After years working as an IT consultant with no professional culinary background, Kafi Dublin, a talkative woman with boundless energy and plenty of stories, decided upon a career change. Earlier this summer, she started selling snoballs, the frozen shaved ice treats of her Caribbean heritage, at a pop-up stand on the street that she calls An Icy Introduction.
What exactly is a snoball? It's essentially the best snowcone you've ever had. Snoballs combine fluffy, finely shaved ice with a variety of syrups and toppings like condensed milk. Flavors vary wildly, especially at An Icy Introduction, which boasts over a hundred. Kafi has channeled many flavors from her childhood, such as a bright, spicy Ginger Beer ($4 each for a very hefty small) that features bits of ginger in the syrup, and the Peanut Punch, a knockout of raw sugar, peanut butter, warm spices, and a peanut-condensed milk topping.
The treats are on the sweet side, but they boast a depth of flavor that corn-syrupy snowcones wish they could begin to approximate. Kafi's months of testing and research have yielded a thick syrup recipe starring Caribbean muscavado, a dark, unrefined sugar to which she adds filtered water and flavoring extracts (many homemade; others, like "egg custard tart," purchased from commercial operations that keep to a short, natural ingredient list).
She's set up shop outside BrowNY, a vintage clothing store on Lafayette Street near Bleecker. "The vintage vibe of the store perfectly matched the vibe of the retro dessert," she says. The stand is a more easygoing alternative to a truck ("No way, very frustrating"); though she's not ready for a brick and mortar right now, she hopes to open a full-size sweet shop all on her own.
Kafi also sells snocreams, which incorporate thicker, creamier flavorings like sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche, in a cross between shaved ice and melted ice cream. One such creation, the Antidepressant, is pretty hard to resist. Chocolate-Coffee syrup gets laid down before Kafi dresses the snoball with generous squirts of dulce de leche and condensed milk. What do you get? The blended mocha of the summer, with a healthy dose of real brewed coffee.
Though the classics (and not-so-classics) are thoroughly delicious, Kafi's newest flavor hints at the magic she can concoct with only some sugar, flavorings and shaved ice. Thai Iced Tea tastes something like a refreshing Christmas—lots of spices (allspice, cloves, anise) join Thai tea, condensed milk and a hefty helping of sugar syrup to make what is currently Kafi's (and my) favorite flavor. The layers work particularly well here; you can taste hits of tea in one bite and rich milk in another. As the snoball melts, it becomes more like a spiced tea frappucino, which tastes as good as it sounds. You can also find fruit flavors aplenty, from apple to peach to mango to strawberry.
Great shaved ice can be hard to find beyond the city's Chinatowns or the itinerant Wooly's cart. Kafi's sweet, refreshing treats are just as worthy an option. We're looking forward to see where Kafi will take An Icy Introduction, but for now we'll just keep buying her snoballs.