Because it's so un-fussily titled, “Vodka Ice Cream” could conjure up three possible realities in your mind. We saw it on the menu at the recently re-opened Milk Bar, Downtown Phoenix’s new-ish Polish bar and restaurant, and wondered what would come of such a union.
Like, you know, “Could it be so simple?”
What the Vodka Ice Cream at Milk Bar isn't, to clarify, is some kind of float or an alcoholic affogato, in which a scoop of the cold creamy stuff is drowned in an ounce or two of vodka. That wouldn't be good.
In any case, you’d order the dessert at Milk Bar after some pierogis with friends, and the title of “Vodka Ice Cream” — though provocatively simple — it turns out, is only apt; it’s ice cream with vodka swirled into the recipe.
Technically, it’s a tad more than that. Milk Bar’s recipe matches house-made vanilla bean ice cream with Sobieski brand vodka. There’s a tiny snow storm of coconut sprinkled on top, and a pirouette cookie — those spear-like, creme-filled wafer pastry deals you’re familiar with from Pepperidge Farm tins — tucked into the fold. A very simple dessert, and admirably so.
The Sobieski is the go-to vodka for a reason; it’s neutered to the point of being nearly nondescript, perfect for hiding in the background of drinks and providing a kick (the little spice one can detect from its mostly-rye grain origins seems to be the product of heavy filtration). On one hand, something with a little more character could serve very, very well in the context of plain vanilla ice cream and un-toasted coconut. On the other hand, anything more complex could be overthinking it; you’d get the heat from the vodka, but the limited flavor amplitude vodka generally deals with might still be buried under just sugar, cream and vanilla. Plus, the ones that could stick out would usually fetch a higher price tag, too, and the generous portion at Milk Bar clocks in at just over four dollars for a simple, enjoyable treat.
This perceived value is good for a place that calls themselves Milk Bar, after Poland’s humble eateries. Still, you eat the treat facing the color-changing glow of the back lit bar; most of the restaurant standing in stark, white contrast — an “aesthetically ironic take of classic polish milk bars,” the bartender informs. Euro-beets blare outside on the patio but are only a punchy whisper to those inside biting into pierogis or savoring small bites of vodka ice cream at squarely dinner hour.