Temperatures are rising in the Big Easy, and there's only one way to beat this climate-change-induced thirst trap: the New Orleans snoball.
The snoball, a hallmark of the city, has an origin largely accredited to a machine created by Ernest Hansen of Hansen's Sno-Bliz in the 1930s. The number of snoball stands in New Orleans is now skyrocketing faster than a tourist's blood alcohol level during a night on Bourbon Street, so how is one supposed to choose which spot to frequent? Can a dill pickle snoball compete with a classic chocolate with condensed milk? Is a cheesecake-stuffed creation worth abandoning your Weight Watchers? Snoball expert Megan Braden-Perry, author of Crescent City Snowballs, told me that at a snoball stand, "Everybody's happy! Bob doesn't like sweets? Cool, he can get nachos. Terri is vegan? Ain't no animal in juice and ice. Jerry is diabetic? There are awesome sugar-free flavors."
Enter my search for the best snoball locations in the city. I've spent the past few months sampling over 100 snoballs because, hey, there's no such thing as a free lunch. There is, however, such a thing as a free snoball. (Thanks, various snoball stands and Where Y'at Magazine!)
So now, with my belt loosened a few notches and my heart a little icier, I humbly present to you the winners of Holy Snoballs 2018.
Best Traditional Flavors (Well, Mostly Chocolate):
Chocolate with Condensed Milk and Orchid Cream Vanilla from Plum Street Snoballs
1300 Burdette St., (504) 866-7996, plumstreetsnoball.com
You never forget your first love. (This strictly applies to snoballs, of course, #girlsruntheworld2018.) Plum Street Snoballs, my first "research" location and a neighborhood favorite in Uptown, would be where I'd compare every snoball I ate from then on.
Served in their signature Chinese food containers, the snoballs are so smooth a baby could eat them, which was evidenced by the many babies outside with blue and green smudges all over their faces. The chocolate with condensed milk and the orchid cream vanilla are out of this world, and they're clearly fan-favorites.
Owner Donna Black, who has been with Plum Street for 39 years, spoke about the importance of Plum Street to her and to the city. Her husband would come to the stand as a little boy, and they took over the business as adults. She says that the best part is seeing when customers who came as kids bring their own kids to the stand, and she calls Plum Street her "home away from home." After Katrina, she says, people would line up for snoballs and say, "Now we're back to normalcy." Sit here for an afternoon, watch generations of families enjoying a snoball, and you'll realize: Plum Street has masterfully captured the feeling of returning home.
Chocolate from Ro-Bears Snowballs & Soft Serve
6869 Jefferson Hwy., Harahan, (504) 737-5013
"You're a reporter?" a teenage couple asks me as I pull out my camera, "You've gotta write a good review for Ro-Bears." Bar set high. I take my first spoonful of chocolatey snow, and I realize that Ro-Bears will be soaring over that bar. Their rich and fudgy chocolate stands in a category of its own.
I'll have dreams about a Ro-Bears's chocolate for many years to come, but their original cantaloupe equally blew me away. It's light and surprisingly delicious. Ro-Bears raises the snoball bar to the next level.
Chocolate from Lou Lou's Snoballs & Ice Cream
734 Papworth Ave., Metairie, (504) 478-2858
A classic chocolate from Lou Lou's in Metairie can hang with the best of them. Stuff it with some soft-serve ice cream and top it with condensed milk, and you'll have yourself a creamy, smooth treat that you won't be able to stop eating. Be sure to visit Lou Lou's for their exhaustive list of sugar-free flavors as well as their SnoShakes.
Best Stuffed Snoballs:
Hummingbird from Just Chillin' Too
700 Florida St., Mandeville, (985) 951-2445
For the best of the stuffed stuff, make the drive to Mandeville. Five minutes past the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway sits the summer hangout shack, Just Chillin' Too. The picnic tables and bright colors make you feel like you're an extra in the beginning of Grease when Sandy and Danny are singing about summer lovin'. If you head down the road, you could make this fantasy a reality at Fontainebleau Park, but I digress.
Just Chillin' Too makes all of their ice cream at their Sweet Treats location nearby, and it's worth a second trip just for the ice cream. Try the Hummingbird, which is insanely fluffy nectar ice stuffed with honeycomb ice cream.
Tres Leches and Oreo Cheesecake from Sno-La Snowball Lounge
8108 Hampson St. in New Orleans and 2311 N. Causeway Blvd. in Metairie, (504) 327-7669, sno-la.com
If a snoball could be the "Uptown" of snoballs, it would surely be from Sno-La Snowball Lounge. Sno-La is famous for their over-the-top, Instagram-worthy, cheesecake-stuffed, "supreme" creations.
Tres Leches features cake batter cream with condensed milk, classically stuffed with vanilla ice cream. Oreo Cheesecake has its own Oreo cream and is stuffed with Oreo cheesecake. If you have portrait mode on your phone's camera, a social media profile to upkeep, and a sweet tooth to indulge, Sno-La is a must.
Caramel Frappuccino-Stuffed Snoball from NOLA Snow Snoballs
908 Harrison Ave. and 7040 Vicksburg St., (504) 373-6555, nolasnow.com
The absolute gem of NOLA Snow is the Caramel Frappuccino snoball, which has a blend of flan and café au lait syrups and is stuffed with vanilla ice cream. The Caramel Frappuccino brings a brand-new concept to the table, and the vanilla ice cream functionally serves as the whipped cream on top. I heartily spoon-battled my friends for the majority of the stuffed treat.
Best Original Flavor:
Thai Trio and Watermelon Satsuma from Hansen's Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St., (504) 891-9788, snobliz.com
"This is the happiest place in the world," Ashley Kansen Springgate, owner of Hansen's Sno-Bliz, tells me from her dining room table. Walk through her backyard, and you'll be in the kitchen of that happy place where her staff—or as she says, her extended family—is busy making the most lauded snoballs in the city.
The two mind-blowing flavors, Thai trio and watermelon satsuma, both have the perfect amount of tangy, fresh, and new, resulting in an almost godly flavor profile. The perfectly smooth ice makes for a snoball you won't put down.
"Snoballs sweeten the passage of time," Ashley tells me as I slurp them down, and she weaves together her family's history, the city's history, and snoballs into one mesmerizing fabric. Her grandfather Ernest Hansen largely gets credit for making the sno machine that Hansen is famous for, but the business was truly his wife Mary's. She knew everyone's name and order. "I'm like that now, too," Ashley says.
Following Katrina, Ashley turned to Hansen's to heal. "I didn't know if it was correct, just, or even legal," Ashley says about reopening so quickly. Hansen's ended up being a healing experience not just for her, but for the city. "Snoballs are an inexpensive treat that you can share," Ashley adds, "Kids will drag their parents here to buy Mom or Dad a snoball."
Ashley's self-called "labor of love" is worth it. Hansen's Sno-Bliz received the James Beard Award in 2014. Come to Hansen's for the best flavors in town and a shop driven by a full force of love.
Strawberry Basil from Imperial Woodpecker
3511 Magazine St., (251) 366-7777, iwsnoballs.com
Imperial's house-made flavors taste the way a fancy soap might taste, but in the best way possible. It's the addition of basil that gives the ice that très chic feel, which is what separates it from its sugar-overloaded counterparts. The house-made flavors almost feel—dare I say it?—healthy. Call it a miracle on Magazine Street: healthy-tasting snoballs that are still delicious. Other house-mades include coconut milk, watermelon-jalapeno, and pineapple-cilantro.
For those of you scared off by the "healthy-tasting," fear not. Imperial has plenty of flavors that can satisfy any sugar-crazed desire. There are house-mades such as cereal cream, but you'll have to ask local experts Edgar (10), Marquese (9), and Mavierick (7) for the best flavors of all. They'll tell you to get wedding cake or king cake.
Fresh & Funky:
Beer Snoball from Ziggy's Snowballs
4450 LA-22, Mandeville, (504) 236-7717
If you're willing to make the drive to Mandeville, Ziggy's will give you a sweet reward, but also possibly a savory one. They switch up the homemade flavors weekly, and flavor profiles include beer, garlic, Sunny D, and pretzel. Their ice cream flavors are equally creative, such as jalapeno cookies and cream. Pro tip: mix one of these insanely good original sno flavors with one of the original ice cream flavors. I tried a white chocolate and macadamia cream, stuffed with break-up food ice cream (strawberry cake batter ice cream with ooey-gooey brownie chunks).
Beef Snoball from Ike's Snoballs
520 City Park Ave., (504) 208-9983
Nestled on the edge of a parking lot three blocks short of City Park sits Ike's Snoballs. Visit Ike's to hang out with friends and get a beef snoball for your pup. Yes, you read that right, BEEF. They also have chicken. For human tasters, get creative with peanut butter and jelly or cucumber melon.
901 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 357-5608
There's a reason why iconic spots are icons. A simple, window-front store on North Carrollton, Pandora's brings the New Orleans attitude and quality every time. There's always a line, but it moves quickly. Owner Nick Pizzalato serves up beautiful snoballs to loyal customers, and he tells me, "People always come back here." If you want a delicious, beautiful, and fresh original, go for a sky blue and orchid vanilla cream or an aquaberry, which tastes just like a Jolly Rancher.
2801 Washington Ave., (504) 895-6786, redroosternola.com
A crowd of customers rests at the wooden tables outside the little shack on Washington. It has "RED ROOSTER" plastered across its red wood panels. A local hotspot since its inception in 1977, Red Rooster has a steady patronage ordering from the vast menu options ranging from snoballs to "yet-ca-mein."
Considering the frequent clientele, I look like a total noob pulling out my camera to photograph my stuffed strawberry shortcake snoball and my pineapple snoball. "You never had a snoball before?" one customer asks me. Another tells me she eats here every night, "Monday through Sunday."
Come for the snoballs, but stay for all the delicious eats, such as crawfish nachos, and for the genuine local feel of the place.
Tee-Eva's Old-Fashioned Pies and Pralines
5201 Magazine St., (504) 899-8350, tee-evapralines.com
Ms. Tee-Eva's Old-Fashioned Pies and Pralines is not your typical snoball stand. Walk into the dark, closet-spaced storefront, immerse yourself in the articles and photographs covering the walls, breathe in the wafts of freshly baked pies and pralines, and you know you've just walked into the kitchen of a New Orleans grandma.
As Ms. Tee-Eva says, she was "blessed to establish this business," but her granddaughter, Keonna, owns the store now. If asked, Ms. Tee-Eva will wax and wane on days past, such as when she started the snoball truck craze. She borrowed her neighbor's Chevrolet pick-up truck for a Tulane moot court event and sold four flavors out of the bed.
"Are you famous for your snoballs?" I ask her.
"I'm famous, period," she tells me.
Try Ms. Tee-Eva's favorite flavor: peach. "Have a blessed day," she tells me as I leave. "Come back and try our crawfish pie."
Best Summer Hangout Spot:
Sal's Sno-Ball Stand
1823 Metairie Ave., Metairie, (504) 666-1823
"There's a parking lot party right now at Sal's," the women working the cash register say, and there's one almost every night. Customers come to hang out on the tree stump-seating that comes from an old tree, cut down in a 1969 expansion of the stand. When the stumps are all filled up, you'll see people pull folding chairs out of their cars. The atmosphere feels like you've set foot on a campsite.
While you're at Sal's, go for the original flavor, "Robin," a combination of ice cream and nectar and named after Sal's granddaughter.
3968 Old Gentilly Rd., (504) 303-8173
Pontilly Sno, a hidden gem in Gentilly, is part of a faith-based organization that offers residential treatment for people with a life-controlling issue. There's a giant sign that says, "Welcome to Pontilly Sno, where GOD makes all your snowball dreams come true!" There's another one that says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Psalm 34:8." Even as a Jewish snoball-eater, I could appreciate the signs, especially as I found myself praising God for these snoballs.
Hallelujah for the fluffy ice! Hallelujah for the outdoor picnic tables with big umbrellas! Hallelujah for the cheesecake-stuffed concoctions! Hallelujah for snoballs! My favorite here is the pink lady: a mix of pink lemonade, tiger's blood, watermelon, and strawberry with condensed milk.
767 N. Claiborne Ave., (504) 266-4835
This Treme spot, decorated with bright umbrellas and beachy decorations, feels like an oasis next to noisy I-10. Step past the wooden, high-table barriers, and you're swept away to the beach. The ice is smooth, the flavors are delicious, and summertime is clearly here. For an over-the-top summer treat, go for the ice cream and cream and coconut cream with condensed milk, stuffed. This one tastes the way that really good sunscreen smells. You know the one.
In a condensed milk-topped conclusion…
Through the many snoballs I consumed this month, the wonderfully kind customers and people working the snoball stands I've met, and the passionate snoball Instagrammers I've encountered, I've learned that the snoball means more to this city than just another summer treat. It's bringing your kids to your favorite snoball spot where you went growing up. It's going for a special treat with your mama, meeting up for a first date, or even getting engaged or having a baby shower, snoball-style. It's healing in tough times, and it's returning home.
Said the snoball expert Braden-Perry, Snoballs "are more accessible to everyone in the city, unlike health care, convenient transportation, living wages, and affordable housing. So many people are still living away since Katrina, but when they come back home to visit and get snowballs, they seem so happy and full of pre-Katrina joy."
If you want to conduct your own search for your favorite snoball hotspot, download the New Orleans Snoball Finder app. A spokesperson for the Peter Mayer Advertising and Marketing Agency said, "Technology enhances the snoball experience from start to finish… There's nothing worse than driving to a stand when you are craving a snoball, only to realize they are closed or don't have the flavor you want."
Thank you, New Orleans, for letting me in on the big chill and bringing me one step closer to a Fatter Tuesday. Stay icy cool this summer!
Alison Cohen is a teacher in New Orleans East and a lover of all New Orleans food. If you have a suggestion for the next hot commodity or frozen commodity for Alison to try, you can contact her on Instagram at @FatterTuesday.