A review of the Dolly Parton ice cream from someone who's been to Nashville once
Jeni’s local scoop shops are sold out of the limited-edition Strawberry Pretzel Pie, but an online sale is still forthcoming. Until then, you have these words.
I must begin with an apology: If you're reading this now, it may already be too late to buy a pint of Strawberry Pretzel Pie, the limited-edition Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream collaboration with Dolly Parton.
There's still online ordering. The Jeni's website crashed yesterday afternoon amid 50 times its normal traffic, which led to internet sales being temporarily scrapped. Near the close of the business day, the ice cream maker announced that 48-hour notice would be given via email and its social media channels before online sales resumed for a limited number of pints.
But, failing some digital luck, if you didn’t stand outside in the light of a clear blue Thursday morning and wait an hour in line for your local shop to open, it's all gone now. One-way ticket to the heartbreak express.
Don’t fret: I managed to secure my pint, one of just 10,000 made for the entire country. But the rest? Scooped up by the Dolly devotees who were 40-deep to the front door by the time I arrived at the Clintonville location. Less of a 9-to-5 and more of an 11-to-1 situation.
Jeni Britton Bauer and Dolly knew what they were doing, of course. Some of the sales from Strawberry Pretzel Pie benefit Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, an incredibly worthy program offering free books to kids from birth to age 5, and the name "Dolly Parton" alone is enough to stir half the population into action, no matter your home state or political orientation. This was always going to be a phenomenon, as surely as Jolene was to take your man.
(Sorry Joe Biden and Tyler, the Creator — I'm sure your Jeni's flavors were good, too. I also didn't spot any crowds when the ice cream involved onion and garlic, although that too sold out within days.)
It's particularly appropriate that the Queen of Country's namesake summons visions of summer Americana: faded pictures of picnic benches, checkered tablecloths and triple-layered desserts. Or so I've been told — Jell-O creations are tragically not as common among the Jews of my childhood synagogue.
Unlike that nostalgic casserole dish, however, Strawberry Pretzel Pie a la Jeni's is a seamless swirl of cream cheese ice cream, pretzel bits and bright-red strawberry sauce, an Appalachian memory revived for the present. (Dropping "salad" from the dish name was probably a smart branding choice.)
The emotional potency of this flavor makes it difficult, then, to understand if my ambivalence comes as a consequence of the ice cream or my lack of personal connection to the original.
Strawberries, the clear star of the production, speak softly where they should be singing uproariously. The overly large pretzel chunks provide far too much chew and far too little salt to the choir. Cream cheese ice cream, divorced from its bagel backing, takes center stage when it should take several steps back.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and managed to eat half of my pint in a single sitting. But in the library of Jeni's flavors, it's something of a backwoods brambleberry crisp. Good because it's strawberry; good because it's Dolly; good because it's Jeni's. It's just not a highlight of my life.
I do imagine, though, how this flavor may bring down the house in another time, another place. Not in April, one year into a global pandemic that's still keeping many of us from companionship and has scuttled most of the festivities we'd normally look forward to. Not over my kitchen counter, where I quickly scurried in hopes of protecting my precious pint from the day's humidity.
But over a picnic bench, maybe, or in a friend's backyard, soundtracked by cornhole and laughter, crowded with casserole dishes and barbecue. A pint passed around to try, multiple spoons reaching in for one last scrape before it all melts to soup. Another pint stored safely in a cooler next to the Lone Stars and excess burgers patties.
Until then, I've got Dolly's other creation inside of me: The first of two Moderna vaccine doses.
Immunity and ice cream — that's a collaboration I hope everyone gets to enjoy.