Soft Spot

Soft Spot

Though really good ice cream isn’t as synonymous with New Haven as really good pizza, premium cream is still easy to find. Arethusa on Chapel Street and Ashley’s on York dish out some serious scoops, and just over the line in Woodbridge, new business Micro Creamery claims to aggregate “CT’s finest local ice cream all in one place.”

Back the other way in East Rock, an even newer spot is carving out its own sweet niche: Elena’s on Orange, located at Canner and Orange, where it dishes (and cones) out classic soft serve with a twist. The owner and namesake is Elena Grewal (pronounced like Helena, without the H), who would frequent her local soft serve truck, Twirl and Dip, while working as a data science executive in San Francisco. Long before that, as a kid growing up in Westville, she would walk to Bill’s Carousel, perhaps the genesis of her love for soft serve.

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Returning in 2020 to her home town and settling in East Rock, Grewal stumbled upon the former Ayah-H Market, a corner location that quickly inspired visions of a neighborhood ice cream shop. “New Haven already has really great hard ice cream,” Grewal explains, so “we wanted to make soft serve our specialty… as well as high-quality toppings.” She hired Meg Hilgartner, owner of Twirl and Dip, to consult on the project. (One result is an exclusive dairy-free chocolate soft serve recipe.) Meanwhile, general manager Alex DePauloff, a baker by trade, heads up the specialty toppings, which include house-made toffee and chocolate chip cookie pieces as well as gourmet gummy bears.

The shop just opened in November, and while it’s not been peak season for frozen treats, Grewal says a healthy number of us have already been indulging. Nestled on a corner among quaint Colonials and Victorians, with a sizable patio just one block from East Rock Park, the location could hardly be sweeter and should serve the business well come summer.

Clad, for now, in my winter parka, I stopped by and ordered a cone filled with silky smooth vanilla soft serve dressed with a spill of chocolate—a combo dubbed Elena’s Favorite ($6.25). The chocolate hardened into a shell reminiscent of classic dip, albeit a richer, less processed version. A crunch of Maldon sea salt on top was the clincher, making the flavors pop. I’m partial to basic wafer cones, but here I opted for the house-made waffle (which can also be doused in chocolate), keeping my coat on as I dug in.

The sundae menu nods to the neighborhood, with the Canner Crunch, The Whitney, the Elm City Express. I went for the Crunchy East Rocker ($8), topped with honey sauce, pecan pieces and sea salt. The proprietary oat milk chocolate base conjured memories of the freezer Fudgsicles I enjoyed as a kid. In my limited non-dairy ice cream experience, it was some of the best I’ve tried, good enough to confidently recommend it to my vegan friends. Milkshakes ($6) are, of course, available, along with coffee and hot cocoa floats ($6) housed in a cup you can throw directly into a compost bin, to be processed by the local composting company Peels & Wheels.

Elena’s is currently open Friday and Saturday from noon to 9 and Sunday from noon to 8, with hours sure to expand as temperatures rise. But if the season right now has you dreaming of summer, you might as well make it a sweet dream.

Elena’s on Orange
831 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Winter Hours: Fri-Sat noon-9, Sun noon-8
(203) 693-9502

Written and photographed by Katie Lloyd.

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