Restaurant Review #264: Carmela Ice Cream, Pasadena

Brown sugar vanilla atop dark chocolate cacao nib ice cream in a waffle cup

I'll say it: Carmela Ice Cream is overrated.

The Pasadena location is tiny, with barely enough room for a few people to stand inside. It's incredibly warm--too warm--though it does smell incredible from the freshly pressed waffle cones. The staff are friendly and happy to give samples on small metal spoons. I tried the lavender honey ice cream (too sweet), earl gray ice cream, strawberry buttermilk ice cream (couldn't taste the buttermilk--tasted like ordinary strawberry), and raspberry rose sorbet, but none of them seemed like something I could eat an entire scoop of, particularly the earl gray, which didn't taste like much. Embarrassed by my inability to find a flavor I liked when others were oohing and aahing over their samples, and feeling the pressure of the mounting line behind me, I decided on a scoop of brown sugar vanilla--surely a safe option, since I love the homemade brown sugar ice cream at Kiriko.

The ever-patient and friendly server, acutely aware of my powers of indecision, said he could do two ice creams in a single scoop, so I chose another safe option--dark chocolate cacao nib. Of course, I had to get the waffle cone cup based on the incredible aroma in the place. I paid my $4.50--not a bad price for premium ice cream--and squeezed through the doorway past the now out-the-door line to sit on the lone bench outside, where I proceeded to be underwhelmed by my two flavor choices.

The brown sugar ice cream was not nearly as flavorful as Kiriko's, and the chocolate tasted like Breyer's. Now, Breyer's is my favorite store-bought ice cream, but I was expecting something special from a name like "dark chocolate cacao nib." I will say that the cacao nibs added a pleasant crunch.

I had a taste of my friend's salted caramel, and a taste of another friend's mint sorbet, both of which actually were something special, unlike my previous six attempts. The salted caramel had a rich, intense caramel flavor; the mint was made from real spearmint--no fake mint flavor, no pale green food coloring. Had I ordered one of those two flavors (or perhaps one of the other couple of flavors I didn't try) I might be raving about Carmela.  But my waffle cup still would have been soft instead of crisp--and I'm not just talking about the part the ice cream was sitting on top of. The aroma was much better than the flavor, too, which was just ordinary. At least the serving size was generous.

I've heard people rave that Carmela's flavors taste "so fresh!" because they use fresh ingredients. They use organic dairy, which from my own experiences making ice cream, I would agree tastes better. They also use fresh herbs and spices, flowers and seasonal fruits. While those flavors really shine in the mint sorbet and the lavender honey ice cream, the chocolate and strawberry tasted so ordinary.

Parking was difficult (street parking on crowded residential streets or busy Washington Blvd.), it was difficult to walk out of the crowded store without spilling my ice cream, and there was nowhere to enjoy it. Perhaps a to-go pint would have been a better option.

Sorry, Carmela--I won't be going out of my way to return.

Carmela Ice Cream
2495 E Washington Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91104
11am – 10pm Monday – Thursday
11am – 11pm Friday – Saturday
11am – 10pm Sunday

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