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Rapid Review: Crème & Sugar

The Instagram-famous sweet shop is what’s wrong with America, and right with it



This is what’s wrong with America, and what’s so incredibly awesome about it.

My seven-year-old’s mouth has bottomed out. If it opens any farther I will briefly consider selling her to the circus, then remember circuses are dead. It’s her Whoa, thanks, Santa! face. Same face I make when I see rich friends’ new homes—except without the desperate envy, because this is all hers.

Inside the large mason jar is the semifrozen purple plasma of a cotton candy and vanilla flavored milkshake. It’s topped with an obscene bouffant of whipped cream, a beehive hairdo of diabetic dairy. Atop the cream is a pharmacopoeia of irresistible, psychedelic kid bait: candy sprinkles, multicolored marshmallows (my mom would put these atop her “canned fruit salad” in the ’70s, making her a god to my friends), a unicorn-horn lollipop, a candy bracelet, a strip of rainbow sour candy, and gold glitter.

My stomach and teeth hurt looking at it. I can hear the motor on my treadmill starting up. It is pure joy and future regret in a homesteader’s drinking cup. It doesn’t beg to be Instagrammed. It knows you will Instagram it. It dares you NOT to Instagram it.

I Instagram it.

It is “The Unicorn” shake at Crème & Sugar, a gourmet shakes-and-cakes shop in Del Mar. It costs $9. We were first in line, and still waited 15 minutes for this. It felt like a long time. The line grew much longer after we ordered, and I started believing the government shutdown—or maybe the concept of government itself—would end before those parents got their shakes.

Milkshakes like The Unicorn make you question your parenting. My little gal never makes this face for salad. She does have a quinoa face. It’s a sadder, fearful face. She has thousands of empty sugar calories in front of her. I cannot let her eat the whole thing, no matter how badly she’ll want to. I have a lot going on right now and child abandonment charges won’t help.

She only ate ten percent of it, which is why she’s alive today.

Like all social media, Instagram has its terrible crimes against humanity. But Crème & Sugar is a good story of how Instagram can resurrect lives. It was started in Anaheim by Joanna Czikalla and her father. They were struggling to get people in the door. According to this story in Delish, Czikalla’s life was hell in a centrifuge. Needing a pick-me-up, she made a pink-colored hot chocolate (using red dye she had left over from a Nightmare Before Christmas theme party) with sprinkles and colored marshmallows. She said she loved it, but admitted she was “too lazy” to change her menu. So she just posted a pic to Insta and called it the “Unicorn Hot Chocolate.”

Influencer @teamsparkle posted a photo of it. Cosmopolitan did the same, then Glamour and Huffington Post. Overnight, there were four-hour lines at her 30-seat dessert store. She made a shake version. People were driving up from San Diego for it, so she partnered with a local man to open her second shop in Del Mar.  

I’m not a sparkle shake kind of person. But I know honest, good food when I taste it, and C&S makes a hell of a milkshake. Take away the kid candy glitter and the unholy Mount Vesuvius of whipped cream, and you’re still left with the warm flavor of caramelized sugar in the cold, cold cotton candy ice cream. It’s a good reason to live. The ice cream obviously has high butterfat (as good shakes do) and isn’t overly aerated (as bad shakes are). Her chocolate-coconut shake is similarly thick, balanced, delicious.

I’m not sure how sustainable Sugar & Crème’s business model is. Waiting a half hour or more for a $9 shake seems like something people do to kill sober minutes of their early retirement. Even C&S’s “small” shake seems like it should be shared by six or seven children, at which point she’d be running a nonprofit daycare.

But I’m not her business manager. It seems Czikalla and her partners realize that, beneath the Instagram bait and novelty (she’s an artist, so it’s really-cool-looking novelty), you have to have quality foodstuff and solid recipes to survive the long haul. And they do. They also sell cakes and party pastries and coffee.

It might be a year before I go back. But if my daughter’s ever at the point where my bad jokes are bringing her even less joy than usual, and I need to see her just-saw-a-unicorn face, I’d do it again.


2646 Del Mar Heights Road, Del Mar. cremeandsugar.com

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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, by Food Editor and general good guy Troy Johnson.

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