Since their invention 34 years ago as a local special to make Philly-area Jack & Jill trucks stand out from the crowd, Choco Tacos have become an international hit. With reason: Ice cream is awesome. Tacos are the best. A combination of the two — per Philly ice cream vendor Alan Drazen’s brilliant 1983 conceptualization — is almost guaranteed to be both delicious and fun.
What happens when the crunchy-creamy frozen mashup is made with luxurious high-end ingredients instead of commercial Klondike crud? Good things. Very good things.
This is what Valerie Safran recently realized — and why there now exists such a thing as the Barbuzzo frozen salted caramel budino stuffed Choco Taco.
Though her partner chef Marcie Turney is officially in charge of the menus at the various 13th Street restaurants the pair runs, Safran is the mind behind the riffs on the famous Barbuzzo budino dessert. Over the past few years, her tinkering has turned the popular pudding dish into frozen ice cream pops, popovers and donuts. Each one has been a hit, as evidenced by the lines that form outside the restaurant door whenever they’re offered at a one-time pop-up sale.
But for sheer eating pleasure, the budino Choco Taco might outdo them all.
It starts with the waffle cone shell, which is hand-pressed and folded (by the same women who make the tacos at Lolita), and which stays crisp to the end. A coating of housemade Magic Shell-like quick-hardening chocolate added to the inside of each taco boat helps maintain structure — this is a technique the mass-produced version also uses.
Next step, per Barbuzzo upstairs chef de cuisine Dan Giorgio, is piping in an ultra-rich caramel budino ice cream, allowing it to harden, and then shaping the outside edge to create a smooth, round arc. Lastly, the circumference is dipped in liquid chocolate, rolled in crushed nuts, and dusted with flakes of sea salt.
The Billy Penn office taste-tested the end result, for journalism (and to make the classmates of our visiting high school intern jealous). We all liked what we tried — although with slightly varying levels of enthusiasm.
I was probably the biggest fan, suggesting I’d even pay $10 for the frozen treat. Reporter/curator Mark Dent was also on board, although he said he’d only pony up $6 or $7 for one (bingo, they’re selling for $6.50) and even then only if he was already in the area.
Sports editor Dan Levy was also into Safran’s creation, although he noted there’s definitely more saltiness than you might first expect. Levy also gave his approval a price caveat — if you could buy seven regular Choco Tacos for the price of a single Barbuzzo one, he’d go Klondike just for sheer volume of sugar rush.
Managing editor Shannon Wink went even farther down that road: Klondike is her preferred choice, she said, because she could get her whole mouth around the much-slimmer taco profile. She also didn’t mind the flavor.
“Sure, if you like the taste of cardboard,” Levy replied.
Budino Choco Tacos are available starting at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 5, at the second-floor event space above Barbuzzo, 110 S. 13th St.