Big Gay Ice Cream, which made soft-serve hip again with creative toppings, is setting up shop in Philadelphia, the home turf of local ice cream hipsters, Little Baby's.
"Going into a town where there is no ice cream is not an interest of ours," said Doug Quint, who a few years back started selling Mister Softee ice cream out of a truck because the professional bassoonist had precious little else to do one summer.
"We like where people know good ice cream and appreciate it, and Little Baby's has set the bar," said Quint who, with his partner Bryan Petroff, will open a shop at the end of the summer in the new mixed-use development under construction at Broad and South streets.
Quint sells standard soft-serve flavors dressed up with chocolate and sea salt ("Salty Pimp") or crushed 'Nilla wafers ("Bea Arthur") or toasted and curried coconut ("Cococone").
He is locked in mutual admiration with his chief competition, Pete Angevine of Little Baby's in Fishtown, who thinks Big Gay is big fun.
"I think they have a really bold and brazen and funny approach to this fun food," said Angevine, likewise a professional musician who thought it would be fun to sell homemade ice cream at punk shows. He and his partners, Martin Brown and Jeffrey Ziga, outfitted a tricycle with a cooler and pedaled to the First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street.
"We were planning to show up at the church — after shows in the basement of the First Unitarian Church — and sell funny flavors to people with funny haircuts and tattoos," said Angevine.
Angevine makes small-batch ice cream in flavors including "Earl Grey Sriracha" and "Cucumber Dill." He is selling not just ice cream, but a vision of an aesthetic utopia.
"I love the feeling of being confused and grateful at the same moment," said Angevine. "I would love for our customers to feel that way: 'I don't know what just happened, but it's delicious, and I'm thrilled.'"
Little Baby's sells ice cream "Philadelphia style," which means no eggs (as opposed to "French style"). Philadelphia, in fact, has the oldest continuously run ice cream manufacturer in America — Bassetts — and the Franklin Fountain shop, offering old-timey ice cream, remains a beloved Old City destination.
Little Baby's and Big Gay occupy their own marketing space, catering to the adventurous adult imbiber who appreciates an ironic pun.
"When you go out for a hot fudge sundae, you want to be punched in the face with flavor," said Quint. "You want those calories to be worth it."
With both entrepreneurs coming from musical backgrounds, it's no surprise that both operations also have signature songs. Big Gay Ice Cream wrangled Jane Wiedlin (of The Go-Go's), a personal friend, to compose an ice cream pop song.
Little Baby's took the original Mister Softee truck jingle and fed it into a digital random note generator, a la Brian Eno's celebrated experiment "Music for Airports." They call it "Music for Ice Cream."
The battle over ice cream thusly becomes the battle of the bands. Let the best cone win.