kids again. Tiny glass tables with matching chairs give the shop a dollhouse-like feel, and the air-conditioned seating area makes Queen of the Ball a relaxing setting in which to enjoy a snowball.
The recent renovation of Oak Street (riverside) is finally complete, and business owner Norma Bridges couldn’t be happier. Oak Street is looking good, and there’s certainly no shortage of summer heat (a staple of success in the snow ball biz).
Queen of the Ball makes a selection of fresh flavors including blackberry, made with real berries; grapefruit, made from fresh-squeezed juice; and fresh-squeezed lemonade, a refreshing, tart flavor available over snow or in a glass. Bridges says the lemonade usually incorporates another fruit flavor. “Right now, we have fresh kiwi lemonade,” she says.
The shop features roughly 100 flavors. Those not made from fresh juices are ordered as extracts from SnoWizard and are mixed into syrup at the shop.
As for favorite flavors, 15-year-old employees Brandon and Daniel, Norma’s nephew, recommend the cherimoya and red velvet flavors, respectively.
Other tasty choices include the fruit-stuffed snowball and Bluebell ice cream-stuffed snowball. Queen of the Ball also serves treats including nachos, hot dogs, candy, cupcakes and, in the fall, pies, tea, cider and homemade cakes.
Sal’s Sno-balls, 1823 Metairie Road, Metairie, 666-1823 Steven Bel, owner of Sal’s Sno-balls, started in the snow business about 35 years ago. Bel, owner of Sal’s for the last 20 years, started in the snow ball biz because his grandfather and “Mr. Sal” were neighbors and friends. Bel started working at Sal’s at age 8, first picking up litter, then moving to bottle filling and other odd chores.
Today, Sal’s Sno-balls is next to Fidelty Bank, where it’s been for many years (though the current building is the third place Sal’s has been housed). Bel is also still striving to meet the same standards of quality Mr. Sal demanded when the shop was his back in 1960.
At Sal’s, three old-timey SnoWizard machines shave blocks of ice, which Bel purchases from the West Bank every other day.
For their syrups, Bel mixes simple syrup in a 55-gallon drum, mixing 5 to 5.5 pounds of sugar per gallon of syrup.
Mr. Sal created a number of wacky flavor syrups back in his day that are still mixed up and served at the stand. These flavors include “Batman,” a pineapple/orange mix; “Joker,” an ultra-purple, blackberry, raspberry and grape mix; “Robin,” a nectar and ice cream mix created for Mr. Sal’s oldest granddaughter; and “Purple Dawn,” strawberry and spearmint flavor created for Mr. Sal’s youngest granddaughter.
“Our Robin is a real big seller, and our Joker is a big seller,” Bel notes.
Sal’s also offers diet flavors – such as Diet Grape, Diet Strawberry and Diet Wedding Cake – that are calorie-free. Assorted toppings here include can cream, condensed milk, chocolate shell, hot fudge and fruit. Ice cream is also available at Sal’s. (Bel estimates, in terms of volume, that 60 to 70 percent of sales here are snowballs, and 30 to 40 percent of sales are ice cream.)
There is no indoor seating, so snackers will have to brave the elements to enjoy their treats, but the setting is quiet and suburban and otherwise quite pleasant.