I was a fat kid. Standing on the chewed asphalt of De Portola Elementary, I watched my schoolmates play handball. I sucked my stomach inward and held my breath. The thrumming of the red plastic sphere made me cringe, so I tried to look introspective.
Nobody ever asked me to join.
High school stretched me the same way a taffy puller exhausts corn syrup and glycerin. I’ve become a long-term vegetarian. I’m also 20 pounds underweight, which weirds me out. I don’t particularly like sweets.
I’m still picked last for team sports. Only some stuff has changed.
When I moved to Berkeley this year, hoards of hungry — and usually intoxicated — freshmen swarmed CREAM on a nightly basis, eagerly chipping away at “the freshman 15” with concentrated amounts of dairy and sugar. Meanwhile, the record store Rasputin Music sat empty across the street. Rasputin is home to Scoop Dreams, a near-replica of CREAM with slightly more spunk. It sits on the opposite side of the street, somewhat lonely but flaunting its garish banner in silent rebellion.
I experienced the CREAM vs. Scoop Dreams rivalry — or lack thereof — firsthand.
As the brainchild of Rasputin’s owner Ken Sarachan, Scoop Dreams was an unabashed attempt to jump the East Bay ice cream sandwich fad and restabilize the music shop’s income. While CREAM kickstarted Berkeley’s cookie mania in 2010, Scoop Dreams set up shop across Channing Way in December 2013. The store’s self-aware plagiarization of CREAM’s setup was made even more painful by their tacky logo featuring a 19th-century Rasputin decked out in a poorly photoshopped basketball uniform.
Before tasting either, I thought I’d support Rasputin. It was a no-brainer. The underdog — a grimey record store with no money saying “Fuck you!” to the homogenization of the ice cream sandwich. And the line is always nonexistent. Scoop Dreams is the fat kid on the block, the one with the funky haircut that nobody wants to play handball with.
My girlfriend — a devoted foodie — and I walked to the intersection of Channing and Telegraph at around 9 p.m. on a Thursday. My stomach churned uncomfortably. I wasn’t hungry, but this was important. This was the taste test. All I had to do was verify that CREAM was a byproduct of some sheep-follow-sheep mentality, and we could be on our way. We shuffled to the rear of CREAM’s long line, which snaked around the shop and up the street. I made some notes in my Moleskine:
– Bad top-40 hip-hop.
– Stray stoners and homeless dudes seem to gravitate to Dreams — authentic?
– CREAM has some garish screen set up with a self-glorifying Twitter feed — #creamnation. Like, seriously?
We neared the front of the line. Fat kids aren’t good at ordering things. Asking for a chocolate chip sandwich with banana-walnut ice cream is a lot of words, and I seem to always forget my change.
The first bite, was, well, creamy. The banana-walnut melted in my mouth, offering a pleasant counterpoint to the chewy, gooey chocolate chips. But Rasputin needed the revenue. I felt guilty as I took my second bite. The other customers didn’t share my inhibitions:
“I really appreciate Rasputin’s efforts, and I like the competition, but the cookies are kind of
“They’re just trying to steal customers from CREAM!”
“CREAM has a better reputation.”
My hands dripped ice cream. I knew I had a bias, but wasn’t it well placed? Rasputin Music has been a counterculture haven since 1971. Would accepting the norm of this local cookie monopoly comprise my self-identity? I still wax nostalgic to the smell of vinyl records, and the DIY music scene Rasputin embodies is what helped uproot the fat kid in me. The thrumming of pop-crazed indie groups replaced the reverberations of that dark red handball. It became OK to hate sports and be more-than-slightly awkward.
I looked across Channing. Two frat boys drunkenly stumbled past Scoop Dreams toting identical CREAM-wiches, stopping only to cat call the lonely cashier manning the empty shop front. We crossed the street. Scoop Dreams is essentially a misplaced booth blocked off from the main part of the store. The strong fluorescent lighting felt unhygienic, and it was silent save an barrage of distorted soul tunes coming from a stalled red Chevy outside. We ordered an identical banana-walnut sandwich and waited.
“I would almost call this cookie rugged, if a cookie could be rugged,” said my girlfriend.
She looked at me expectantly.
I took a bite. It was good. Not spectacular, but good. The ice cream was thick and had real banana chunks. It was framed by two dough-and-chocolate mountains. We chewed nervously, trying to compare.
It was exactly what it advertised itself to be: a slightly larger ice cream sandwich. And, as Berkeley’s students had described it, slightly worse.
I bet Rasputin was a fat kid too. I read that he was considered an outsider in his youth, which isn’t exactly a surprise. Fat kids always get a bad rep. Anyway, is Rasputin’s Scoop Dreams better than CREAM? Probably only if you’re too hungry to wait in line or have a quarter gallon of almond milk to drown the leftover cookie in. But that’s okay with me. I’ll always cling to the fat kid with the larger sandwich. At least we keep it real.
Contact Zackary Kiebach at [email protected]