These sugary ice treats of the Crescent City take snowcones to a whole new level!
Back in the 1930s, George J. Ortolano of New Orleans was experiencing the city's sweltering summer — sound familiar? He decided to invent a machine that would deliver cool treats of shaved ice resembling snowballs, wintery things we don’t get too often in South Louisiana.
Snowballs filled with sugary flavors served in a paper cone were a hit and have been ever since. These are not the "snowcones" served throughout the rest of the country. "Snowballs," sometimes written as sno-balls, are created with Ortolano’s SnoWizard machine, which produces finely shaved ice. It truly tastes like a real snowball.
And then there's the largest proprietor of snowballs in New Orleans — Hansen's Sno-Bliz, where three generations have been using its original machine created by Ernest Hansen to serve up sugary snow for 84 years! Do check out their website, which offers videos on why the New Orleans snowball is different than the rest of the country, how these unique treats are made and the history behind Sno-Bliz.
One aspect that does resemble snowcones in the other 49 is the wide variety of syrups. My go-to has always been wedding cake with watermelon a close second but there's blue raspberry, bananas Foster, iced coffee, king cake and pecan praline, to name a few special flavors. Some love to add condensed milk or "stuff" their snowballs with ice cream in the middle. Hansen's tops their icy goodness with plain syrups, tart flavors, cream flavors (oh, that wedding cake!!) and even sugar-free syrup.
In addition to Hansen's, there are snowball outlets throughout New Orleans. Some may be tiny stands on the side of the road but the sweet goodness they deliver on a hot and humid day is huge.
Snowballs are also found throughout Louisiana. Murph’s Olde Tyme Snowballs, for instance, sits behind Old Tyme Grocery in Lafayette, a great local spot for poboy sandwiches. Murph's snowballs range from traditional snowball flavors, such as cotton candy, polar punch and pink lemonade, or stuffed with ice cream.
If you're traveling through Louisiana during this incredibly hot summer, here are a few places to try snowballs, thanks to Mindy Bianca Public Relations. She sent me a few of her clients and some of their specialties.
Closest to where sno-balls originated, just west of the city of New Orleans and my birthplace, Jefferson Parish pulls out all the stops for the icy dessert. For the past two years, the parish has hosted Sno-Ball Blitz, a month-long challenge featuring local sno-ball stands that have each produced a specialty sno-ball. Guests cast their votes for the winner, and Droopy’s Snowballs in Harahan has won “Best in Sno” both years. They serve up flavors like wedding cake and orchid vanilla, but their signature sno-ball is The Droopy, a sweet, blue cream flavor that’s a secret family recipe passed through generations.
Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, Lafourche Parish
After Hurricane Ida ravaged the parish in 2021, it was uncertain what businesses would survive the natural disaster. Thankfully, community-favorite Central Sno in Lockport was one that did. Central Sno experienced severe damage when the hurricane hit right before its first anniversary, but it has since reopened and is now stronger than ever. One of Central Sno’s most popular flavors, ironically enough, is the Hurricane. Other top-sellers include pickle surprise, wine cooler and tiger’s blood.
At Lulu’s Specialty Snocones and More, bigger is ALWAYS better. Their most popular sno-ball is Do It for the Gram, a two-foot tall, triple-cake giganti cone. Starting with a birthday cake-and-ice cream-flavored sno-ball is the simple part. Then comes the vanilla ice cream, followed by a piece of cheesecake, slice of cake, cupcake, and ball of cotton candy. Don’t forget the whipped cream and sprinkles on top! (And maybe a trip to the dentist afterwards? Phew!) The owners themselves are sweeter than the treats they serve, if that’s even possible. They immerse themselves in the community and although their sno-balls are always ice-cold, you won’t receive a warmer welcome anywhere else.
Visit The Northshore, St. Tammany Parish
A common ingredient in a Louisiana sno-ball is condensed milk, and it pairs well with several flavors at NorthShore Ice Company in Mandeville … like nectar or banana. Mardi Gras Mambo (king cake and Creole cream cheese), Funky Monkey (banana cream and chocolate), and Rise N’ Shine (coffee cream and coffee) are other popular, yet unique flavors to order at this year-round joint. This place is right off the Tammany Trace rail trail, so it makes for a great cool-down treat after spending the day traveling the trail by bicycle or on foot. Bonus: It shares a space with a popular po-boy spot. Double win!
And that’s just the tip of the sneauxburg. Seriously, these delectable snowball stands are everywhere so if you’re visiting the area all you have to do is keep an eye out for happy faces and little houses decorated in bright colors with long lines of people and cars out front.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by Cheré Dastugue Coen, a native of New Orleans. Her car immediately brakes upon seeing a snowball stand. She's so grateful for George J. Ortolano and Mary and Ernest Hansen.