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Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls Are Your New York Heatwave Antidote

[Photographs: Niko Triantafillou]

Yup, it's hot this week. Defcon 1 hot. Hairdryer blowing in your face all day hot. To find an antidote to heat like this, I turned to a food city that's no stranger to super-hot, humid weather—New Orleans.

This is the third summer that New Orleans native Neesa Peterson has operated Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls downtown. She serves "authentic Louisiana shave ice" out of a 60 square foot stall on Gansevoort Street. 

Shave ice (not "shaved ice") is different than a snow cone where the ice is crushed. Shave ice is actually shaved from a giant block of ice, often using a special machine that was invented in Louisiana. The very fine shavings of ice absorb syrup better than chunks in a sno cone.

Imperial Woodpecker offers over 80 different flavors, mostly in syrup form, to infuse in your shave ice. They also offer cream-style flavors that are slightly less sweet, like almond cream and coconut. If you still need something with less sugar than that, there are all natural flavors like watermelon and green tea with little or no added sugar. The others, in the New Orleans style, hew towards sweet.

80+ flavors is a lot to consider, but don't get overwhelmed and over-think it. The ices are all refreshing, whether you go with an ultra-sugary classic like raspberry or the all natural Meyer lemon and basil. And remember, the syrup in a properly made shave ice won't gather and concentrate at the bottom.

Among the classic syrups, I recommend the wild strawberry and grape, which remind me of the soft drinks they used to serve in New York's pizza shops in the 70's. The fluorescent colors, super-high sugar content and the acidic (and slightly artificial) flavors always hit the spot. In the all natural category, I enjoyed the Meyer lemon and basil. It was just as refreshing as the syrup-based flavors but more slightly more tart than sweet. Another less-sweet winner: chicory coffee cream. It's like a creamy iced coffee with extra milk and sugar. If you don't mind super-sweet flavors but want some added dimension, get one of the classic flavors topped with sweetened condensed milk or vanilla ice cream.

Prices range from three to nine dollars depending on size. Add condensed milk, marshmallow topping or ice cream for an additional dollar.

Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls

55 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014 (map)
wsnoballs.com

About the author: Native New Yorker Niko Triantafillou is the founder of DessertBuzz.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @DessertBuzz.

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