Lula’s Sweet Apothecary
The small, Southern town I grew up in had a drugstore and soda fountain in the heart of its downtown — a commercial area that consisted of four storefronts. The place opened in the 1930’s, underwent a renovation in the 1960’s, and largely stayed the same until it closed its doors a little more than a decade ago.
I went there throughout my childhood and adolescence; it was the one place to get handmade root beer floats, hot fudge sundaes, chocolate malts and small-town gossip. Everything was served in vintage parfait glasses, and old ads for now illegal drugs adorned the walls. It was a gathering space for the young and old alike, and in a word it was perfect — a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
And I’d be remiss not to mention my true love, and reason for going: ice cream. Vegan ice cream is the perfect food — a little bit of sweetness in a world that isn’t always. The more toppings, gooey hot fudge and sprinkles, the better.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into Lula’s Sweet Apothecary — an all-vegan frozen dessert shop that’s tucked in Manhattan’s East Village. Lula’s features a traditional soda fountain menu (but without animal products) — serving one-of-a-kind handcrafted ice creams, soft-serves, shakes, sundaes, floats and banana splits; plus, more than 25 toppings. And get this: the shop is a near replica of an old-school soda fountain — right down to the outfits, art-work, attire and requisite charm.
Lula’s was opened by Blythe Boyd and Derek Hackett — two long-time vegans who wanted to do something original that contributed to the larger cause of veganism; thus the idea for an all-vegan ice cream shop. After “obsessive” (as Blythe puts it), research into the history of the American soda fountain (right down to the music and attire) and how to make great ice cream, “through much trial and error,” Lula’s was born. The namesake is Blythe’s 6-year-old niece, who was born and resides in New York City.
But the proof, as the expression goes, is in the pudding — or, in this case, the ice cream; and I am not sure there are words that do Lula’s justice.
I want to say up-front: I think most commercial vegan ice creams are fine. Some of them are fantastic, and I personally think that even the worst ones are edible. But I am not head-over-heels in love with any of them, and the ice cream at Lula’s reminded me why. Most of the commercial vegan ice creams (and perhaps all of them) rely on air-whipping the final products, which produces a light, creamy, smooth product. It’s certainly a desirable texture of frozen dessert and many people, obviously, love it. But I am fond of a thick, creamy, rich and heavier ice cream that I’ve never found on a store shelf. Lula’s ice cream is better than any vegan ice cream (non-homemade) that I’ve ever eaten.
Lula’s uses a variety of milks to produce their ice creams — including soy, nut- and coconut milks. While I am fondest of coconut milk in commercial varieties, I like all of them at Lula’s. The first time I went there, I had two scoops of cashew milk-based banana ice cream and a hot fudge brownie sundae — and, yes, I ate all of it by myself and once you go there, you’ll understand both how and why. (Later, I found out that the brownies are provided by Gone Pie Vegan Bakery; our review of this fabulous vegan bakery appears here.) I went back the next day and ordered another sundae, and this time I unselfishly brought a dear friend — a comrade whose stomach, I hoped, would be much, much smaller than my own. We also tried lots of the other ice cream flavors (Blythe happily provided free samples). Blythe reports that the most popular flavors are the Cake Batter Soft-Serve, the Peanut Butter Fudge, Peanut Butter and Jelly (yes! Peanut-butter–and-jelly ice cream!), Rocky Road and Toffee Crunch. The Banana flavor made me want to cry tears of joy, and is now my official favorite flavor.
Of course I asked Blythe what future plans lie in store for Lula’s — hoping I’d be told that the ice cream would be available by summer in a grocery near me in Washington, D.C. But alas, for now, the focus shall remain on the perfectly awesome store that’s completely worth a trip to the East Village (even if you live a couple hundred miles away, like myself). I promise you: it’s a bite of frozen heaven.
Priscilla Feral’s latest cookbook, The Best of Vegan Cooking, features several sorbet and ice cream recipes that are fantastic, if you are inclined to make your own; they are worth the purchase of an ice cream maker, in the event that you don’t own one. Following is the recipe for Vanilla Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream; the cookbook can be purchased at www.friendsofanimals.org .
Vanilla Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
2 cups French Vanilla Soy Creamer
½ cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup light coconut milk
½ cup sweet or bittersweet dark chocolate bar, chopped into small, uneven pieces
Put the soy creamer in a sauce pan over medium high heat, stirring, and bring just to a boil.
Mix cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water and whisk until smooth.
Add the cornstarch mixture and agave syrup to the soy creamer, whisking constantly over medium heat until slightly thick, about four minutes. Add peppermint extract and stir in coconut milk.
Cool about two hours and process in an ice cream machine, adding chocolate bits during last 5 minutes while paddles are still going. Transfer to container and freeze.
Lula’s Sweet Apothecary
516 East 6 th Street, East Store (Between Avenues A and B) New York, NY
Sunday: 3:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Tuesday: 3:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Wednesday: 3:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Thursday: 3:00 pm - 11:30 pm
Friday: 3:00 pm - 11:30 pm
Saturday: 3:00 pm - 11:30 pm