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Sno-Ball Season

Sno-Ball Season
Sal's Sno Balls in Old Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. Photos by Sara Essex

More bites of New Orlean’s
ubiquitous summer treat

In this month’s EATymology department, The Local Palate explores the syrupy-sweet New Orleans delicacy known as the sno-ball: a treat of shaved ice and flavored syrup akin to a snow-cone…. but with a few very significant differences. Join us as we take a closer look to see what makes this treat so symbolic of New Orleans culture by exploring the histories of two of the city’s most popular sno-ball stands.

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Sal’s Sno-Balls
Metaire, Louisiana

OPEN SINCE: 1960 / OWNED BY: Steven Bel
KNOWN FOR: Immaculate Ice

Sal's Sno Balls in Old Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans.
Sal’s opened in 1960, making this their fifty-fifth anniversary year.

“Sal’s opened in 1960, this is our fifty-fifth-anniversary year. Mr. Sal used to have a grocery store in the forties and fifties, and he was an old Italian man and a butcher. He had a heart attack in the late fifties, and it’s not like now where you have a heart attack and are back to work in a week; he couldn’t do any heavy lifting for butchering. So he wound up selling his grocery store and opened a sno-ball stand in front of his house. He opened in March of 1960, a small building. We do the same recipes that he made, the same way. We still do everything old school here. I worked for him for one year before he died: he used to pay me a dollar to pick up trash and cups and spoons outside. Back then we’d throw it in a barrel (it was all paper and wooden stuff, no plastic back then) and then after it filled up we’d just take it in the back and burn it. Of course everything’s plastic now and you can’t burn it, so that’s gone. I worked for him for the year, then he died the next winter, and I worked for his two daughters for years. I bought it from them when they were getting up in age, around 1992.”

Coffee Sno-Ball Syrup
from Steven Bel of Sal’s Sno-Balls, Metairie, Louisiana

Cafe au Lait Sno Ball at Sal's Sno Balls in Old Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans.
Here Sal adds condensed milk to the top of a coffee sno-ball. Call it Café au lait if you will.

“I like cherry and ice cream flavor. Those two are in the top ten, but the biggest sellers are always chocolate and strawberry.”

“We’re a little unusual from most of the sno-ball stands because we do it old school. We still use the 300-pound blocks of ice, made in an ice house: it’s a fast ice and it’s clean ice. It’s the same ice that the ice man would bring to houses before refrigeration and put in a little box and he’d come two to three times a week and that’s what kept your spoiled goods from going bad, basically a big ice chest. We still use that same ice.”

1823 Metairie Avenue, Metairie, Louisiana 70005

Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls
New Orleans, Louisiana

OPEN SINCE: 2006 / OWNED BY: Neesa Peterson
KNOWN FOR: Handmade Syrups

Strawberry Jalapeno Son Ball at Imperial Woodpecker Sno Ball stand in downtown New Orleans.
Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls boasts a variety of traditional flavors, as well as cream flavors, and additional creamy toppings.

“Eating sno-balls was always something that I’d done as a child. Even as I got older my mom would always say ‘Let’s go stop at Hansen’s or Plum Street,’ the two sno-ball stands we’d go to in New Orleans. If Hansen’s was closed we’d go to Plum Street. It was one of those things that transcended through the generations because the buildings always stayed the same, so every ten years you’d go to the same place you went to ten years ago because nothing changed…”

“The whole reason I started a sno-ball stand was because of nectar cream. Nectar cream is the traditional New Orleans sno-ball; it is what every old man will order from you. In New Orleans, nectar syrup was developed at K&B, an old pharmacy that had sodas. It’s bubblegum pink, but it has this very neutral taste similar to vanilla almond…It’s almost like cherry with almonds in it. That is my favorite sno-ball flavor, the one I ate every day growing up. It’s mixed with evaporated milk; of the traditional flavors, cream flavors are, to me, the best.”

Coffee Sno-Ball Syrup
from Neesa Peterson of Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls, New Orleans, Louisiana

Imperial Woodpecker is located on 1 Poydras St, in Riverwalk Market’s Spanish Plaza
Imperial Woodpecker is located on 1 Poydras St, in Riverwalk Market’s Spanish Plaza.

“In New Orleans, sno-balls are a value item. People have their expectations of it and they have their certain sno-ball stand they go to, but their expectations aren’t necessarily ‘We want organic sno-balls or all-natural, fresh-fruit sno-balls.’ People in New Orleans are totally fine with the red dye and the blue dye because it’s just part of the traditional New Orleans sno-ball. Currently I only make my own natural flavors for special events or if I know I’m going to have a customer base that’s going to eat it. I just opened at St. Roch’s market, which is dear to more local-ingredient palates so I’m going to be making flavors for that location a lot. Where I am now is a touristy New Orleans area, and so every time I make my natural flavors, they just sort of sit there.”

1 Poydras St, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

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