THE BITE: I spent some time with my parents the other day. It’s always a bitter-sweet visit. They’re both well into their eighties and time is taking its toll. As I was growing up, my father was into what they now call “extreme couponing.” He worked for one of the major airlines and would get coupons from all over the country. He used these coupons to build what came to be known as “grandpa’s store,” or his stockpile of discounted goods in the basement. At its heyday, there was enough canned and packaged goods to fill a large bodega.
Well, the store isn’t as well-stocked today as it was in the past, but I think they could live on the inventory for another 10 years. In my last visit to “the store,” I stumbled across a couple of boxes of Jell-O 1-2-3. What a blast from the past.
According to Wikipedia, “Jell-O 1-2-3 was a Jell-O product introduced in 1969 and discontinued in 1996; the product was one 4.3 ounce (121 g) mix that separated into three distinct layers: foam, Jell-O, and a foamy Jell-O hybrid that separated into three layers as it cooled: a creamy top, a mousse-like middle, and plain Jello bottom.”
And it’s still available in “Grandpa’s store. ”
I can’t tell you how surprised I was to see what appeared to be Jell-O 1-2-3 in Vito’s Bakery (1916 Avenue U). I immediately purchased a cup. Just seeing this in the display case made me feel like I had rediscovered a long-lost childhood friend. But, as with most things, and as with most friends, time has a way of changing them.
The Jello cup at Vito’s ($1) really isn’t Jell-O 1-2-3. It may look the same, but that’s where the resemblance ends. There’s no foam top layer or mouse-like middle. Here, it’s three layers of Jello formed in a cup. The top layer is flavored with coconut and has a consistency closer to flan than Jello. It has a very mild flavor and is surprisingly tropical for an Italian bakery.
The middle layer is a very mild orange-flavored traditional-texture Jello. This layer is what you’d expect from a bowl of the name brand stuff. It was surprising to me that this was the middle layer. Structurally it just didn’t work. What is the lightest layer, both in texture and in taste, belongs on the top, not in the middle of the dessert.
For the bottom layer, Vito’s returns to the flan like consistency of the top, adds some red food coloring and maybe a bit of strawberry flavoring. The true flavor of this last layer is hard to define, as it has a bit of bite reminiscent of a strawberry, but it appears to be tempered with coconut. The more I ate of it, the more dominate the coconut flavor became.
This Jello cup is a great treat on a hot summer’s day. Sweet, cool and refreshing, with its coconut and citrus flavors it’s like a mini tropical vacation for your mouth. Enjoy.
Oh, and for those of you old enough to remember Jell-O 1-2-3 and want to bring it back, there’s a petition available online. You can sign up here.
Vito’s Bakery and Grocery, 1916 Avenue U, between East 19th Street and Ocean Ave, (718) 332-3577.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.