Asheville gets adventurous with frozen desserts

COLD COMFORT: At Café Yuzu, the matcha green tea kakigori with sweet adzuki beans and condensed milk is a nostalgic treat for Japanese guests and a unique flavor experience for the uninitiated. Photo by Luke Van Hine

One of the wonderful things about Western North Carolina’s hot summers is that there are so many sweet ways to cool down.

The season’s best memories for many may include dripping cones at Ultimate Ice Cream or The Hop, braving sizzling downtown sidewalks for frozen cookie sandwiches at Sunshine Sammies or mixing crazy flavor mash-ups at Whit’s Frozen Custard. This summer brings some intriguing new ways to chill out with a frozen treat in Asheville.

In the River Arts District, Café Yuzu owner and pastry chef Cynthia Pierce has replaced her usual summer offering of house-made ice pops with kakigori, a shaved-ice dish popular in Japan. Inspired by memories of his native Osaka and the recent Japanese trend of high-end, gourmet kakigori, Pierce’s husband, local potter and musician Akira Satake, convinced Pierce to invest in a traditional Japanese-style, hand-cranked ice-shaving machine.

“When I was growing up, when that machine came out, we knew it was summer,” says Satake. “We associate it with natsumatsuri [Japanese summer festival]. Cicadas, watermelon, kakigori — that’s summer to me.”

Served in towering portions in compostable wooden bowls at Café Yuzu, kakigori has the irresistible texture of soft, fluffy snow. “It comes out of the machine like bonito flakes — a very thin, tape kind of thing because it’s shaved so fine,” says Satake. “And that’s something I really missed. Whenever I have a snow cone and compare it with my memory, it’s so different.”

To flavor the ice, Pierce crafts house-made syrups from locally grown fruits and herbs. “Aside from the more traditional kakigori flavors, I get to experiment, like plum-basil or blueberry-lavender — things like that are really fun to get into,” she says. “I’m going to start branching out a little as the fruits really start coming in.”

As possibly the only place in the area that serves authentic kakigori, Café Yuzu also offers at least one traditional concoction that is popular with Japanese guests but may seem strange to American palates. “When Japanese people come here, pretty much 95 percent of them order matcha green tea with adzuki beans and condensed milk over it,” says Satake. “This is what we feel nostalgic about.”

At Wild Ginger Noodle Bar in South Asheville, Filipino halo-halo is the exotic summer dessert to try. The shop specializes in Vietnamese pho, but co-owners Mary Ann Tan Ar and Aileen Tan are of Filipino-Chinese descent. “Even though we are a Vietnamese restaurant, we wanted to offer food that represents where we came from and share it with our locals,” says Ar.

MAGICAL MISHMASH: Wild Ginger’s halo-halo is Filipino dessert that layers shaved ice and ice cream with a wide assortment of unusual ingredients. Photo courtesy of Wild Ginger
MAGICAL MISHMASH: Wild Ginger’s halo-halo is Filipino dessert that layers shaved ice and ice cream with an assortment of unusual ingredients. Photo courtesy of Wild Ginger

Served in a tall bowl, Wild Ginger’s halo-halo is a dizzying mix of colors and textures. Ar says the dessert’s “hodgepodge of ingredients” can include sugar palm fruits, coconut strings (macapuno) and sweet beans with shaved ice and evaporated milk, all topped with house-made flan and a scoop of ice cream.

This is the third year the restaurant has offered halo-halo. “And our patrons enjoy every taste of it,” says Ar.

Joining halo-halo this summer in South Asheville is rolled ice cream. Aaron Cheng‘s soon-to-open Yum Sushi Burrito and Poke will offer the popular Thai street food on its menu.

Cheng also features the dessert at his other restaurant, Yum Creamery, in Spartanburg, S.C. He trained for several months at a friend’s rolled ice cream shop in New Jersey to learn the process, which involves pouring liquid ice cream base onto a chilled anti-griddle then using a spatula to scrape it into neat rolls.

“It’s not hard to learn how to make it,” says Cheng. “It just needs some practice.”

Yum will feature eight base flavors and at least 32 toppings. And Cheng predicts rolled ice cream, which is also available at Rolled and Roasted in the Asheville Mall, will be as much of a hit in Western North Carolina as it is in Spartanburg. “When we first opened last year in June, customers had to wait around an hour just to get our ice cream,” he says. “They like the way each ice cream is handmade in front of them.”

Already a summer staple for many Ashevilleans, Frostbite Ice Cream serves American nostalgia with its giant, twisty soft-serve cones, slushies and shaved ice. The West Asheville shop, which was named in a 2017 article as the best place in North Carolina for soft-serve, has built a fan base as much with its playful approach as with its scratch-made, locally sourced ice cream and baked goods.

“One of our key points is that we like to run things by our customers to see what they will like,” says co-owner Misti McCloud. “We like to do taste-testing, get customer feedback, play with things.”

The business prides itself on having numerous flavors in rotation at all times, including complementary varieties that run side by side in the machines for creating memorable twist cones. Last summer, McCloud and co-owner Jason Istvan developed watermelon and mojito ice creams that could be swirled together for an alcohol-free watermelon mojito.

They also made a flavor with Imladris Farm’s grape jelly so customers could twist it with the shop’s regular peanut butter ice cream for a PBJ swirl. And early this season, the pair came up with a mixed-berry ice cream to go with their popular new Cap’n Crunch cereal flavor.

The shop also makes its own funnel cakes, fried Oreos, brownies, french fries (served either with salt or cinnamon-sugar) and other items from scratch, which can be paired with ice cream to concoct off-the-wall treats.

So what’s on the menu this summer? McCloud recently ran the idea of pickle ice cream up Frostbite’s social media flagpole. “A lot of people were interested in it, so we may see if we can create a pickle soft serve,” she says. She’s also had numerous requests for red velvet cake and matcha tea varieties.

“There are all kinds of unique flavors we’ll be bringing in, like tiramisu, which is kind of a favorite,” she adds.”We really like to do things that are kind of unique that nobody else is doing.”

Café  Yuzu is at Riverview Station, Studio 165, 191 Lyman St. Wild Ginger is at 1950 Hendersonville Road. Yum Sushi Burrito and Poke is slated to open in mid July at 100 Julian Shoals Drive, Arden (check its Facebook page for updates). Frostbite is at 1475 Patton Ave.


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