The most famous flavor at Carmela Ice Cream is its salted caramel. Listed first on the menu, it's almost always in stock. If it wasn't, the little Pasadena shop might have a riot on its hands. Perfectly balanced between sweet and salty, it's even richer and, dare we say, better than the superb salted caramel from Sweet Rose Creamery (Day 4). Admittedly, parsing the superiority of one ice cream vs. another at this exalted level is as easy as splitting electrons.
After working the farmers market scene in the vanguard of the upscale ice cream brigade, co-owner Jessica Mortarotti finally opened a brick-and-mortar ice creamery on a quiet stretch where northeastern Pasadena rubs up against Altadena. The shop is small, with pale yellow wall, perhaps recalling the sunny flavor (if not the color) of Carmela's delicate lemon basil sorbet.
Long before every independent ice cream shop was prefixing their menu with phrases like "artisanal" and "market-driven," Mortarotti was blending blueberries with thyme and transforming Guinness into a creamy, can't-put-it-down-until-the-last-bite treat. There's a mellow intensity to all of the flavors. The flavors linger, but they don't punch you in the throat, even the Spiced Strawberry that's been tarted, and tartened up, with a dash of balsamic vinegar and a hit of black pepper. Honey ice cream that would be too sweet in most other hands, is deftly lightened with lavender.
Don't miss the sorbets. This is where the fresh produce really shine. If you find watermelon too candyish and sweet in any preparation other than cut from the fruit, perhaps the watermelon-mint sorbet at Carmela's will entice you. Still too sweet? The cucumber sorbet is strong without being overpowering, fresh and herby without tasting like a salad and one of the best sorbets we've ever had. Could it be any better? Only with a shot of vodka.
Carmela Ice Cream: 2495 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 797-1405, www.carmelaicecream.com.
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