Brrr™: The Big Chill

I’d been watching the vacant former home of my favorite place to buy bread for months.Rumors started to spread about an ice cream store moving into the empty space. And then the rumors were confirmed, which turned out to be very good news indeed.

While I missed the bread place, I had high hopes for an East Bay outpost of Smitten: a unique ice cream venue where each batch of ice cream is made one serving at a time using a machine called Brrr™. The story of how founder Robyn Fisher started her business is a great tale of patience, creativity, ingenuity, and persistence.

Thanks to my son Myles, who organized a city-wide ice cream adventure a year or so ago, I’d been to the original home of Smitten in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. Long lines, happy customers, really good ice cream. No emulsifiers, no polysyllabic ingredients, no scooping from big tubs in a case–and no asking for a taste.

Here in Oakland, it seems as though new businesses have to crawl through the lengthy permitting process. I don’t know what caused the delay, but I wondered if  the brown paper would ever come off the windows of the corner location on College Ave.

But then, after many months, I read about an April 1st opening. Finally! And–I hoped–no joke.

This week I met a friend for lunch a few blocks from Smitten. I persuaded her to join me on a walk to check out the newest addition to a neighborhood already full of great places to eat.

Inside, Smitten looks like something out of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The main room is dominated by a large metal tank full of liquid nitrogen.


There is some merch at the front of the store. Look out, grandkids: Smitten garb may be coming your way.

Metal tubes stretch across the ceiling and down to each station, where your ice cream is made.


photo courtesy of Smitten

This is how it’s done!

My chocolate ice cream being made while I wait

 I chose my flavor, asked for it in a cup, then stepped aside to  wait for my ice cream to be made.

Some odd reflection through the glass here, but this is MY ice cream!

I’m over being astonished at the price of coffee and toast in the Bay Area, so it came as no surprise that my “custom made” cup of ice cream was over $4.00.

Worth it? As an occasional treat (like that specially brewed coffee and artisinal toast) you can’t do better than this: smooth, creamy, and well worth the brief wait. There will be lines out the door.



What I love about this place is the history of its evolution, the friendly/industrial look of the space (with design elements borrowed from the Hayes Valley location–down to the graffiti on the walls)–and the way it reminds me that special treats, made with care, are worth waiting for.

I remembered what it felt like, as a kid, on summer days when the ice cream truck was a couple of blocks away. Once we heard the tinny calliope music, the kids on my block would run inside, beg for some change from our mothers, and then stand out near the curb, waiting for the truck to come down our street. We experienced anticipation, excitement, decision-making, and–finally–satisfaction, ice cream, and happiness.

I felt all of those things on my first visit to Smitten. Needless to say, however, the ice cream is a million times better.

And here’s the scoop from Christina at the Weekly Dish:

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