WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In the dark of winter, it's easy to feel as if spring will never come. For me, Victory Garden is a perpetual taste of spring—and it's one of the restaurants that I miss most after leaving New York.
I wrote the following profile last summer for a magazine that shuttered before this particular piece was published. It's exciting to at last be able to share with you VG's story. Especially because they are a reminder that sustainable agriculture and personal relationships must be at the core of any meaningful company.
Here's to goat milk soft-serve in winter and the promise of spring...
Victory Garden’s cozy storefront is a taste of farm life in the thick of the West Village. During my most recent visit, the cashier wore a pair of well-worn Carhartt overalls redolent of long days in the fields and the canisters of shaved halvah and carob chips conjured a farm-to-table apothecary. As I would learn from my conversation with Founder Sophia Brittan, this is very much intentional. “I want people to feel taken care of when they come in here,” Brittan says. “For me it is all about the little details in life that make moments special and change your perspective about something. I want [Victory Garden’s] ice cream or soft serve to be one of those little details.”
Brittan’s passion for the small things emerges in Victory Garden’s inventive menu. The herb-infused ice creams evoke the savory raitas served in India; a scoop of chocolate sea salt dusted with pistachios is a modern Mediterranean dream. Digging into Victory Garden’s Dirt Cup—a summer sundae special flecked with carrot caramel and raspberry rose sauce—is a travelogue unto itself. And in the cold of winter, you don't need to go far to find sanctuary in a warm mug of Mexican hot chocolate. Maybe it’s this element of adventure that makes a trip to Victory Garden worth the price. It’s a global eatery with local roots: a company committed to nurturing connections both to the big wide world and the sprawling farms that flourish just miles from NYC’s cement sidewalks.
For Brittan, her treks abroad are as influential as her sojourn to spice mecca SOS Chefs on Avenue B. “Every time I need inspiration or remind myself why I'm doing what I’m doing [I go to SOS Chefs]. The woman who runs it is always like ‘isn't nature wonderful!’ She’s got that ‘let food be thy medicine’ thing.” Scouring SOS’s shelves of Himalayan sea salt and bright red paprika helps Brittan generate ideas for new flavors, as do biweekly trips to local farmers’ markets. “There is always a variety of vegetable or herb I've never seen before,” Brittan shares. “And part of what I love about soft-serve is that it is so spontaneous. I can find an herb at the farmers’ market and the turnover [into soft-serve] can be just a couple of hours.”
Although Brittan spends most of her time at the shop, she makes it a priority to visit with each farmer that she sources from. Says Brittan: “Ever since I opened the store, it's really important that I only work with farmers I know. I’m not in charge of their milk production, but I depend on it. It’s important that I understand what their life is like, so that if they can’t provide something for me, I understand why.” As I tuck into a velvety rosemary brownie from Victory Garden later that week —served with a scoop of tangy goat milk soft serve because life is too short to not have that—it’s lovely to imagine this sweet dessert as part of a constellation of grassy pastures and rooftop gardens and secret spice troves that crisscross the Tri-State Area. From Side Hill Acres in Candor, NY (Brittan’s source for all things goat milk) to Tremblay Apiaries in Van Etten, NY (home to the sweetest honey) Brittan is building a network for local production and consumption. And she’s doing so with a rare focus as much on creating spirited flavors as honoring the experience of the farmer.