It’s rich, smooth and delectable in every season. If ice cream was a religion, then you’d be looking at the Pope. Toronto ice cream phenomenon Sweet Jesus recently blessed Ottawa by opening up a little spot on Clarence Street in the Byward Market, and ice cream lovers are losing their minds.
Cones packed eight-inches high with swirling soft-serve, layered with topping upon topping until each piece looks like an abstract piece of art. The Sweet Jesus hype was too contagious, so we ventured on down to the Market to get the scoop.
When we arrive, there is a lengthy queue of backpacks and school skirts, stretching from the ice cream shop to a neighbouring bar. The shop is compact, sandwiched between two pubs, and has a front window displaying the artists toiling over their carnivalesque creations. Watching them as they maneuver around each other with teetering towers of frozen dairy in each hand is terrifying, but they handle it masterfully.
Most of the employees are students and although they’re efficient, they seem rushed and panicky at the volume of customers. The speed could also be due to the fact that they don’t accept order substitutions, which makes sense considering the madhouse that Sweet Jesus is on hot days.
The ice cream parlour is equipped with an espresso bar, which, combined with the frozen delights, is a match made in heaven. From what I gathered, their drinks seem just as bold and adventurous as their ice cream.
The menu isn’t offered online, but I found the spontaneity to be refreshing in a way. It promotes the idea of coming out and enjoying the experience for what it is, never knowing what choices there’ll be.
The type of ice cream cone offered at Sweet Jesus varies dramatically, from a classic vanilla soft-serve in a cone to a campfire-themed Rocky Road Rage, covered in roasted nuts, burnt marshmallows and gooey caramel. The price fluctuates based on how “pimped-out” your cone is, but you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $8 for your dessert.
Rocky Road Rage, Peach Sherbet, Banging Brownie and The Elvis were our choices and being a devout ice-cream worshipper, I indulged in each. Rocky Road Rage was the winner, but it wasn’t clear-cut. They all tasted rich and decadent, albeit very messy. It’s also important to note that the Peach Sherbet is one of their dairy-free options.
One disappointment about the new Clarence Street attraction is that there’s little-to-no seating available. The closest that we found was two blocks away on some bleachers near Tucker’s Marketplace.
Another bummer was that once you eat the outer coating of the ice cream, it reveals itself to be quite ordinary vanilla on the inside. Some may not be upset about this, but it felt like soft-served betrayal to me.
The Toronto locations are apparently even crazier than the one here in Ottawa, with more unorthodox flavours and wild combinations. There’s a birthday cone with a lit candle poking out of the vanilla soft-serve and one with a cotton-candy beard tastefully coined Krusty the Cone.
When compared to Toronto, the Clarence Street Sweet Jesus falls short of the mark. You get a taste of the inventive concoctions that make Sweet Jesus a sensation, but it’s spoiled by less selection and less overall effort than its predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong, visiting Sweet Jesus was a rewarding experience. Their creations are a sight to behold and I can’t think of a place that makes ice cream as entertaining or as comically large.
After such success in Toronto, people expect a similar product here on Clarence Street, and that doesn’t seem the case. It’s similar to having Beaver Tails on Queen Street; sure, its still sugar-coated fried goodness but if you’ve had it in Ottawa, you’d know the difference.
Beavertails is skating on the Rideau Canal. It’s Saturday in the Byward Market, looking at the flowers and fruits on display. Sweet Jesus in Toronto is likewise.
You should go at least once to the Sweet Jesus on Clarence Street not because of the hype, but because it’s a dessert experience. Their coveted cones are worth the wait, but they didn’t have me saying “sweet Jesus.”
Cody Lirette is a man who likes a good cup of coffee. A barista by day and writer by night, Cody is currently working on a personal blog about health, nutrition, and literature. He is enjoying his second year in Algonquin College's Professional Writing program.