Mekelburg’s has garnered glowing praise (see both Gothamist and Grub Street) since opening last summer. The subterranean gourmet grocer, restaurant and bar located in Clinton Hill has become one of my favorite places to eat and drink (it has an impressive selection of rotating drafts including some from local breweries like Other Half and Finback). I attended its first anniversary last weekend, where the shop debuted two new babka ice creams made in collaboration with Ample Hills Creamery.
The wildly successful ice cream producer now operates several locations (including three in Brooklyn, where they make all of their ice cream) and is known for such spunky flavors as “Salted Crack Caramel” and “The Munchies.” For this collaboration, Ample Hills used Mekelburg’s popular babka to create two new and limited offerings exclusively for the multifaceted grocer. The first, “Babka Days Are Here Again,” is a nod to Barbra Streisand and combines a vanilla base with chunks of cinnamon babka. The second, “I Love It When You Call Me Big Babka,” is a The Notorious B.I.G.-inspired pairing of milk-chocolate base and chocolate babka.
After leaving the anniversary bash that evening, I dutifully consumed both pints while ferociously watching the entire second season of Bloodline. I awoke from the binge a few days later and immediately craved more “scoop,” so I met with a co-owner from each side—Mekelburg’s Alicia Mekelburg and Ample Hills’ Brian Smith—to learn more about the collaboration and when they plan on doing it again. This edited and condensed version of our conversation begins with a profoundly difficult question: Biggie Smalls or Barbra?
Edible Brooklyn: It’s tough to pick which name I like better. Biggie was born a few blocks from where your store is, and from where I live, so that may be the winner.
Alicia Mekelburg: [Laughs.] They’re both perfect. Daniel [Mekelburg, Alicia’s husband and co-owner of Mekelburg’s] loves Biggie, and I think I would walk into moving traffic to meet Streisand. It’s cool that we each got to have a name.
EB: How did the collaboration start?
AM: We have a pretty open line of communication with Brian and the folks over at Ample Hills; we order from them on a weekly basis and they’re by far one of our best ice cream brands in our freezer. I really just picked up the phone and said, “Hey! What do you think of an ice cream with our babka?”
Brian Smith: We said yes pretty fast. Mekelburg’s is known for having awesome babka, and I’m all about fun and playful flavors.
EB: Alicia, can you enlighten our readers about your babka?
AM: I’d love to. From growing up on the Upper West Side among places like Barney Greengrass, Zabar’s and Fairway, we knew babka was going to be an offering when we opened last year. But I never thought it would move like it does. It’s really become its own thing.
EB: Where is your babka made?
AM: By a [top secret] kosher bakery in Bed-Stuy. I tasted A LOT of babka before finally deciding who to go with—these guys by far make the best.
EB: Brian, what is the production process like for these ice creams?
BS: The babka wasn’t necessarily infused into the bases itself, like when we use pretzels or vanilla beans. Instead it’s a mix-in and, in that sense, from a production point of view it’s not any different than chopping up pieces of brownies and folding them into an ice-cream flavor. So it was relatively simple: They sent the babka over and we chopped it into bite-size pieces and then we folded it into our ice cream as it came out of our batch freezers. The nice thing with babka is that it flakes and falls apart to some extent when it gets chopped, so little bits and pieces of it ended up throughout the ice cream.
EB: How did you choose what base to use for each babka?
BS: I think the key was keeping the bases relatively simple, to really let the babka shine. So for the chocolate babka we went with a milk-chocolate ice cream and with the cinnamon babka we decided on a basic vanilla. But simplicity aside, much thought went into both bases. And we certainly taste-tested a lot of the babka. [Laughs.]
EB: Alicia, these debuted at Mekelburg’s first-anniversary party last weekend. How did you think it went?
AM: Everyone seemed to love everything. We sold just under 300 pints that day, which is nuts if you consider we’re on one of the sleepier streets of Brooklyn.
EB: Do you have a favorite flavor?
AM: I’m still shocked that I like Babka Days more than Big Babka. To me chocolate babka is better than cinnamon, but the cinnamon blended with a vanilla base—whoa! It kinda tastes like the cereal milk after you’ve finished a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
BS: I think we definitely hit the mark on both. They taste exactly like what I envisioned for them.
EB: These were both one-off batches. Are there plans to make more in the future?
AM: Most definitely. We’re even thinking about adding a “babka split” to the menu, which would be a typical banana split but alongside the banana would be a slice of our chocolate babka. We’d have mixed scoops of both flavors of ice cream and top everything with Fox’s U-bet chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry!