A cold, sweet ice cream cone on a hot summer day is as American as apple pie — not to mention more seasonally appropriate. And ice cream shops aren’t the only places to get your frozen fix. If you’re looking for a dish of the cold stuff to finish off a meal at most local restaurants, you’re likely to get a scoop from The Hop or Ultimate Ice Cream — each company supplies about 30 local restaurants, cafés and similar locales. But there are a few chefs who dare to strike out on their own and create original confections in their own kitchens.
Rhubarb pastry chef Ashley Capps gets excited about ice cream. At the time of this writing, she is especially excited about a new salted watermelon sorbet recipe developed by her assistant, Cassie Stockton. “She and I were talking about summertime, what reminds us of summer, and melons are out right now,” says Capps. “We were both talking about how our family members would put salt on watermelon. It’s so good. It’s the perfect balance of salty and sweet.”
Developing unusual flavors is part of the fun of making ice cream in-house, says Capps — her most exotic flavor was a spicy Urfa chili ice cream made especially for Valentine’s Day. Rhubarb also has flights and floats on the menu — a dark beer with rich, dark chocolate ice cream is a popular one.
But not every flavor has to be flashy. “You have to appease the people who want vanilla on their pie,” says Capps, “and you have to appease the people who want flavors like salted watermelon sorbet.” As Capps tells her culinary students at A-B Tech, if you don’t have a good vanilla recipe down, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
If it wasn’t for ice cream (dairy-free, of course), the Merrimon Avenue vegan restaurant Plant might not exist. Plant got its start when chef Jason Sellers gave co-owner Leslie Armstrong — a self-described “ice cream freak” — a taste of his coconut milk-based dessert. She “lost it,” says Sellers, and a business was born.
Currently, Plant has four ice cream flavors on the menu: chocolate anise, peanut butter and jelly, lemongrass ginger and mint chip. “We sometimes have seven [flavors], which is kind of ridiculous for a 40-seat restaurant,” says Sellers. “That kind of goes to show you where our heads are because we eat a lot of it, too.”
Sellers says vegan ice cream gets a bad rap. (Actually, according to the Food and Drug Administration, it’s technically frozen dessert, which, let’s face it, doesn’t sound quite as tasty.) But Sellers is committed to proving that dairy-free can be delicious. “I love it because I think we can make an amazing contribution to the world of ice cream without animal products, which is the main motivation for me,” he says. “If I didn’t think it was a special product, if I didn’t think it was elevated in some way, I wouldn’t bother.”
Sellers’ frozen handiwork can also be found in stores nationwide these days. After the niece of Amy’s Kitchen co-founder Rachel Berliner tasted his creations last year during her honeymoon in Asheville, she persuaded the national organic convenience food brand to create a line of vegan ice creams based on Sellers’ recipes.
The Market Place
Chef William Dissen offers a seasonal variety of ice cream flavors at The Market Place, from local blueberry to lemon verbena. His current favorite flavor combination is his lemon buttermilk ice cream with the restaurant’s local blueberry tart served with cinnamon crumble and raspberry sauce. “The acidity of the ice cream helps to complement the sweetness of the blueberry tart,” he says.
Like Rhubarb, The Market Place uses a Pacojet, a lightweight (and expensive) tool that spins ice cream extremely fast, creating a light and fluffy texture. When asked about his more unusual flavor combos, Dissen cites a special dinner when he joined chef Anthony Lamas from Seviche restuarant in Louisville, Ky. “We created a Marcona almond and Kentucky bourbon ice cream that we rolled in Benton’s bacon,” recalls the chef. “We paired it with a foie gras beignet, white chocolate sauce, sea salt, cocoa nibs and raspberry. Talk about decadent!”
Posana Café is well-known for its gluten-free menu, and lucky for us ice cream doesn’t contain any gluten (last time we checked). For chef and co-owner Peter Pollay, the decision to make ice cream in-house is driven by both practicality and creative impulse. “Making ice cream just right can be a tricky process,” says Pollay. “A balance of sugar, egg yolks and milk/cream is needed to achieve the right mouth feel. We make our own ice cream because it is cost-effective, plus we get the freedom to create any flavor combination at any time.”
For Posana, that means a refreshing lemon-thyme ice cream is on the menu, as well as a Frangelico variety that has a nutty, boozy flavor. Pollay also favors spicy ice creams like ghost chili or Esplette “because they pair well with the creamy aspects,” he says. And while making your own ice cream may be a bit more work, with “good ingredients, a fine mesh strainer (chinois) and a good ice cream machine,” you’re good to go, says Pollay.