May is officially summer in New Orleans, which means it’s time for shaved ice drenched in sickly sweet syrup: SNO-BALLS! I feel like this should go without saying, but a sno-ball is not a snow cone. Sno-balls are made of a finely shaved ice that actually absorbs syrup; snow cones are gross, coarse, and grainy ice abominations. The first time I ever had a snow cone, I was confused by the texture, and the way all the syrup just pooled at the bottom—YECH. Get with it, rest of America. Growing up, I refused to eat any flavor but red (Is it cherry? Strawberry? It didn’t matter as long as it was red!), and it’s time for me to admit that as an adult, I’m no better. My kneejerk reaction is to just order something red, because it’s safe. In an effort to broaden my sno-ball horizons, I ordered the weirdest-sounding flavors (or if not weird, just the least obviously descriptive). Please, join me in my quest to find a new favorite flavor and a new favorite spot (no ratings this time, though, since my flavor options were so random, actually comparing one place to the next would have been numerically impossible).
The Original New Orleans Sno-Balls and Smoothee (4339 Elysian Fields Ave.) Flavors tried: Silver Fox, Ocean Breeze. This stand was crowded but fast. I had my sno-ball in less than a minute. However, this quickness came with an aesthetic price. I want, nay, I expect my sno-balls to have the classic conical ‘head’ on top; this one barely peaked over the edge of the cup, and literally no effort was made to shape the top into a pretty shape. Flavor-wise, I have no complaints though. Silver Fox tasted like a blend of almond and vanilla, and it was a very pretty grayish brown color. I know that doesn’t sound pretty, but it is! Ocean Breeze tasted and looked like a blue Powerade which, coincidentally, is my favorite flavor of Powerade. Parking was a challenge on the busy Saturday that I went, but other than that, the surroundings were fine. There’s a lot of outside seating and inoffensive bland pop music playing at an acceptable volume. If only they’d made an effort to make the sno-ball pretty.
Buck’s (133 Westbank Expressway, Westwego) Flavors tried: Cucumber Melon, Pink Lady. Buck’s is not easy to find; at the listed address is a rival (and arguably inferior) sno-ball stand. You have to ignore that one, make a right onto a driveway right next to it, drive past a boiled seafood stand, and it’s located inside a trailer in what looks like an old junkyard. So already, this is a fun atmosphere! There’s a drive-thru but there’s also a covered place to sit outside (Buck’s also has the cleanest public bathroom I’ve ever been in, anywhere). Perfect date spot! Pink Lady is like a gateway drug into wacky flavors: it looks slightly not-red but it tastes totally red. I was kind of let down by that one. Cucumber melon, however, is a winner. It’s a thoroughly appealing shade of pastel green, and it’s delicious. I imagine that this is the flavor you’d order if you were a fancy lady getting a mani pedi and a massage at a spa that also serves sno-balls. Buck’s also gives you the option of making any flavor sour, which I didn’t do and now regret. Think of the possibilities: sour Chocolate, sour Bahama Mama, sour Bubblegum! The cashier offered samples of any flavor I wanted to try (I didn’t want to be a tasting hog, though) and the small size is only a dollar.
Pandora’s (901 N. Carrollton Ave.) Flavors tried: Orchid Cream Vanilla, Wine Cooler, Iced Tea. Pandora’s is famous for having a constant stream of patrons queued up outside, but the day I went wasn’t that bad. There’s nowhere to sit at Pandora’s, but it’s a short (and very pleasant) walk to City Park so I can’t complain about the surroundings. The Orchid Cream Vanilla was amazing, and I’m mad at myself for never trying one of these before. It tasted like petit four frosting and––spoiler alert––it’s probably going to be my new go-to flavor. Wine Cooler tasted like someone poured a Bartles and James on top of some ice, so the name is on point. Iced Tea tasted like frozen ice and nothing else.
Hansen’s (4801 Tchoupitoulas St.) Flavors tried: Cream of Nectar, Honey Lavender. Hansen’s is a fun atmosphere; there’s no seating but it’s cute and old-timey with appealing signage and décor. Surprisingly, I’ve never had a Cream of Nectar sno-ball, so I figured it was time to try a New Orleans classic. It was almond-y, which I didn’t expect, and genuinely tasty. Honey Lavender tasted like metal shavings, which was far less pleasant. Still, it was fun and the ice was perfect.
SnoWizard (4001 Magazine St.) Flavors tried: Cherimoya, Hawaiian. What a mystery. SnoWizard is the brand that actually manufactures the ice shaving machines that you’ll find at pretty much every sno-ball stand in the city, and they make most of the flavors as well. So I guess I expected more from their flagship stand. The ice was actually sort of grainy (more like a snow cone) and along with that came with the inherent problems of grainy ice (namely syrup pooling), and there was no dome on top! I had never heard of the Cherimoya fruit so I ordered that completely blind: it was great! I guess it tasted like a Cherimoya, but I have no idea. Hawaiian was revolting; it just tasted sweet in a completely non-descript and somewhat medicinal way. It was the only sno-ball I tried that I couldn’t finish. Three bites and I gave up. However, and this is worth something, everyone in line before me ordered Hot Nachos, which appeared to be Flaming Hot Cheeto’s with Nacho Cheese on top. It sounds so gross and horrifying that I promise I’ll try it by the end of summer.
Sal’s (1823 Metairie Ave.) Flavors tried: Pink Squirrel, Sock it to Me. You get to sit on tree stumps! Also, the teenage girls working the stand knew what they were doing. They had a technique where they squeezed the ice up out of the cup and poured the syrup in the pockets created by doing that, as well as on top (When I went to Sal’s, I brought a friend who had actually worked at a sno-ball stand as a teenager. She said that the cup squeeze technique is the one she’d used as well. Yay for having an expert present!). Pink Squirrel is basically the same flavor as the Pink Lady from Buck’s. It’s red but not red; creamy but kind of boring. Sock it to Me, on the other hand, was a bright neon green thing that tasted like boxed cake. Weird but oddly appealing.
Nola Snow (908 Harrison Ave.) Flavors tried: Flan, Pink Princess. There’s covered, outside seating, but other than that, the atmosphere is nothing to talk about. The Flan, however, was the most delicious sno-ball I had during my entire investigation, and it’s a flavor I didn’t see anywhere else. Flan actually tasted like flan (which was the only dessert other than pineapple upside down cake and rum cake that my mother knew how to make, so it made me oddly nostalgic); it was a perfect blend of caramel and cream.