Titillate your tongue with unique ice cream flavors
Dan Bora, owner of Nice Modern Creamery in Madison Heights, describes making all-natural ice cream cooled with liquid nitrogen. Stephanie Steinberg, The Detroit News
I’ll admit it: I’m an ice cream addict. I blame my first job at Dairy Queen, where I spent two years blending Blizzards, dipping cones in butterscotch and eating hot fudge sundaes for dinner more times than I’ll admit. You’d think I’d grow sick of ice cream. But the job did quite the opposite — it intensified my cravings.
A decade has passed since my Blizzard Tech days, and I’ve tasted my fair share of ice cream flavors. But when colleagues recently introduced me to Treat Dreams in Detroit, I wasn’t sure if I was reading an ice cream or food menu: Macaroni and Cheese. Goat Cheese and Fig. Bourbon Maple and Bacon. What is going on here?
I ended up choosing Kooky Monster — a bright blue ice cream with cookie dough and Oreos.
Owner Scott Moloney later mocked me for the choice.
“That’s so boring! Come on,” he says. “You could have gone with the Sunday Breakfast. That was our first weird flavor we did. It’s a maple ice cream with waffles, bacon and syrup.”
Clearly, this guy isn’t wasting time with old-fashioned vanilla and mint chocolate chip.
There’s a world of unique ice cream flavors to discover, so I went on a hunt for out-of-the-box flavors in Metro Detroit. There’s much to choose from, if you’re a fellow ice cream lover up for a crazy flavor tour this summer.
Go! Ice Cream
Standout flavor: Sweet Browned Butter
Runners-up: Carrot Cake and Single Malt Butterscotch
You may have spotted Rob Hess biking around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti selling his Go! Ice Cream on the go. This summer, he’s trading in the wheels and opening an old-fashioned soda fountain in Ypsilanti.
Hess likes to replicate desserts when coming up with flavors. Take carrot cake — chunks of carrots rippled with cream cheese, rum, spiced walnuts and graham cracker crust — and single malt butterscotch, which he prices at $12 a pint because the ingredients include a premium $80 bottle of Lagavulin 16-year single malt scotch.
“All of our food-loving friends thought we were total heretics for putting it in ice cream, but once they tasted it, they were total converts,” he says, adding that he tried 35 scotches before finding “the one.”
But it’s Sweet Browned Butter that will spur angry emails if he’s out of stock. He describes one woman who tasted it at the Ypsilanti Farmers Market.
“She closed her eyes and did this shimmy thing,” he says.
She then started laughing and hugged Hess.
“Teary eyed, she said, ‘Thank you, you just took me back to my childhood. That tasted like what my grandma and I used to make in the driveway together.’ ”
To get that memory-inducing flavor, Hess boils up to 15 pounds of Calder Farm butter until the milk protein turns brown.
“It’s like butter pecan without any of the pecans,” Hess says.
In simplest terms: It’s butter and ice cream.
Cost: $9 a pint, $12 for butterscotch; $5 delivery fee to Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti addresses; free delivery for orders over $20
Hours: Argus 7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends; The Produce Station 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.- Sat.
Locations: Argus Farm Stop, 325 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, The Produce Station, 1629 S. State St., Ann Arbor
Nice Modern Creamery
Standout flavor: Biscoff Voyage
Runner-up: Vanilla Bean with Olive Oil and Ferrero Rocher
This isn’t just a scoop of ice cream, it’s an experience. Pick your favorite color overhead light, and watch mixers form your all-natural ice cream out of liquid nitrogen.
“The cloud of smoke is the nitrogen evaporating while it’s cooling doing down the cream, which makes it very smooth because it freezes so fast,” says owner Dan Bora.
Kick it up a notch by adding a syringe full of nutella, strawberry or caramel syrup to infuse inside or drizzle on top.
“It helped our store blow up,” Bora says. “People were like, ‘Wait. What is that?’ ”
The creamery, tucked behind a Biggby Coffee, offers unique flavors like vanilla topped with olive oil and Ferrero Rocher (nutella, dark chocolate shavings and Rice Krispies.) For a flavor you won’t find elsewhere, go with Biscoff Voyage — a blend of espresso and cookie spread, garnished with two Biscoff cookies. I highly recommend the nutella syringe.
Cost: $4.50 small, $5.50 large
Hours: Noon-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; noon-11 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
Location: 31055 John R, Madison Heights
Standout flavor: Jessica’s Sweet Surprise
Runners-up: Go Tigers (Spanish peanuts, popcorn and caramel), Brown Sugar Ham, Stout and Snout (Porter ice cream with caramel, bacon and brownies)
Given Treat Dreams made Time magazine’s “15 funkiest ice cream flavors on Earth” with its Michigan Salad flavor (blue cheese, candied pecans and dried cherries), other ice cream shops have some competition. Moloney, who owns the Detroit and Ferndale locations, say’s he’s created over 1,000 flavors.
“We don’t screw around with a long time of product testing,” he says. “I came up with this idea today, and we’ll have that ice cream in the store in two weeks.”
What did he come up with? Jessica’s Sweet Surprise, a bacon-gorgonzola-apricot extravaganza, inspired by a woman he met at the bank who asked if he ever had a dip from a French restaurant in Fenton.
“She said they used to have this dip with gorgonzola, apricot, bacon and chives, and it was amazing,” he says. “So guess what I did? I made it an ice cream flavor. The ingredients play well together. You get some sweet, you get some salty.”
Cost: $3.45 one scoop, $5.19 two scoops, $6.25 three scoops
Hours: noon-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., Sun.; noon-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Locations: 22965 Woodward, Ferndale; 4160 Cass, Detroit
Mootown Ice Cream & Dessert Shoppe
Standout flavor: Highland Park Float
Runner-up: Eastern Market Float (sorbet with fresh fruit and Squirt)
This Eastern Market ice cream shop, which is hopping when the market is open on Saturdays, offers classic flavors, but for a twist, try the Highland Park Float. The vanilla ice cream blended with lemon sorbet and Squirt is one of the most popular items, says Kimberly Kelley, who owns the shop with her sister, Christine Kelley (nicknamed “Sugar”).
“We are addicted to Squirt,” says Kelley, who was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up with her five sisters in Highland Park. “Whenever we were allowed to have soda as kids, we had Squirt. Of course, we came to Detroit where there’s Faygo, and not Squirt, but we found it.”
Hence, the sisters created the Highland Park Float as a tribute to their childhood years. Not into floats? They’ll blend the ingredients into a flurry for you.
Cost: $4.50 small, $5.25 medium, $6 large
Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Tues.-Sat.
Location: 2461 Russell, Detroit
Browndog Creamery and Dessert Bar
Standout flavor: Sweet and Sassy
Runner-up: Holy Cannoli
Scroll through Browndog Creamery’s Instagram posts, and you’ll find out-of-the-box flavors such as Holy Guacamole (avocado-flavored ice cream in honor of Cinco de Mayo) and Spaetzel ‘n Cheese (salt ‘n’ pepper ice cream with goat cheese and fried spaetzle).
“With most of our ice cream, it’s us talking and throwing ideas back and forth,” says general manager Kim Landon. “One person will say one thing, and someone will say another thing, and we’ll bring them together and it sort of happens.”
The most popular flavor is Sweet and Sassy — strawberry ice cream with a balsamic reduction and black pepper, Landon says. Other oddballs include Holy Cannoli, a sweet ricotta ice cream churned with orange zest and chocolate covered cannoli shells, and the new staff favorite Cinnacream, ice cream steeped with Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
Think you have a genius idea for a flavor? Browndog will take your suggestions online.
Cost: $4.25 single, $5.50 double, $6.75 triple and $6.25 pint
Hours: Noon-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; noon-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Location: 118 E. Main St., Northville (Second location is slated to open in Farmington in June)
Blank Slate Creamery
Standout flavor: Blackberry Riesling Sorbet
Runner-up: Garden Mint, Loaded Bananas
Every Monday, the Blank Slate team gathers to brainstorm flavors and “find something that’s going to mix and match well,” says store manager Tyler Ball. Using locally-sourced ingredients, these ice cream masters have concocted some gems.
The most popular flavor is Garden Mint, which is steeped in mint leaves and has a “mojito flavor,” Ball says, followed by Loaded Bananas (banana ice cream with chocolate, peanut butter, caramel and marshmallow fluff).
But the Blackberry Riesling Sorbet is worth trying.
“We muddle all the blackberries through a mill to get all the seeds out, so it’s a puree. Then we add the Riesling to it,” Ball says.
Don’t worry, you won’t need a designated driver to head home. The alcohol gets cooked out when the ingredients are heated.
Cost: $3.25 one scoop, $4.25 two scoops, $5.25 three scoops, $6.25 four scoops
Hours: 3-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 3-11 p.m. Fri., noon-11 p.m. Sat.; noon-10 p.m. Sun.
Location: 300 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor
Standout flavor: Oberon
Runner-up: Earl Grey Tea
If any sweet treat has a cult following, it’s Iorio’s Oberon gelato. Made with milk, cream, sugar, orange zest and, of course, Bell’s Oberon beer, it’s the most sampled flavor, says Ann Arbor store manager Catie DeWitt.
“It’s kind of polarizing,” she says. “People will try it and be like, ‘Wow, that’s definitely Oberon.’ ”
For those who like to keep beer and gelato separate, the Earl Grey Tea is another crowd-pleaser.
“People come in, and if we don’t have it, they’ll leave,” DeWitt says.
Cost: $3.35 piccolo, $4.10 medio, $4.60 grande
Hours: Varies by location
Locations: 522 E. William St., Ann Arbor; 1034 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing
Standout Flavor: Faygo Red Pop and Faygo Orange Creamsicle
Runner-up: Kale (RIP)
Any born-and-raised Michiganian will appreciate the Faygo Red Pop and Creamsicle flavors from The Pumphouse in Fenton.
“When you combine ice cream and Faygo, you just have a perfect formula for something that’s both local and special,” says co-owner Curt Catallo. “As people who grew up here, we associate those flavors with our childhood.”
Catallo also co-owns the Union General Store in Clarkson and Vinsetta Garage in Berkley, where you’ll find both flavors. At Vinsetta Garage, the Faygo ice cream comes dusted with Pop Rocks. For extra fireworks, those 21 and over can turn the treat into an adult milkshake.
“We’ll spike anything,” Catallo says.
Because all their ice creams are made in-house in small batches, Catallo says he’s “willing to take some chances” with new recipes. Yet he admits they’re sometimes a “little too ambitious” with the savory flavors. One that didn’t do so hot: kale.
“You can have a great health juice with kale, but for some reason, it doesn’t translate into ice cream,” Catallo says.
You’re better off sticking with the Rock N’ Rye.
Cost: The Pumphouse: $2.50 one scoop, $3.95 two scoops, $5.25 three scoops and $6.95 pint; Union General Store: $3 one scoop and $4 two scoops; Vinsetta Garage: $2.95 for Faygo ice cream with Pop Rocks
Hours: Vary by location
Locations: The Pumphouse 201 S. Leroy St., Fenton; Union General Store 50 S. Main St., Clarkston; Vinsetta Garage 27799 Woodward, Berkley