Any Given Sundae
Photos by Anne FishbeinThe stilt-walkers prance on Hollywood Boulevard, juggling plates and glittering Indian clubs, catching basketballs when they are tossed to them from the street, bending double to kiss a baby or ruffle the hair of a toddler. They are courtly, these guys, wearing jackets and ties even in the searing summer heat, their towering, skinny trousers neatly pressed, their stiff-legged courting-heron strut occasionally sliding neatly into a moment or two of robotic dance moves when a particularly loud boom car rolls by. The stilt-walkers are the whitest thing on the boulevard by far, a tall slice of Iowa transplanted to the funk of the Walk of Fame, and the restaurant they shill for, the brand-new Disney’s Soda Fountain & Studio Store next to the refurbished El Capitan, may be tamer still, a suburban riff on a rural café transplanted to one of the most urban stretches of Los Angeles. To anybody who has walked down New York’s formerly tawdry 42nd Street lately, the chrome, the promotional Herbie jackets, the pink neon, the guy in the Goofy suit may reek less of Disney magic than of the most predatory sort of gentrification. Still, everyone seems to like the stilt-walkers a lot. I feel almost mean for imagining one or both of them nudged into the Hollywood Boulevard traffic streaming by inches away from their stilts. For decades, this part of Hollywood was the center of the ice cream cult in Los Angeles, home to the sundae shop C.C. Brown, which had been serving its renowned sundaes since 1906. Wil Wright’s made better ice cream in the 1950s and 1960s. Poppy’s, in Westwood Village, made a better banana split. But the hot fudge sundaes at C.C. Brown’s, seasoned though they were with long lines and surly underage waiters who always acted as if they wished they were out on Saturday-night dates of their own, were magnificent creations: ice cream so rich that it seemed halfway to butter, freshly roasted almonds, unsweetened whipped cream and little pitchers of dense, bitter hot fudge that thickened on contact with the cold ice cream into a kind of delicious, impenetrable sludge. One tall order: Disney’s stilt-walkers A lot of people saw the closing of the original C.C. Brown’s a few years ago as a vivid sign of Hollywood’s permanent decline, no matter how many giant entertainment malls were under construction. The brief, flickering life this year of a half-hearted C.C. Brown’s franchise in the Hollywood + Vine complex did almost as little to soothe the doomsayers as the knowledge that a striking facsimile of the original sundae was available after dinner at Lawry’s the Prime Rib. But the Los Angeles area is going through something of an ice cream renaissance at the moment — not gelato, not frozen yogurt, but good American ice cream — and Hollywood cannot help but be part of that too. The ice cream mecca in the Los Angeles area may be 40 miles east in Upland, where Dr. Bob’s and Bert & Rocky’s reign as kings, but Mashti Malone, on La Brea near Sunset, makes the tastiest Middle Eastern–style ice cream this side of Shatila in suburban Detroit, a rainbow of flavors inflected with rosewater, saffron and freshly roasted pistachios. There is the brand-new Lickety Split, a frozen-custard parlor in the courtyard of the old Egyptian Theater, a perfect place to stop by after a showing at the Cinematheque. The product, scooped up and plopped onto a cone rather than squirted out of a machine, has the smooth, effortlessly melting texture of the frozen custard from the famous stands in Wisconsin and Missouri, although it also has a persistent, salty kick that starts as a back note, tempering the sweetness, but becomes perhaps too dominant by the bottom half of a serving.And above all, there is Disney’s Soda Fountain & Studio Store, which may bring more than a hint of corporate suburban-mall kitsch to this part of Hollywood, but also brings the excellent ice cream imported from Dewar’s, which since the demise of C.C. Brown’s is about as O.G. as it is possible for a California ice cream parlor to be. The original Dewar’s, a 1909 candy counter across from Bakersfield High School, is so little changed that it looks almost art-directed, like a set modeled on the pages of an old Saturday Evening Post. When you order a sundae, the soda jerk at Dewar’s packs the ice cream densely into a goblet with a butter knife, then pours fudge over it until it cascades stickily onto the counter. Disney’s waitresses, whose smiles seem superglued to their shiny, shiny teeth, may not do the trick with the butter knife, but they efficiently bring out black-and-white sundaes lubricated with hot fudge and whipped marshmallow, banana splits drowning in marshmallow and strawberry sauce, and milkshakes made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, fresh bananas and ground walnuts, which taste like the kind of protein drinks they might prepare in Valhalla. The peppermint sundae, made with Dewar’s candy-stick-spiked peppermint ice cream and the requisite portion of marshmallow fluff, is especially good. On the other hand, the sundae called Mickey’s Masterpiece, eight scoops of ice cream, three sauces and bucketsful of whipped cream served in the brim of a version of the sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia, looks like the aftermath of a Roman feast. Hollywood strikes again. Disney’s Soda Fountain & Studio Store, 6834 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; www.disneysodafountain.com. Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. American Express, Mastercard and Visa accepted. Street parking. No alcohol. Takeout window. Sundaes $6.75-$24.95.
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