I'm starting a fight – a sno-ball fight! Local sno-ball stands are in full August swing, offering dozens of flavors and toppings and a break from the heat.
Though my roots are entrenched in this Great State, I have lived many other places, and struggled with the daunting task of explaining sno-balls to people who thought I was talking about snowcones, crunchy crushed ice with near-flavorless syrup, sometimes sparsely poured in advance and frozen together in the cone. Awful.
Sno-balls, on the other hand, are shaved ice, like snow in a cup, flavored with imaginative sock-pow syrups, often topped with sweetened condensed milk and always made to order. When I was a small child and it would snow, my Louisiana-born mother would grab a bowl and we'd make "snow ice cream" with milk, sugar and vanilla extract. A New Orleans sno-ball is like that treat on steroids, fluffy and flavorful.
Nobody ever says their stand sells the second best sno-ball in the city, everyone is convinced theirs is the best and several claim to be the original. I thought I'd start this fight with two stands that most locals can agree on, or rather, fight over – SnoWizard on Magazine and Hansen's on Tchoupitoulas. Both SnoWizard and Hansen's Sno-Bliz developed their own technology in the 1930's inspired by this city's longstanding relationship with ice. If you need to ask why our fair city would have pioneered ice shaving technology, you haven't been here in July.
SnoWizard is owned by the same folks who developed the SnoWizard ice-shaving machine in 1936, now standard equipment at many snowball stands. Mr. Ortolano, the machine's inventor, employed his wife, Josie, to invent flavors and she has been credited with creating cream flavors, cream combined with flavor syrup, a local favorite.
SnoWizard has its own parking lot and there were two men hard at work when I stepped up and ordered one of my favorites, wedding cake with sweetened condensed. The menu is extensive with many special flavors and toppings as well as sugar free flavors. I tried a sample of the sugar free green apple (the stand's favorite sugar free flavor) and can say that it was mighty tasty. It does, however, have an aftertaste, not unpleasant but not as refreshing as good ole sugar.
The cute Chinese take-out containers hold much more than an average serving but need to be tended as they can drip from the bottom. I'm told that Plum Street uses the same messy but ample containers. I spent $2.25 on a small and walked away with almost more than I could eat.
While waiting, because those of us who enjoy this sweet treat know there's plenty of waiting involved, I spoke to others in line including three people who'd driven from the Bywater, past other stands, to come to SnoWizard. One of them was kind enough to offer me a taste of their chocolate when I sounded doubtful about it's yumminess. I stand corrected.
Flavor: 4 balls
Fluffiness: 4 balls
Price: 4 balls
Overall Experience: 3.5 balls (the deduction is owing to the messiness of the cute containers)
Hansen's is another family affair. Ernest Hansen created his shave ice machine during the Depression. His wife, Mary, came up with the line of syrups and they began selling sno-balls on the sidewalk in 1939. They've been in their current Tchoupitoulas Street location since 1944. As with SnoWizard, the business is still in the family, with granddaughter, Ashley, in charge.
There's street parking available and I met a friendly neighbor with a baby on her hip who was all too happy to see me pull up for a treat. The indoor shop is festooned with photos and memorabilia in glass cases and on walls. I spotted that same friendly neighbor smiling in a photo array.
Two aproned women served up the confections and chatted with people waiting patiently in line. Behind me, a young man said he was a first timer who'd been given a taste last time he was in the neighborhood and was back for more. It's fun to watch the women layer the flavor in. They fill a cup with shaved ice, douse with syrup, then cap it with more shaved ice and douse it again.
I'd been told many times by avid sno-ball fans to try the spearmint at Hansen's. I have to admit that sounded awful to me but I tried it for the sake of research. I wouldn't recommend sampling at Hansen's as they poured the flavor into my half filled cup of ice and had me spoon it out as opposed to filling a spoon with ice and flavoring it as SnoWizard had, but I have to admit that the spearmint was surprisingly refreshing. I may even try a full-sized spearmint sno-ball some hot day.
I had the nectar creme with sweetened condensed. Doesn't that just sound like heaven in a cup? It was. Though it was called a medium, the cost for the same amount as a SnoWizard small was $3.50.
Flavor: 4 balls
Fluffiness: 4 balls
Price: 3 balls
Overall Experience: 3.5 balls
No fair starting with a tie? You're right, so I should confess that the other muggy day, I stopped by SnoWizard for a nectar with sweetened condensed. I told myself it was so I could compare flavors head to head, but I really just wanted more of that sweet treat. And, yeah, I made a mess with the container, but as they say at the stand – you just gotta suck it up.
Do you have a favorite sno-ball stand? A flavor you think I'm missing out on? I've thrown the first two sno-balls, now it's your turn to keep the fight going.