Nosh

New street food: Berkeley does Baltimore, on ice

Katie Baum runs Skylite Snowballs, which sells gourmet shaved ice. Photo: Lance Knobel.

Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another variation on food trucks, a new one has popped up in Berkeley. Yesterday was launch day for Skylite Snowballs, street eats with a Baltimore provenance.

Skylite sells cups of shaved ice flavored with syrups — there’s Jasmine tea, Blue Bottle Four Barrel coffee and vanilla, as well as the more traditional fruit flavors such as lemon, raspberry and lime.

Skylite is the brainchild of Katie Baum, a photographer who has lived in Berkeley for ten years but was raised in Baltimore. “I grew up eating snowballs every summer and I craved them,” she says.

Skylite's inaugural day was spent outside Star Grocery on Claremont. Photo: Tracey Taylor.

At last year’s Eat Real Festival, Baum hatched a plan to recreate her childhood treat and  launch her own street-food truck — but with a Bay Area sensibility. Baum acknowledges that the snowballs she enjoyed as a child were probably chock-full of artificial flavors and chemicals. So she teamed up with Chez Panisse pastry chef Stacie Pierce who devised the recipes for Skylite’s organic syrups made with fresh ingredients.

On Sunday September 5, Skylite Snowballs was plying its trade outside Star Grocery on Claremont Avenue. Baum says Star’s owner had offered her the space, and it seemed to be a choice spot: business was brisk and Baum’s cousin, Annie Shawe, was helping out by serving customers and providing moral support. Prices start at $3.00 for a small cup.

Baum says she plans to test other locations — Temescal, Emeryville and Lake Merritt are possibles — and that Skylite is available for parties.

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  • Jane Tierney

    I grew up on these too, having been raised in Baltimore. Glad to see a revised approach and look forward to seeing the truck in Thousand Oaks/North Berkeley. Thanks.

  • elmwood neighbor

    Oh, darn, the one day I don’t go to Star. Come back, please!!!!!!

  • Ken

    I tasted every flavor and each one is better than the next!

  • gail shawe

    I heard the snoballs were entirely delicious! What a great idea! Get plenty of ingredients ’cause you don’t want to run out before the masses get their fix.

  • Michael R

    Saul the snoball man was a daily and beloved visitor to our Baltimore neighborhood. The flavors I remember were Blue , Red and Chocolate..I don’t know if the pleasure will be the same without the sweltering summer heat…Good luck Snoball Lady!

  • Tom Leonard

    A Sacramento Native Now Conversant with Baltimore Snowballs writes me with another point of view.

    “Snowballs are popular here and something of a cottage industry. Last summer (but not this one), there was even a hand-lettered sign pointing down an alley near our house, promising snow balls. No kid of mine would be allowed down there. Here, however, are the oddities. The first is that snow balls are sometimes called “Hawaiian snow balls.” Not much Baltimore tradition there. The second is that we also had snowballs in Sacramento, leading me to think that they are native to any place with lousy summer heat. The third point in my skeptical account of snowballs has to do with how they are dispensed. Some come from stationary stands (or down dark alleys). Others come from trucks, much like the multitude of “ice cream trucks” that cover Baltimore neighborhoods in the summer. I heard one outside our bedroom window a few minutes ago, after 9pm local time. That might raise some questions, because they usually sell their wares after dark when kids, presumably the core clientele, should be in bed. My first year in Baltimore cleared that one up: the truck drivers actively discouraged children from buying their wares, which were not sweets but rather tickets for the illegal numbers racket. If sufficiently pressed, drivers would begrudgingly sell an Eskimo Pie or a lime snow ball, but their hearts weren’t in it.”

  • Jess Souva (Dreaming of Skylite Snowballs in 90 Degree Tallahassee, FL)

    This happy venture is such an authentic extension of artist Katie Baum’s personality, as her friends and fans will all attest. It calls to mind one early body of photographic work for which she is loved: “Chasing Memory”. The nostalgic, delicious images include “peeps” (perched in a tree), “donuts” (in a stream), and one whose name I can’t recall…it’s the world’s frostiest, freshest image of the inside of a popsicle freezer…anyway, the work is accessible at katiebaum.com. This will likely be the world’s most delicious, creative take on the beloved Baltimore snowball. Please support Skylite Snowballs, Bay Area, so Katie can franchise to hotter climes like mine!

  • Ani Alprin

    I love it! I want one, no make that 10! We were in Japan this summer and shaved ice is an ancient artform there. So glad to see a new take on an old tradition stateside. The truck looks good enough to eat as well…

  • Rachel

    I so remember the snoball truck showing up after school in front of my Pikesville elementary school. I’m keeping my eyes open for Katie’s truck to introduce the thrilling treat to my less cultured native Californian husband and son. Can’t wait!

  • RookieMom Whitney

    How can we follow Katie to know where to find her?

  • Glenda Fischbach

    Great idea where will your truck be next !

  • Tamara Lerner

    I grew up on these as well.  My favorite was a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom topped with chocolate sauce and another scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  I am craving them.  Will look for your truck.    I leave near Star Market and had no idea until a cousin from Baltimore sent me the article from the Baltimore Sun.  Good luck with your endeavor.