Now widely believed to be extinct, the imperial woodpecker was once the largest woodpecker on the planet. It’s a mystery as to exactly how that bit of ornithological history inspired Neesa Peterson to leave behind a career in New York fashion to open a New Orleans sno-ball shop in the West Village. But luckily for New Orleanians, after three summers she decided to return to her childhood home to continue her contribution to local sno-ball tradition.
While the list of flavors includes standards such as blue bubble gum and tart Granny Smith apple, Peterson mixes the flavor concentrates with her own simple syrup to achieve a more restrained level of sweetness. All of the cream and all-natural flavors are made in-house and represent the most popular selections. Lemon-basil and strawberry-basil achieve complementary sensations of tart and sweet against a common herbaceous background. The exotic spiciness of cream of cardamom may appeal to some, while the nostalgia brought on from cereal cream may cause spontaneous exclamations of “They’re Grrrreat!”
Peterson adheres to the adage that less is more, preferring to let her syrups occupy the spotlight—customers are limited to enriching their sno-balls with either condensed milk or vanilla ice cream.
The presence of the preeminent SnoWizard shaver ensures satisfaction of the lone pre-requisite of an authentic New Orleans sno-ball: soft, fluffy ice with the texture of snowflakes.
The Uptown location of Imperial Woodpecker occupies a shack in front of Café Abyssinia on Magazine Street, where sidewalk seating is supplemented by a lone picnic table. The Downtown location at Spanish Plaza is easily accessible by office workers willing to brave the heat during a lunch-hour jaunt to the river, where a cooling reward can temper the walk back to work. At both locations, the servers are always willing to offer suggestions to kids of all ages, from the toddler whose parents are soothing him with pink lemonade after a bump on the head to the World War II veteran happily scooping away at his dreamsicle. Such is the cross appeal of Imperial Woodpecker, ensuring that the New Orleans sno-ball tradition is a long way from extinction.