The job starts at the crack of dawn in a commercial kitchen somewhere in the Inland Empire in an off-the-beaten-path business park. The cooking has to be done at this location. It is never done on sight. There’s just not enough room. Two trucks will be stopping in front in the next hour or so, just enough time for the one single employee or what seems to be the one single employee, to cook his product, bring it down to the location, and open up shop.
The first truck to arrive is a US Foods semi truck, coming all of the way from their central warehouse in Pomona. The driver of the US Foods truck takes out potato sack bags filled with shelled peanuts, almonds, and walnuts. He drops them on the ground next to the door. He goes back and brings out a 20-pound bar of Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate. He doesn’t ring the bell or wait for a signature. A matter of fact, the US Foods driver doesn’t really want to be there at all. This particular drop off spot is a small account for US Foods and this driver goes to much bigger ma and pa food establishments and franchises. The driver doesn’t even wonder what type of business goes on inside. He thinks this account is a waste of time and drives off.
A second delivery truck pulls up. It’s a beater of a pick up truck with Mexico plates. The bed of the truck is covered by tarp and rope. A few insects fly around it. Two thirty-something Latino men pull up in front. One gets out and stands by its side as if to be on the look out. The other stays in the car leaving the car running. It’s hard to know what the man on the side of the truck is thinking or doing. Is he the look out person for when the owners of the shop arrive or is he on watch if security or the Po-Po come? Whatever the real reason, these two men care about their product and don’t want to leave it alone like the former deliveryman.
A teenager’s first car pulls up in the parking lot. It’s nothing to write home about. The teenager who gets out seems to be self-motivated without any adult supervision. It’s an oddity by today’s standards. He passes the pick up truck to the front door, opens it, and drags the behemoth chocolate bar and sacks of nuts inside. He steps back out and looks all around. It’s the weekend. There are no other cars or passerbys besides his own car and the pick up truck. The teenager puts on a pair of cheap sunglasses and raises his shirt over his nose showcasing his midriff. It’s quite comical. The two Latino men shake their heads in disbelief. The 2nd Latino man who is the look out person walks over to the bed of the truck, unties the rope holding down the tarp and lets the teenager look at its contents. The teenager nods, turns around, and jumps in the air. He lands without any grace and dusts himself off. He runs to his car and has its rear kiss the rear of the pick up truck. The driver departs and helps out the 2nd Latino man. They take off the tarp. Underneath are a few thousand bananas. These bananas aren’t your typical Cavendish Chiquita’s or Dole’s. They’re known as the Candy Apple Banana and they have been known to come from all the way from the tropics of Hawaii. Their skin tone is slightly pink and there aren’t any brown spots on them whatsoever. There are some bananas that look like the super and farmer’s market kind, but they’re much larger. These ones are called Williams Bananas. Their taste is milder than a Dole while at the same time is much sweeter, a true dessert banana. The teenager nods in approval. The two men unload all of the bananas and stuff them in the teenager’s car. The teenager watches in disbelief how these men could complete such a physic’s puzzle. The teenager takes out wads of cash from his pockets and hands it to the two men. The two men don’t even count it. It seems like this sort of thing happens on a regular basis. The pick up truck drives off but leaves all of its exhaust behind.
The teenager runs inside. Six large sheet trays are spread out lined with parchment. The shelled peanuts are spread out evenly and shoved into an oven. Six other large sheet trays are pulled out. The remaining nuts are dumped into a large mixing bowl. Melted butter and sugar are poured in. The teenager’s rugged hands massage the crap out of the nuts. They are then dumped onto the remaining sheet trays and packed in with the peanuts. An ice pick is pulled from a rack of tools hanging next to the knives in the back with all of the other kitchen utensils. The teen sets it down next to the chocolate bar. He grabs a large double boiler, fills the bottom with water and ignites a large burner on the stove. His hands shred the wrapper of the bar as if it were a Christmas present. They go for the ice pick next and jam it into the bar as if it were a nail going into someone’s wrist. It takes a few tries to break away one piece. The pieces are placed in the top container and are carefully watched and stirred as the chocolate is tempered to perfection. It isn’t mixed with butter or cream. It’s not loosened with a couple of droplets of hot water. It’s just perfectly melted chocolate.
The nuts are taken out, cooled, and shelled by hand. The whole process takes one and a half hours. The mixed nuts are chopped together in a large Robot Coupe. Many chefs would probably frown on this shoemaker way of cooking, but in this teenager’s particular world, time is of the essence, and he doesn’t have time to chop them by hand. He does the same with the peanuts. The chocolate is poured in a 5-gallon cylindrical thermos contraption. The nuts are placed in 16-quart containers. The teenager heave-ho’s as he lugs the food into his already full car. The car drops another few inches almost touching the ground when the teen gets in. He turns the car on and then turns the car off. He bolts out and runs into the workspace. He runs back out and into the car with a large clear container of rainbow sprinkles.
It’s 945 a.m. by the time the teen arrives at the boardwalk of Balboa Island in Newport Beach. It’s a boardwalk like any other. Maybe smaller than the pier at Santa Monica and nicer than the one at Coney Island with much more expensive real estate. It’s a dense area. Locals inside and all around the OC frown upon the place, but it attracts a large enough tourist audience where the teen is not too concerned.
The teen’s car parks behind a stand with a large sign that reads, “Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana.” This is different then the stands Don Phillips and Bob Teller had in the 1930s and 60s when they were introduced and mass marketed. It pops out a lot more than the nearby competition like Sugar ‘n’ Spice and Dad’s Donut Shop & Bakery. It’s a one-person shop with a flash freezer, a mini fridge for drinks, a toppings counter top, and a holster for the chocolate. The skewers are already in perfect formation, along with the plastic utensils, paper plate ware and napkins.
The teen hauls the items from his car into the small stand one by one. He only has enough room for so many bananas. He takes 20 of the larger ones, peels them and then cuts them in half and three quarters. He takes 100 of the pink ones and simply peels them whole. He skewers all of them and rests them in his flash freezer. He turns on a switch underneath the holster for the chocolate. There is a tool that churns it every few seconds to keep its consistency just right. Flies begin to hover around the teen’s car, but he doesn’t have time to shoo them away. The teen puts on his uniform, turns on his cash register and flips out a hand written “Cash Only Sign.” He takes out a card board cut out menu listing the different selections which all pretty much involve one of the bananas dipped in the fine chocolate and smothered with a topping. The prices are quite reasonable by today’s standards. A line starts to form. People are ready for their breakfast of champions. They know what the superlative dessert of Balboa Island is and it comes from one place and one place only, Bluth’s Original Frozen Bananas.
Customers order, pay, and receive their product. The lone teen develops a rhythm from taking the cash to serving the frozen banana, handling each and every customer in the most hygienic way possible. The Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana stand has always received an A rating from the Health Board.
A banana, unblemished, is taken out of the flash freezer. It’s dipped and twirled three times to create an extra thick coating and rolled in the deep bucket of nuts and sprinkles. From the outside, the banana looks glossy. Many chocolate covered ice cream bars tend to have a dull, matte appearance, showcasing the imperfections of ill-tempered chocolate, but not the Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana. When the front two teeth take the first bite, it snaps like a chocolate bar set at the perfect temperature. The banana itself has a sweet taste. The bittersweet chocolate evens the flavor out without masking it entirely and the nuts add the perfect crunch and texture. They aren’t tart like one might think and with the 5 minute flash freeze, the bananas aren’t actually frozen inside out. One’s teeth will not be destroyed as if they were chomping on a block of ice. The center is soft and cushioned. Not ooey-gooey, but ripe enough. Many customers ask for the option with the nuts but there are the purists who just want the banana plain with chocolate.
The biggest complement to ever happen to The Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana stand was when a Disneyland Parks and Resorts executive wanted to buy the stand and input it in their theme parks to overthrow the frozen bananas that they presently serve. The family for better and for worse turned it down. Disney still sends their executives out weekly to try to win the stand over. As of now, the teen has too much pride and doesn’t want to reveal his family’s frozen banana secrets.
It is hard to find faults with a dessert stand that only makes one thing. They have had time to perfect this Balboa Island boardwalk staple. It’s competition has put it’s concentration in selling other delectable treats which has caused the focus on their frozen bananas to dwindle, but The Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana have stayed consistent over the years and it’s rather refreshing that the new generation takes this skilled art seriously.
ATMOSPHERE: Screaming kids and rowdy young families from all over scream and become anxious in a carnival like setting over looking the ocean.
SERVICE: Methodically fast. One person controls the cash and product. Every order placed is made to order one customer at a time.
SOUND LEVEL: It’s outside which calls for every individual to use their outside voice.
RECOMMENDED: The frozen banana.
DRINKS: Coke products and water.
PRICES: 50 Cents to $3.00
OPEN: 7 days a week from 10am-dusk
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes