Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Taste of the Past

photo by Barney Taxel
Cleveland has become quite the ice cream town. There's Honey Hut, Mitchells and a few new players on the frozen scene I've blogged about — among them Sweetie Fry in Cleveland Heights and Mason's Creamery. But only a handful of shops offer places to sit and savor the sweets indoors. One of my favorite such places is Sweet Moses on Detroit Road in the Gordon Square Arts District.

The shop recreates ice cream parlors of the past. The double storefront space contains a candy case; marble counter lined with tall, round stools; wood polished to a high shine; gleaming silver spigots; round tables surrounded by vintage wrought iron chairs; and a restored work-of-art cash register. The behind-the-counter servers wear white shirts and aprons, and the menu includes classic sundaes made with house-churned flavors and real whipped cream, milk shakes, malts, pies and popcorn. It's hot fudge heaven with a cherry on top.

There used to be more places like this across town, typically inside a pharmacy. Why? That's an interesting tidbit of food history. Allow me to indulge my culinary geekiness for a few sentences. In late 1800s and early 1900s, mixing carbonated mineral water with sweetened flavored syrups was a common way to mask the taste of liquid medicines and render them palatable. By 1911, there were more than 100,000 such "soda fountains" around the country. The fizzy drinks, sans quinine, iron and other "drugs," were incredibly popular with young and old alike, offering an alternative hang out to the corner saloon. Soda jerk became a job title.

photo by Barney Taxel
You can't buy liniment or tooth powder at Sweet Moses, but you can get a traditional phosphate. I was in there recently with my family and had one of the chilled bubbly drinks with a slightly tart, acidic tang. There are 18 syrups to chose from (mostly fruit flavored, but the shop also offers others such as ginger and cinnamon). I went with peach and it was wonderful and refreshing — all the things I like about soda without any of the cloying sweetness that I hate. Just the thing to clear the palate after consuming a tall glass of Salted French Caramel ice cream, an outstanding new addition to the shop's line-up, topped with salted pistachios and pecans. It was a grand way to get out of the heat, while away an hour and slip back in time. The long line snaking past our table suggested others feel the same.

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