The heavily tattooed woman walking the Shih Tzu ordered Secret Breakfast, the most popular ice cream flavor at Humphry Slocombe. The proprietor, Jake Godby — a man so shy and socially awkward that it never occurred to him when he opened an ice cream parlor that such an establishment might attract children — makes the ice cream with bourbon and toasted cornflakes, including so much Jim Beam that the scoops always run soft. The day was a sunny Friday, ice cream weather. Just before noon customers started lining up near the corner of Harrison and 24th Streets, an unrehabilitated crossroads in San Francisco’s Mission district: first, a gold-chained Latino laborer who ordered Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt; then three 20-something guys — each part hipster, part geek — who stared anxiously at the flavor board, as if they had come in on a dare.
Godby’s intention when he opened Humphry Slocombe in December 2008 was to create a challenging ice cream store. He has succeeded. The physical plant is straight-up soda-fountain retro: black-and-white tile floor, chrome-and-red-leather stools, simple Formica bar. Then there is the art, which tends toward food punk. Across from the front door hang four knockoff Warhol paintings, Campbell’s soup cans labeled Secret Breakfast, Salt & Pepper, Hibiscus Beet and Fetal Kitten. (The first three are Humphry Slocombe ice cream flavors; the fourth is Godby’s stock response to the question “What crazy new flavor are you making next?”) A mount of a taxidermied two-headed calf protrudes above the bar.
The three hipster-geeks started squirming and making frat-house jokes. “Dude, you need to eat that!” one said to another, picking a lard caramel off the counter. Godby’s palate favors salt, booze and meat. Each day he scoops 10 to 12 of his hundred-plus ice cream flavors, favorites including Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke) and Boccalone Prosciutto. Godby also produces novelties in the what might be called the nose-to-tail dessert paradigm: duck-fat pecan pies, foie-gras ginger-snap ice cream sandwiches, treats that incorporate odd animal parts. On occasion, next to the register (cash only), he sets out a glass-covered cake stand filled with brownies. Nobody buys them. As Godby, in his uniform of long green shorts, blue apron and white Chuck Taylors, explains, “I can’t sell cupcakes to save my life.”
Before starting Humphry Slocombe, Godby, who is 41, worked his way up through San Francisco’s fine-dining restaurant ranks: Boulevard, Zuni, Fifth Floor and Coi. Then, in 2006, his father died, leaving him a little money. By that point Godby had some experience making incendiary desserts. As the pastry chef at Coi, recently short-listed by Thomas Keller, the acknowledged master of American cooking, as one of the world’s best restaurants, Godby served a chocolate tart with smoked yogurt that, says Coi’s head chef, Daniel Patterson, made some diners so upset they wanted “to firebomb the place.” With Humphry Slocombe, Godby continued pressing food buttons, beginning with the name, which is aggressively obtuse. (Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe were characters on the bawdy old British sitcom “Are You Being Served?” Godby insists that if Alice Waters could name her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, after a highbrow French film, he could name his ice cream store after a lowbrow British farce.)
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