Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Ice cream challenge: Mariposa
This half-sized ice cream parlor has been serving up frosty, handmade scoops to Normal Heights for twelve years now and those years have been kind to Mariposa. The shop has charm to spare, from the Beatles decorations to the Mom and Pop atmosphere. Even the store's 2000-chic web site comes off as endearing instead of unprofessional, perhaps because the owners update it regularly and everything is in good working order despite the archaic code. Probably 90% of San Diego's restaurants could take a strict lesson from Mariposa Ice Cream regarding customer relations. Keeping websites up to date is one of the best ways to look professional. It just goes to show that sometimes doing something well and with care is a lot more important than putting a lot of flair on it. Substance over style, you might say.
The inside of the store, replete with patio furniture and poster after poster of the Fab Four (and other Sixties icons), has well-worn and well-loved qualities that indicate Mariposa's comfortable spot in the Adams Avenue community. Hand-lettered signs list the ice cream flavors and sundae combinations, but the menu isn't long or complicated. They have about 15 or 20 different kinds of ice cream and half a dozen toppings for sundaes. Everything is made in the back of the store and the flavors stick mostly to the range of convention: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, etc. Rotating tastes, like a spiced pumpkin or eggnog, round out the offerings on the whim of the ice cream makers. Prices are contained in the modest, $2-$6 range.
As is my wont, I tried to combine two distinct flavors for a greater net effect. Coconut ice cream was rich and creamy with flakes of coco in it. The ice cream itself wasn't too strongly flavored, which is a good thing because excessive coconut overpowers. A scoop of lime sherbet was much lighter (as it should be) and snowy white, which indicates a pleasant lack of artificial coloring.
Much like the business itself, the ice cream at Mariposa is deceptively humble. Rather than cloaking itself in exotic flavors, claims of wholesomeness, or gimmickry of any kind it elects to stand on its own merits. It does this very well and there is a lot of sincerity in both the business and product. It isn't the richest or sweetest ice cream around, which is good since the portions are generous, but it has the advantage of modesty that's backed up with quality. This is not to say that the technique in production is other than excellent, the balance of sugar, air, and cream is very good and the ice cream is without the faults of an inferior product. Everything is in the so-called "Goldilocks zone" of just right, and that's a quality of surprising rarity.
3450 Adams Avenue