I like ice cream. In fact I like Ice cream a lot. I have eaten much more than you have. I have read more about it. I may have made more than you have. So, in case it is not yet clear, I have a thing for ice cream. In an alternate retirement path for me, I see myself owning an ice cream shop in Athens Ohio that would be a more accessible, less (oh my god I am going go say/write it) pretentious version of Jeni’s. Another thing I have a thing for is history – the stories, lore, facts and falsehoods of food history, in particular ice cream.
The above sets the stage for why I adore Sweet Moses. Creating a culinary experience is a difficult task. Creating one that is also historically accurate as well as really, deliciously, painfully good and still profitable is……near impossible, downright expensive and risky as hell. So when I approached the doors of Sweet Moses, I was a bit skeptical. I really did not want to get my hopes up only to see them melt away and go down the drain.
The closest experience in my life to a true soda fountain occurred in my early youth before I could appreciate it. The Beechwold Pharmacy just up the street from my childhood abode was a quick banana seated bike ride away. I might have peeked my head in a few times as a youth, but I never stayed long enough to enjoy the place. It seemed a bit old-fashioned for my inexperienced pre-gourmand, pre teenage self. I was more interested in the pharmacy across the street that had an ancient coke machine dispensing a freezing cold bottle of coke for a quarter next to a stack of 25-cent comic books that time forgot. By the time I did get to an age where I could appreciate a true soda fountain, the Beechwold Pharmacy was a florist shop and I was scooping ice cream at my first job at Knight’s Ice Cream. (Note: I did find this soda fountain again in my later years).
Now that the flashback sequence is over, let’s get back to Sweet Moses. First – the name.
Sweet as in everything this establishment serves. Moses as in Moses Cleaveland, the founding father of Cleveland. Located within the Gordon Square Arts District, Sweet Moses was created with the intention of providing a family friendly place where guests can hang out, take their time and slow down a bit transporting themselves back to the era and pace of the 1930’s and 1940’s, the heyday of the soda jerk. Since we are all a bit too hectic and unschooled in the ways of the soda fountain, the shop conveniently displays signs to guide guests through the disorientation of not knowing what to do…. and having forgotten how to chill out a bit.
Sweet Moses gets every little detail right – from the antique high cresting wooden booths, swivel top stools and wire backed parlor chairs to the triple draft arm Bastion Blessings soda fountain from the 1940’s. Fortunately for us while owner Jeffrey Moreau was preparing for his departure from corporate American he was also collecting real deal soda fountain and ice cream parlor components from the 1920’s to 1940’s throughout a five state area. Some of the menu boards are repurposed from an 1800’s farmhouse. Moreau’s dream was to create a place that fit in with its neighborhood and would feel like it had always been there. His goal: to be authentic without being hokey was not the easiest task.
However collecting the equipment was an easier task than trying to get all of the soda fountain recipes right and ensuring flavors were spot on. A lot of soda fountain lore was lost in the decades so a fair amount of trial an error was needed before opening in March of 2011. And let me assure you, having sampled almost everything that everything is as it should be at Sweet Moses…..just right. The ice cream base is made using Hartzler Dairy milk from Wooster. The root beer is home-made and hand carbonated. The butterscotch, sauces and toppings are made from hand….all labor intensive, all ingredient driven and not inexpensive to source. The major investment is in time – it takes longer to make something than pour it out of a can but the tastes differences between fresh and manufactured never compare. For example, for the Bananas Foster Ice Cream, twenty just right and ripe bananas go into each tub of ice cream. The ice cream machine is the same (Rolls Royce of the trade) Carpigiani that Jeni’s Ice Cream uses. For those of you that are ice cream savvy, the ice cream is low overflow (dense ice cream with a low air content) with about 12% butterfat…..that is the sweet spot for ice cream in my book.
Whether the ice cream is scooped or dished served in a sundae or fresh made waffle cone – the attention to detail is shown in every item served from the counter. What else makes the experience authentic – soda jerk garb of hats and aprons adore each employee as well as a bit of soda jerk jargon getting slung behind the counter. Many of the tables have small placards with details about the shop, the lingo and the lore of soda fountains. Small touches include a salty pretzel attached to the spoon of each sweet sundae. Water service to each table, a lacy coaster with each dish – the right spoon for the right glass – everything must be just so.
What else makes the place a destination: Homemade pies….and brownies. Served with or without ice cream have quickly become well worth the calorie commitment. Or maybe a peanut butter sandwich….simple, basic, American as apple pie….and if you come on the right day, you could get that too. Another item that started as an afterthought and has become a signature items is house made caramel corn, with the addition of handcrafted toffee.
Or maybe you want to bring someone with you for The Gordon Square: homemade brownie covered with Bananas Foster ice cream then topped with warm caramel and hot fudge. The more ambitious or the chronically indecisive may want The Terminal Tower:Ten scoops of ice cream—one scoop of each regular flavor with five toppings, almonds, pecans, sprinkles, whipped cream, some cherries and a few things I may have forgotten.
Jeffrey Moreau aimed to create something that would honor the past and by doing so, has ensured a sweet future on Gordon Square.
6800 Detroit Avenue