First Taste: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

ice cream truck

The lines in front of the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream truck on University Place the other night were so long that you’d think they were giving out free ice cream. Though it only hit the streets a week ago—spending afternoons in SoHo and evenings near Union Square—Ben Van Leeuwen’s charmingly revamped old postal service truck (refitted with a 1948 grill and chrome bumpers) already has a devoted following.

Van Leeuwen, a 24-year-old former Good Humor truck driver, makes his delicious, rich (18 percent butterfat) ice cream from local, hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and cream (no stabilizers or preservatives), plus other ingredients he culls from around the globe. The superb chocolate is Michel Cluizel; the equally addictive vanilla is made not with extract but with Tahitian beans that a Vancouver company ages in vodka in oak barrels, then grinds. Try a scoop in a float made with Virgil’s Root Beer or Mexican Coke (both sweetened with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, which Van Leeuwen eschews). The nuts in the pistachio ice cream come from a slow-food farm in Sicily; the ones in the hazelnut variety are from Piedmont. All the toppings—caramel and hot-fudge sauces, fresh whipped cream—are homemade and organic.

While Van Leeuwen’s insistence on the best ingredients means the carbon footprint of each scoop isn’t small, he is as fervent about the environment as he is about his ice cream. The biodegradable cups, napkins, spoons, and straws are made from sugar cane and corn husks. One percent of his profits go to protecting the Congo Mountain Gorilla, and he’s even buying carbon offsets to make up for the fuel he burns (about 12 miles a day, he says). Ice cream on a summer night in New York never tasted so good.

Small serving $3.50; medium $5.25; large $6.75. Truck locations: Corner of Greene St. and Prince St., 1-7 P.M.; University Pl. between 10th St. and 11th St., 8-10:30 P.M. A second truck is being added this week; check the website for times and locations.

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