This summer is certifiably hotter than hell, and it doesn't stand to get much better. When it seems like steamy food is only aggravating the heat index, why not turn to our local ice cream-makers? With some flavors reading as though they were pulled straight from the menu of some Willy Wonka-run bistro, ice cream-lovers could nearly put together a well-balanced, albeit sugary, meal, in just one dish.
How about some fresh goat cheese and cherry ice cream? Sweet corn? Tomato sorbet? The Ultimate Ice Cream Company in east Asheville has made them all. Ultimate has been a local fixture in the frozen treat scene for years, and is set to expand to north Asheville (on Charlotte Street) this year.
Owner Kevin Barnes reports that, even though he only has room for 30 flavors in the store at a time, he has recipes for more than 200 varieties, and he's currently working on more — including sour cream-strawberry, grilled pineapple-coconut and pine nut-feta.
Does a dish of Gorgonzola-cranberry ice cream sound like something you could tuck into? The Hop (on Merrimon Avenue) makes a slew of similar flavors that would likely never make it into a Baskin-Robbins freezer case. Even if the thought of blue cheese ice cream makes you turn green, it's worth a taste. "It's like cheesecake," says owner Greg Garrison.
Garrison was an employee of the Hop before he became the proprietor, when he bought the business with his wife, Ashley, in 2008. Now, he runs the promotion end of things, scoops some ice cream and coordinates special events, while his wife plays the role of ice cream-maker, churning out all sorts of creative flavors.
Take, for example, the pineapple-coconut-chipotle ice cream with its deep, smoky flavor and creeping heat, tempered with a bit of sweetness from the coconut and acidity from the pineapple. "Nine Mile makes the sauce (base) for us with liquid smoke and all of the good stuff, and we add it to the ice cream," says Garrison. "You get the chipotle kick at the end; once you get past the sweet part, it fills your mouth with the liquid smoke, and then you get the spice."
Nine Mile also provides the syrup that the ice cream shop uses to make their mango balsamic. "The first time we went there, my wife had the tuna steak, and on it was a mango-balsamic reduction." The sweet-and-savory combination intrigued Garrison, who admits that the wheels are always turning when it comes to new ice cream flavors. "Once you open that door, anywhere you go to eat, you're brainstorming," he says. "We asked the (Nine Mile) chef if he would make us a pint of the mango-balsamic to make an ice cream with. It's definitely a unique flavor."
Perfecting each and every one of the recipes can be a matter of trial and error, he says. The original formula for the coconut-pineapple-chipotle, for example, had a bit too much of a kick to it; Garrison says that he had to request that the chefs tone it down a bit. The same goes for the Aztec Chocolate, a piquant dark chocolate ice cream with cinnamon that hits the palate first, followed by a creeping, spicy cayenne pepper kick. The first recipe, says Garrison, used to make the occasional eater holler a bit in surprise as it hit the back of their throats.
Garrison reports that the Hop also turns out a Thai Curry ice cream, and word on the street has it that the candied-bacon and dark chocolate ice cream is phenomenal. The experimentation doesn't stop there, however. "We're toying with a chocolate-roasted garlic ice cream," says Garrison. "We're thinking about it; we don't want to stink up the place with garlic, but we think it would be really good."
The Hop is located at 640 Merrimon Avenue in North Asheville. The shop features live music and other special events on a regular basis. For more information, visit thehopicecreamcafe.com.