Nicholas Creamery’s First Three Days

Fun flavors, (mostly) great ingredients and waiting in line—a rocky road this promising venture will likely overcome.

Three days, three lines and three startling disappointments.

Then: sundae dreams come true. Funny how a smile can arise from deep within and change an outlook in a lickety-split second.

I’ve been to Nicholas Creamery Day One, Day Two and Day Three. The Nicholas Creamery in downtown Atlantic Highlands that, as ice cream shops go, might be the most highly anticipated opening of all time in New Jersey—given its pedigree as the offspring of Nicholas and Melissa Harary, also the owners of the acclaimed Restaurant Nicholas in nearby Middletown.

The lines, from opening bell on Friday afternoon, May 25, were akin to airport security queues on the eve of a major holiday. To be expected, since who doesn’t want the kind of ice cream touted as handmade, small batch, all-natural dairy and farm to spoon? We’ve all been screaming for the kind of ice cream made desirable in the Garden State by Bent Spoon in Princeton to be scooped in every town, throughout New Jersey.

But my first scoops of three different flavors were out of balance: The “Goat” ice cream, billed to feature goat cheese, strawberries and balsamic vinegar, had three slivers of the berry and only a whisper of balsamic. The “Scoop of Sunshine” was delightfully, brightly lemony, but there wasn’t any of the promised graham cracker to add texture and a crunch of subtle sweetness. The vegan pina colada, on the other hand, was too sweet. And too icy. Better mixing of the ice creams needed? More attentive scooping to make sure every cup, every cone contains the proper balance of flavors?

The whipped cream, by the second night Nicholas Creamery was open, was being sprayed from a can, not freshly made, the manager on duty told me. “Not today—not today it isn’t,” she said, noting the place was “too busy” to whip fresh cream. The cherries were jarred maraschinos, not homemade booze-marinated fruits. The crew who made my Mint with a Lotta Chip milkshake forgot the hot fudge drizzle; the Caliente Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie sundae was undersized, its nuts burnt and its brownie but a two-bite dry nibble; and the salted caramel cone ice cream was served in skimpy-scoop portion that was overwhelmed by the (truly delicious) waffle cone. Some scoopers, it seemed, didn’t know how to dig into a tub and get well-rounded, nicely formed balls of ice cream.

Salted caramel cone

Chocolate peanut butter sundae

OK. Early stages issues. But troublesome, these lax attitudes towards homemade, all-natural and carefully curated ingredients, given the experience of the people behind the scenes. Frankly, the spray-can whipped cream horrified me.

But even though it topped my Banana Lickety-Split sundae on my third visit to Nicholas Creamery, the rest of the sundae was divine: Scooped with a strong, sure arm, the trio of ice creams—banana, chocolate and salted caramel—was layered with strawberries, pineapples and bananas and given a hunky glob or three of hot fudge for fun and a necessary counterpoint. There were a few lush soaked-in-spirits cherries that helped to drown out the disappointing whipped stuff. The sundae itself was elegant and inviting. A Salted Kentucky sundae, hearty with bourbon-rich ice cream, thick crumbles of toasty oatmeal and a pitch-perfect salted caramel sauce, was a mashup of savory and sweet, a sophisticated, rather provocative number.

All was getting right with the world of Nicholas Creamery.

I don’t mind lines. I understand the inexperience of just-hired staff. I feel for a new business facing the crush of crowds. But I don’t get diverging from stated good and proper values of “handmade” and “all-natural dairy” when the going gets tough.

Especially when focus and thought and, maybe, a half-minute of extra effort yield sundaes of exceptional flavor that stay true to the dream of devoted, conscientious and talented owners.

And, in the end, make for a supremely happy ice cream eater.

Nicholas Creamery, 84 First Avenue in Atlantic Highlands. 732-204-2340; nicholascreamery.com. Open from 3 to 10 pm Monday through Friday and from noon to 10 pm Saturday and Sunday. Note: cash only.

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