Salted caramel goat's milk soft serve topped with sesame brittle, halva, honey and nigella seeds isn't a special you'll find at Tasti-D-Lite. But over the summer the Sesame Mucho was a limited time sundae swirled at Victory Garden, the West Village's goat's milk soft serve specialist that moonlights as a healthy lunch cafe, too. As prime apple season comes to a close, you can still opt in for an apple-caramel sundae: salted caramel goat's milk soft serve, a house-made cajeta sauce, apple sauce and toasted pecans. But if halva and honey strike your fancy, the good news is that that goat's milk salted caramel soft serve is always on offer (it's Victory Garden's most popular flavor), and the Sesame Mucho can be assembled anytime from the bevy of toppings at the front counter.
Owner Sophia Brittan launched Victory Garden in June of 2011 after attending the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Institute) and studying holistic nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition here in New York. From those experiences she realized she was more interested in cooking approachable food, the kind of stuff you'd want to eat on a daily basis.
Post culinary school, Brittan launched a web-based cooking show called Kitchen Caravan, and on one of the episodes she visited Beltan Farm in Lebanon, CT. Owner Paul Trubey was selling a Greek yogurt made with goat's milk in place of the usual cow's milk. She thought about how such a product was not available in the city, and that planted the seed of an idea to open a yogurt bar of sorts. But after mulling the idea over for years, and witnessing New York's froyo boom, Brittan settled on a slightly different model: a wholesome ice cream concept offering goat's milk soft serve.
Early on, Brittan was inspired by traditional Turkish ice cream called dondurma. Dondurma is famous for the way that it's served, and for the ice cream's sticky and chewy consistency, which is made possible thanks to salep, a flour made from the root of wild orchids. Though there are some companies even here in New York who claim to make a version of Turkish ice cream, it's impossible find the real deal outside of Turkey. Some orchid species have been over-harvested and are endangered, so salep is illegal to export. Salep aside, dondurma was traditionally made with goat's milk, but Bitton didn't want to make a Turkish product. She wanted to make an American product, which his what lead her to her soft serve.
Brittan had no idea whether a goat's milk soft serve bar would work in Manhattan. She did, however, feel as though there could be a market for goat's milk dairy products for a couple reasons. Firstly, goat's milk is lower in fat than cow's milk and is a rich source of calcium and heathy fatty acids. And secondly, although goat's milk does contain lactose, the molecule is smaller and easier to digest. Which means that people who are lactose intolerant can process goat's milk much more easily than cow's milk.
And so she went for it. Victory Garden — named after the public and private produce gardens planted by patriotic Americans between World War I and World War II — began as a simple enough parlor, swirling rose petal, salted caramel, chocolate, and lemon poppy soft serve made with goat's milk from Side Hill Acres in Candor, New York. Some toppings, like the the chocolate cookie crumb crunch and graham cracker crust, are made in-house, but Brittan thoughtfully sources other additions, like Liddabit Sweets' honeycomb candy and halva from Joyva. Right now if you stop into Victory Garden you'll also note blackberry-acai and rose-quince fruit sauces, which are made on site and can be added to soft serve, but are meant to be spooned over Brittan's mini cheesecakes in a jar.
Despite the small space, Brittan, who crafts all the recipes, cranks out an impressive amount of sweets and savories, all in a commissary below the shop. Upon first glance ingredients like cardamom, rose, and saffron make it seem like a Middle Eastern-influenced place. But Brittan says that although Victory Garden does have a Middle Eastern gloss, the place is more eclectic than that, with a lot of inspiration from Mexico. Brittan herself is half Mexican, and her signature salted caramel soft serve is based on a Mexican dulce de leche recipe. She's also serving a Mexican spiced hot chocolate made with Oaxacan cocoa ground cinnamon and sugar. She mixes the chocolate with hot water, and the result is an impressively rich but still light winter beverage.
Meanwhile, Victory Garden's kale-lentil soup is an Indian recipe, and the salads and sandwich on offer daily are just straight up SoCal healthy. The sandwiches are made with bread from Orwasher's Bakery using all local flours, and there's also a gluten-free sandwich constructed with Free Bread's Moxy (millet, oat, flax) slices. Sandwiches change seasonally using ingredients Brittan buys at the Union Square Greenmarket. She explains that she hits the market every week, sometimes making four visits to stock up on ingredients for her seasonal market platter and The Duchess, her signature sandwich which calls for turkey breast, roasted sweet potatoes and an organic mayo made with pickled green beans.
For goat's milk, Side Hill Acres is Brittan's go-to, but right now they're out and her milk is coming from Dirty Girl Farm upstate. Though neither is certified organic, Brittan says operators at each are "extremely vigilant about good farming practices and the health of their animals ... their goats are like their children."
Off to the left of the front counter, in a small freezer, Brittan also stocks pints of "hard pack," another type of goat's milk "ice cream" seperate from the serve serve. Brittan says that she technically can't call it ice cream because the butterfat content isn't high enough. So, in addition to her four soft serve flavors, which change every week, she's also selling rotating pints of Turkish Delight, orange-clove, rose-cardamom-saffron, and white chocolate with mastic, cardamom, and rose.
Aside from ice cream, you can also drop by Victory Garden for a house-made salted rosemary brownie, or a halva blondie with carob chips, and there's usually some gluten-free baked good from Las Delicias in Long Island City. The bourbon cakes up front are a seasonal special, and Bitton just added a vegan chocolate cake and a gluten-free carrot cake. All of the baked goods that are made in house use goat's milk butter, and all foods are sweetened with either organic cane sugar, local honey, agave, or sometimes maple syrup.
True do her original idea, Brittan also does serve a plain Greek yogurt made with goat's milk. To that or to a chia pudding made with cashew milk, one can add any of the froyo toppings but also raspberry, cajeta, and sour cherry sauces.
Fans of cardamom coffee will want to take special note of the hot version offered at Victory Garden. Coffee brewed with Irving Farm beans is mixed with a splash of goat's milk, cardamom, organic cane sugar and mastic. Mastic is an aromatic plant resin with a plethora of applications, used in everything from chewing gum to, as strange as it sounds, adhesives. But it's a totally natural product that has been used for centuries in Mediterranean medicine because of its antibacterial properties. And it's also an ingredient in traditional dondurma.
Winter may not be prime ice cream season, but Victory Garden has enough other draws, from mastic coffee to sweet potato sandwiches, to merit a visit. Plus, even in freezing temperatures, that salted caramel goat's milk soft serve wins out.