Frozen Dessert

Years Later, I'm Still Dreaming of Hot Fudge & Coffee Ice Cream Pie

A taste of the past, one slice at a time.

September 12, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

When I was growing up in N.Y.C., there were plenty of great restaurants to visit. La Caravelle, Le Cirque, Elaine’s. (Our family didn’t go to any of those, of course, nor did we even know they existed.)

Living in Riverdale, a middle-class section of the Bronx tucked between Upper Manhattan and Yonkers, most of our dining experiences were relegated to the mom and pop spots. Italian-American restaurants like Pizza Beat on Central Avenue or Dominick’s on Arthur, the five competing Chinese restaurants on or off Johnson (our favorite switched often, but it was usually Empire Hunan). If we were lucky, a trip to the Upper West Side for Indian at Mughlai or for a “Hay and Straw” pasta at Isabella's would have been in order.

But the fanciest of all places we’d go was the Chart House, a beautiful glass and wooden structure just beside the Hudson River in Dobb’s Ferry. Before the Chart House had enough restaurants to become more mass market than just a small niche chain, it was considered a difficult-to-get resi in Westchester and certainly cause for dressing up. A steakhouse it was, but the sprawling open-floor plan, wooden finishes, and windows opening up onto a sunset over the palisades made this the busy spot it was.

And the food was pretty damn good, too.

Think: enormous shrimp cocktail, clams casino, crisp house salad, sweet, warm brown “squaw” bread and butter, juicy prime rib, baked potato (hold the sour cream, please), and always, always mud pie for dessert.

If Dad was in a good mood and ready to spend, we were picking up Grandma Harriet and headed 20 minutes north up the Saw Mill Parkway. “Dad, did you call to make a reservation?” I’d say, knowing full well his typical routine and that he, in fact, had not. You see, my father—an appliance salesman since he was 16 years old—could talk his way into anything. Let me paint you a picture:

We’d arrive at the host stand.

“Dr. Rehfeld for four people at 6 p.m.”

“Uhh...one moment, Dr. Rehfeld.”

The host would scan their reservation list over and over. I’d cower somewhere in the back, face scalding with embarrassment or head straight to the bar for a virgin colada if it was just too much.

“I’m so sorry, but we don’t seem to have you here.”

“Well, I called yesterday,” he'd explain. “Spoke to a nice young lady on the phone, but I can’t seem to remember her name.” (No tone, no sass in his voice.)

“Well, let me see what we can do, Dr. Rehfeld.”

My father would turn to us with a little wink, then turn back feigning a slightly impatient façade while the host whispered to his colleagues to go have a look around the dining room. If I hadn’t escaped outside to look at the water, I. Was. Dying. He’d been doing this shtick for years. How hadn’t we been caught? With no computer system to track guests yet, no one could flag his bad behavior and with an ever-changing front-of-house staff, no one ever remembered him.

“Dr. Rehfeld, if you care to wait outside or by the bar, we can have a table ready in about half an hour. Our sincerest apologies for the delay.”

“That’s alright," he'd say. "We’ll sit by the fire and have an appetizer.”

And just like that, we got our table. Every time.

These visits were painful for me. I hated being part of the lie, knowing full well that if he’d only called a week ago, we would have easily gotten a Saturday-night table.

But instead, we were renegades. We’d sink into our steaks and thought would run through my head. Dad always had his own giant steak. Mom and I shared (and were expected to) and my grandma ordered a salad and had little bites here and there of our meat. We didn’t want the bill to be too high or Dad would get red-faced and verging on explosive. It was a whole routine we were accustomed to. Fancy restaurant equals big bill equals everyone shares except Dad.

Drama aside, there was always joy at the end, thanks to an order or two of Mississippi Mud Pie, an ice cream cake made with chocolate cookie crumbs, coffee ice cream, hot fudge, and whipped cream. I had no idea why this was from Mississippi, but it tasted divine. Towering and enormous as most steakhouse desserts are, a slice always accompanied our visits to the Chart House.

When I Google the Chart House now, years later, I find two things. First, it’s since closed. Second, there's an old article entitled “California by the Hudson” from The New York Times in September 1977, exactly a year before I was born. It notes almost the same exact dishes we so enjoyed—though the pie then was called California Mud Pie. (They must have changed the name years later.)

Since those awkward albeit delicious nights with my family at our favorite steakhouse, I’ve been dreaming about this mud pie. I finally used my husband’s 40th birthday and our big move to Westchester to develop my own version of this frozen dessert, and even find it so close to the original that even my parents were blown away when they tasted it. With so few ingredients, coffee Haagen Dazs, Smucker's hot fudge topping, Famous Chocolate Wafers, and butter, anyone anywhere from Biloxi to Dobb’s Ferry can recreate this easy ice cream cake.

At my house now, everyone gets her own rib eye, all-you-can-drink whatever, and a big individual portion of mud pie. And no one has to pretend to be a doctor.

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Danielle rehfeld is a New York based cook and writer. Her website the inherited plate features recipes and videos that celebrate foods and people from our rich global Community.

2 Comments

Kara W. September 14, 2019
As soon as I read the title of the story, I could taste it. I don’t remember when or where my family would have gone to a Chart House - I doubt there was one in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. But somewhere, sometime I had it, and I will never forget. Thank you so much for this!
 
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Danielle R. September 14, 2019
Enjoy! Totally simple and delicious. Very nostalgic dessert❤️