Spring in DC: as ephemeral as it is glorious. Good thing we have ice cream to get us through the sticky summer months. And just in time for Shavuot, a holiday in which our people toss aside a supposed hereditary inability to digest lactose and an equally great ability to complain about it.
To help celebrate, dig into the history of two local Jewish businesses that have scooped out delicious niches in the frozen dessert spectrum. Each has a unique twist, of course, but both feature craft ingredients with a sincere focus on the community.
Let’s go back in time a couple decades. Picture a family vacation, much like we’ve all had, to a quaint corner of America. It’s hot, and the kids want ice cream. Mom relents. But it’s different: the family realizes this is some of the best ice cream they’ve ever tasted—locally made, small-batch, super-premium. Mom is blown away. One thing leads to anther, and she ends up enrolling in Ice Cream University and then opening up her very own small-batch and super-premium ice cream shop. This is the story of Susan Soorenko, owner of Moorenko’s in Silver Spring.
Ever since that first taste, Soorenko and her family were hooked. They determined to craft the best-tasting ice cream to ever grace a cone, so they took that ultra-premium route, which means that the ice cream has more than 16 percent milkfat for a supremely rich and full-bodied taste.
Soorenko also makes sure to keep ingredients simple, without clutter or fillers. “I’m feeding it to my kids, their friends, my family,” she says, “so I need to make sure the ingredients are as natural and good for you as possible.”
Speaking of family, the shop is as deeply intertwined with the community as it could possibly be. Soorenko hires local kids to work in the shop, caters all the top holidays and watches customers grow from chocolate-chip-only lovers to those with more sophisticated tastes—and with their own kids in tow. Moorenko’s ice cream is also kosher, and besides being carried in Whole Foods and Safeway, it’s now available at the corner store by her synagogue. “My neighbors are just thrilled at this,” she says with a laugh. “That’s the most important part for me, and what keeps me going. They’re happy, and I’m happy.”
A transformational travel taste experience also made an indelible mark on Noah Dan’s tongue, owner of Pitango Gelato. Dan was raised on a dairy kibbutz—one of the largest in Israel at the time, run by workers who had trained on no-nonsense farms in Bavaria. But Dan’s family came from the sun-kissed shores of Trieste, Italy, where he spent childhood summers and met his first true love: authentic gelato.
Back on the farm and later in the States, Dan longed for this fresh, fruity, creamy treat. Working alongside a friend in Italy with a gelato lab, he began to experiment in crafting all-natural gelato. At one discerning aunt’s birthday, he presented this, his very own gelato. Instead of a kvetch, it was a kvell. “That’s when I knew it was meant to be,” he says.
Today, Dan and his family run four gelaterias across the DMV, selling his nostalgic version of the treat. “My goal was to do one thing, and make it right. None of this ten-ingredient mishegas [craziness]. When you see options like thyme honey sriracha mustard, it’s gone too far. Gelato should be fresh and wholesome and nothing else.”
Dan takes the gelato process back to its traditional elements, focusing on organic, local, seasonal and small-batch ingredients. He spent months finding the best dairy purveyor, eventually landing with a family-run Amish farm that reminded him of his Bavarian-trained kibbutzniks. He purchases crates of raw milk right from that farm, processing it at Pitango’s own facility nearby. Other ingredients are also impeccably sourced and processed. Pomegranates, for example, are squeezed at that same space: as fresh as fruit-ly possible. And some items, like pistachios, have to come right from the specialty source (Italy!).
Speaking of dairy, pomegranate and pistachio, Dan recalls that Shavuot was one of the most exciting holidays on the kibbutz: “The kids would be decorated in garlands of flowers, and we would eat the most delicious, freshest of fruits, representative of spring and new beginnings. It really felt like the land of milk and honey.” And ice cream.
Moorenko’s, 301-565-7804, 8030-B Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD, Sunday–Thursday 12 pm–8 pm, Friday and Saturday 12 pm – 10 pm. Not kosher. Ice cream pints (kosher) are also available in many supermarkets—see here for store locator.
Penn Quarter, 202-885-9607, 413 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC, Monday–Thursday 8 am–11 pm, Friday 8 am–12 am, Saturday 11 am–12 am, Sunday 11 am-11 pm. Not kosher.
Capitol Hill, 202-701-6222, 660 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, Monday–Thursday 12 pm–10 pm, Friday–Saturday 12 pm–11 pm, Sunday 12 pm–10 pm. Not kosher.
Fells Point, 410-236-0741, 802 South Broadway Baltimore, MD, Monday–Thursday 11 am–11 pm, Friday 11 am–12 am, Saturday 10:30 am–12 am, Sunday 10:30 am-11 pm. Not kosher.
Reston Town Center, 703-606-9906, 11942 Reston Town Center, Reston, VA, Monday–Thursday 10 am–11 pm, Friday 10 am–12 am, Saturday 11 am–12 am, Sunday 11 am-11 pm. Not kosher.
Pitango Bakery + Cafe, 443-676-6447, 903 S. Ann Street, Baltimore, MD, Monday-Friday 7 am–7:30 pm, Saturday–Sunday 7:30 am–7:30 pm. Not kosher.
Top photo courtesy of Pitango Gelato