A line of people snakes around glass cases that resemble palettes of watercolor paints–flavors such as bright purple Ube, soft orange Satsuma sorbet, and pink Peppermint excite the most adventurous ice cream aficionados.
At 4 PM on a Friday, the line is a mix of patrons from different backgrounds: local families – little girls in plaid jumpers and boys in green polos – starting off their weekend with an ice cream sundae; tourists – who stick out like sore thumbs as they order scoops of Brown Butter Pee-can and whatever Doberge cake is (it’s a New Orleans 8-layered, custard-filled delicacy, for the record); and students from local universities who manage to squeeze themselves into both categories like round pegs in square holes.
Creole Creamery is located in the heart of Uptown, in the original location of McKenzie’s bakery on Prytania Street. McKenzie’s was a New Orleans confectionery staple for over 70 years, so it’s fitting that an old-style ice cream parlor now occupies the same building, the color of mint chocolate chip ice cream, with such a sweet history. In New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to see old buildings retrofitted into new landmarks that still bear original signage–the building that was once home to New Orleans Public Service Inc., running the city’s electric, gas, and public transit systems was converted into the NOPSI Hotel which honors its past through original architecture. Creole Creamery pays homage to its predecessor by lighting the old neon sign nightly.
The black-and-white checkered floor, bright red booths, malts, nectar sodas, and banana splits makes customers feel like they are stepping back in time, so it’s hard to believe that Creole Creamery has only been around since 2004. While classics like chocolate and vanilla remain constant, flavors like Strawberry Jalapeno Cheesecake, Goat Cheese & Mission Fig, and Blueberry Mojito remind customers that this is not your grandparents’ traditional ice cream shop.
A feeling of warmth is not typically what one expects when chowing down on an ice cream sundae, but this little ice cream shop evokes a warm feeling of nostalgia. The word nostalgia comes from a combination of two greek words, nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. Until the 21st century, nostalgia was considered a condition of mental psychosis and thought to be negative. It was not until the last several decades that nostalgia developed a positive connotation. Nostalgia can combat loneliness, boredom, and anxiety as well as making people feel happier and closer when sharing nostalgic memories with family and friends. Creole Creamery’s old-fashioned style and location prompts parents and grandparents to share memories of their childhood, such as ordering a malt at a local soda fountain or snacking on McKenzie’s famous Buttermilk Drops and Turtles, with their children and grandchildren, who are simultaneously building their own memories to share with future generations.
Perhaps Forrest Gump’s famous quote, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get” should have replaced “box of chocolates” with case of ice cream flavors, because you never know what will be available when you arrive at Creole Creamery. Some rotations can be expected, for example, Black and Gold Crunch, a french vanilla and chicory based ice cream with chunks of chocolate and Oreo, is available from the first day of Saints training camp until the last game of the season, unless they win the Super Bowl, and it’s available year-round. Regular rotations like these paired with the never-changing old-fashioned décor give the ice cream shop a grounding effect. Customers can rest assured that iconic favorites like Cookie Monster and Café au Lait will always be available, and it is this familiarity that reminds patrons that, while changes occur, there will always be a little bit of comfort amongst the unknown. Memories of the past and the sense of nostalgia help humans self-soothe while navigating change and stressful events.
“Eat Ice Cream, Be Happy,” is not only the slogan painted on the back wall and emblazoned on the back of each employee’s shirt, it’s scientifically proven. Sweet foods have been shown to improve mood and reduce stress by engaging the serotonergic, opioidergic, and dopaminergic systems in the brain. However, some rotations are less predictable, enticing customers to get it while it’s hot, or in this case, cold, because you never know when it will disappear. During my recent trips throughout the month of October, I have made sure to enjoy scoops of specialty Halloween flavors Count Chocula and Doom Buggy (raspberry ice cream with chocolate covered mealworms and crickets) before they go into hibernation until next spooky season. While humans are creatures of habit who appreciate predictability and stability, we are still called to novelty and the unknown and we try new things to broaden our horizons and experience a change of pace. Thankfully, Creole Creamery provides free samples so you don’t have to commit to a full scoop of Blue Cheese Walnut if you’re just a little curious – just don’t be a tasting hog, as the signs posted behind the counter advise with the help of a cartoon pig.
Creole Creamery is not a “tourist destination” in the sense that travelers come to New Orleans specifically seeking a scoop of Black and Gold Crunch or Cookie Monster; however, it has been featured on the Food Network multiple times on shows including Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dive, Kid in a Candy Store, and Man vs. Food,. In the latter most show, Adam Richman takes the Tchoupitoulas Challenge, an 8-scoop, 8-topping, 4-pound sundae. For $45, you and your friends can leisurely enjoy the sundae, or you can vie for a spot on the wall-of-fame, an expansive collection of gold plaques dating back to 2004, by taking the endeavor solo.
Below the “Eat Ice Cream, Be Happy” mural are bulletin boards covered in photographs taken over the years of locals doing exactly what the motto says–eating ice cream, and being happy. The photos surround a table tucked away in the back corner table. This is my favorite in the store as the pictures on the wall serve as a conversation starter, whether it’s through showing Tulane friends pictures of me and my friends enjoying Creole Clowns, a scoop of ice cream topped with a cone decorated to look like a clown, or laughing with childhood friends at our less-than-flattering moments immortalized on the wall.
Creole Creamery doesn’t have a traditional “loyalty program” that awards customers a free scoop after ten visits, instead, this wall of photographs serves as the loyalty program; being on the wall feels like an exclusive club that only regulars can join, encouraging customer loyalty more than any punch card system could. Above the overflowing bulletin boards hangs Crayola and construction paper representations of the iconic restaurant, courtesy of pint-sized, ice cream-obsessed artists. The collage of pictures and artwork reinforce feelings of nostalgia as they are reminiscent of a proud parent’s refrigerator door, displaying a collection of achievements and memories.
As I’m sitting at my favorite table in the back corner, I can overhear a father-daughter duo placing their order. The dad sticks to a basic scoop of chocolate but the girl, no older than seven, bravely orders a scoop of a special Halloween flavor, Lestat’s Kiss, atop a waffle cone. This salted black licorice, absinthe, and coconut ash ice cream is black with a blood-red raspberry coulis ribbon snaking through it certainly cannot be found at any other ice cream shop – like many of Creole Creamery’s flavors. The dad seemed surprised by his daughter’s choice, as was I, but her bold decision allowed me to reflect on myself as a seven-year-old. While licorice ice cream definitely would not have appealed to me then (or now), I am, and always have been, an adventurous eater, thanks to growing up in a city with such an immense appreciation for food and seeing this girl with a sophisticated palate alongside her proud father reminded me of my own experiences my dad, so many of which have revolved around food. The girl’s enjoyment of her selection is evident when she leaves with black stains that have somehow made their way all the way up to her nose.