Overrated restaurants exist in every state, city, and town, muddying the waters for foodies dedicated to finding the best eats. CREAM is Berkeley's answer to San Francisco duds Scoma's and Fog City Diner, a pair of restaurants so underwhelming that you wonder why reservations are unavailable for the next six hours, much less six months. Though not quite on the same scale of duddery, this tiny ice cream shop in the heart of the University District draws massive lines for a mediocre product day in and day out. Their vast array of tiny treats are idolized by newspapers and bloggers alike, some of whom compare the place with true giants like Humphry Sloccombe and Bi-Rite Creamery. To put it in perspective, such praise is like the New York Times claiming the Mark Wahlberg reboot of "Planet of the Apes" is of comparable cinematic merit to "Pulp Fiction" or "The Godfather" (I think not).
I ventured to the "Planet of the Apes" of ice cream establishments on a warm summer day in Berkeley. Though I initially made the trip to Telegraph to buy a Pineapple Bun from nearby Sheng Kee Bakery, a strange, mirage-like sight caught me off guard. CREAM, for possibly the first time in its existence, lacked a line. Stunned and with dreams of a delicious frozen treat planted firmly in my head, I walked down the block and into the shop ("shop" is generous terminology, as Berkeley's CREAM is little more than a cramped counter with two tables in the corner). Blue signage, orange walls, and perturbed servers surrounded me, the latter prodding for my order. After purposely taking my time to glance over the short menu, I confidently purchased a brownie and a $2 build your own ice cream sandwich, though I was torn on what to fill it with.
My caramel-craving taste buds won out it the end, as I took a scoop of Royal Caramel Swirl between two Snickerdoodles. The cookies, buttery and warm, were among the best I'd had in a long time. Their lack of firmness, however, didn't win points. Putting two fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies around ice cream sounds great until you realize it creates a runny mess. CREAM's Snickerdoodles did just that, melting my Caramel Swirl, which in turn saturated the cookies to the point of bread pudding. Though terribly tasty, it was nearly impossible to eat without dumping goop all over my modest khakis. Grabbing a cup and an arsenal of napkins, I coaxed the center out and ate it with a spoon while sitting on the curb outside. Rich and creamy, the ice cream actually wasn't half bad; that said, it wasn't Bi-Rite, either. Putting the namesake dessert aside, I reached for the brownie, took a bite, and threw the remainder in the trash. It had the consistency of brown sawdust and the lack of flavor associated with said wood shavings. Deciding I had come, saw, and conquered, I got up to leave. Looking back at the store, I noticed the universe had righted itself - CREAM's line stretched around the corner and halfway to Unit 1 in the distance.
My visit to CREAM was a welcome insight into crowdsourced restaurant recommendations. The trip affirmed my long held belief about Yelp's trustworthiness, a website on which hundreds (maybe thousands by now) of locals and visitors alike have raved about a tiny ice cream shop on Telegraph for the past two years. It's not that CREAM was bad - or, for that matter, Yelp was wrong - it was simply overhyped to the point where anything short of Gordon Ramsey divebombing a dragon into my taste buds would have been underwhelming. All attributes considered, I actually like the place and would recommend it to friends uninterested in trekking across the Bay or down to Fenton's for some real ice cream. Is the idea unique and fun? Sure, unique for the Bay Area, at any rate. Would I consider it on par with renowned, award winning scoops? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Will I return? Surprisingly, I hope I get the chance.