I became familiar with Sam Mason the night I ate at his Soho restaurant Tailor. Mason made a name for himself as the pastry chef/protégé to Wiley Dufresnse at WD-50, and Tailor was his first solo venture. One night my mom asked me to pick a restaurant where we could meet because she needed to tell me something. The meal was so amazing, I almost forgot that there was a reason why we were meeting. It turned out my mother wanted to tell me that she was sick. A long, hard road followed, after which she recovered fully, but Tailor gave us one great meal before the hard year ahead.
Mason accrued a reputation as a rocker chef, perhaps because of the tattoos up and down his arms, or perhaps because of his original IFC TV series, Dinner With The Band, wherein he prepares meals for his favorite bands in his Brooklyn loft. However, Mason’s newest venture may serve as proof that his rocker rebel spirit runs deeper.
OddFellows Ice Cream is the brainchild of Mason and husband/wife team Holiday and Mohan Kumar. Mohan and Mason were drinking together one night. Mohan was lamenting his wife’s strange pregnancy cravings: in particular, savory ice cream. Soon after, Mason delivered with his homemade pretzel ice cream. When Mason asked Mohan whether his wife enjoyed the ice cream, Mohan’s answer was profound: “She says we need to sell it.”
OddFellows Ice Cream was born.
At the time of this writing, OddFellows has been open for 68 days and has thus far had 53 flavors. Some of Mason’s creations have fared better than others. For instance, Goat Cheese Beet Pistachio remains more of a staff favorite, while Cornbread has been a runaway hit, with a taste so pleasant, it’s nearly ineffable. However, regardless of its popularity, Cornbread remains elusive.
Therein lies the Sam Mason ethos, and how it differs from most of the culinary world. He is like the lead singer of a rock band; everyone wants him to play the same old hits, but he knows that if he begins to hate one of his songs, the quality will suffer. That’s why Cornbread won’t be available again for a while.
“If I don’t beat it into the ground, I can always bring it back,” he says. “It makes people excited when their favorite flavor comes back. I think that excitement is important.”
For me, a few flavors stuck out as especially memorable. Burnt Marshmallow comes from an intricate process of toasting, freezing, and smashing marshmallows before adding them to the base and creating an almost panna cotta-esque flavor. Buttermilk Honey Blueberry takes the tang of buttermilk and offsets it with the sweetness of honey and tart blueberries. Olive Oil is so rich, yet sweet, it’s almost deceivingly delicious, so much so that you’ll never look at a bottle of olive oil in the same way. The Tahitian Vanilla is the creamiest, richest vanilla you’ll find, loaded with tiny, black vanilla-pod flecks, making each bite of this amped up classic deserving of a few moments to process the taste.
Located on the fast-developing Williamsburg waterfront, the future looks bright for OddFellows. “I love to see people get ice cream and walk down the promenade,” Mohan says.
The winter months can be precarious for ice cream shops, but OddFellows plans to expand their menu to banana splits, and possibly corn dogs. If their first summer is any indication, Williamsburg has embraced OddFellows with open arms. Confidence and optimism permeate the premises, and with Mason keeping expectations from dictating his process, the same goes for the chef himself.
Mason refers to ice cream-making as “Shooting fish in a barrel.” Adding, “People smile as soon as they walk into the place. They see the décor, they smell waffle cones, and they’re putty in your hands.”
OddFellows Ice Cream Co.
175 Kent Avenue