Thinking outside of the cone: Ice cream gets adventurous in DFW

At Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt in Hurst, customers choose the ingredients (or a pre-designed “sensation”), which are then mixed together and frozen with liquid nitrogen.
At Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt in Hurst, customers choose the ingredients (or a pre-designed “sensation”), which are then mixed together and frozen with liquid nitrogen.

In 2014, a tiny shop called Melt Ice Creams opened in a bumblebee-colored building on Rosedale Street in Fort Worth. It proved so popular that you could frequently see people licking their cones in the parking lot, because there was no place left to sit inside. In summer 2016, it moved to Magnolia Avenue, with a larger (but still small) indoor space, a bigger patio and a better parking lot. Obviously, co-owners Kari Crowe Seher and Mark Seher were onto something.

Other ice-cream places found their homes, most notably Gypsy Scoops, formerly a truck-only operation that is now in a refurbished old house on Race Street, just northeast of downtown Fort Worth. Longtime indies such as Milwaukee Joe’s in Colleyville and Southlake, Henry’s Homemade Ice Cream in Plano and Beth Marie’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream in Denton are all still going strong.

They’re all classic places, known for traditional and more modern flavors, and they’re being joined by a new crop of ice-cream shops that are brining new techniques and styles to DFW.

Ice cream made with liquid nitrogen debuted locally in Hurst in 2015 at Sub Zero Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt, and Arlington’s Orchid City Cafe is credited with introducing Thai-style rolled ice cream to the market in 2016. Now, those styles are popping up in other North Texas businesses and locations.

Still unique is Lumi Snow, a small north Fort Worth shop that specializes in creations made with “shaved snow” — which is not really ice cream but also not really not ice cream.

And it gets weirder: CultureMap Dallas’ Teresa Gubbins (a frequent Star-Telegram contributor) recently reported about Ice Cream Wasted, a vegan-friendly ice-cream shop that is scheduled to open in July in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District that will be by reservation only, with $45 tastings similar to chef’s menu tastings.

We’re not getting that wacky — yet (Ice Cream Wasted is booked through July 22). But we did drop by a few of the more newfangled ice cream places.

Shaved snow at Lumi Snow Company

This small shop, which opened in November in a strip shopping center in far north Fort Worth, has steadily been garnering media attention — it was recently the reader pick for best ice cream/gelato in Fort Worth Magazine’s 2017 best-of issue. It specializes in “shaved snow,” which technically isn’t ice cream or gelato.

“We always tell people it’s almost like if ice cream and freshly fallen snow got married and had a baby,” says Lia Carta, who founded the store with her husband, Cody. “Our slogan is, ‘You just have to try it to get it.’ People get frustrated because we can’t describe the texture to them. We tell them, ‘Come try it, and you describe the texture.’ And then they can’t.”

To give it a shot: Imagine it snowed enough that you were able to scoop up some of it, sweeten it and eat it, which you may even have done. But the description doesn’t quite work because the texture is also strong enough that Lumi Snow’s featured menu items come in Instagram-ready creations that are almost like sculptures.

Take the s’mores-inspired “Campfire Classic,” a two-tiered mountain of chocolate snow with crushed graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate chips at the base, artfully drizzled with marshmallow and fudge sauce.

The Cartas first encountered shaved snow while visiting family in northern California, where shaved snow is more common. Although they liked it, there were some things they wanted to change about it.

“The way that it’s traditionally done is you take a block of ice and add a powder to it, like a synthetic powder to make it flavorful,” Lia Carta says. “You can drown it in different toppings. So we liked the texture but we didn’t like the taste.

“And most ‘snow’ is traditionally on the Taiwanese side, so it’s often flavors that most Americans [aren’t familiar with], like the red bean and the taro,” she continues. “So we also wanted to Americanize it a little bit.”

Flavors such as “The Craving” (chocolate snow with crushed Oreos, potato chips, chocolate chips, fudge and sea-salt caramel) and “Breakfast Trash” (New York cheesecake snow with Cap’n Crunch and Froot Loops drizzled with sweetened condensed milk) sound pretty Americanized to us.

As heavy as those flavors sound, and as large as the creations look, the snow is lighter than ice cream and, while it probably would have been a good idea to share, having the Campfire Classic solo didn’t bog me down for the rest of the day.

“It doesn’t make you feel gross afterward,” Lia Carta says. “You don’t feel like you have to go on a diet for a month.”

Cody Carta spent about eight months of trial and error getting the textures and tastes that he liked, even attending an ice-cream university in New York to learn about the freezer process and the business side of things. About 70 percent of the snow is dairy-free — important to Cody Carta, who has a lactose allergy. Lia Carta says that it takes about 80 tries to get a new recipe to the point where they’ll put it on the menu.

The Cartas visited mom-and-pop ice cream stores in North Texas to get an idea of what to expect. But they weren’t taking into account the social media aspect, which could slow down service when people wanted to take pictures during busy times, and they didn’t expect that the main complaint about the store would be that it doesn’t have enough seating. (At press time, they were close to signing a lease on a second location but didn’t want to disclose where it is yet.)

“We wanted to bring what you would get at an expensive, ritzy restaurant to something you could go to and hang out with your family and make it fun,” Lia Carta says. “Our 4-year-old gives us most of our ideas. He created one that has cotton candy on it, ‘The Circus,’ which is one of our bestsellers.”

As it turns out, there’s another place that does shaved snow in Tarrant County: Snow Bar Shaved Snow, which opened late last year in a warehousey district of Southlake. We haven’t visited yet, but judging from its website, Snow Bar is more about build-your-own creations than works of art. And it does offer some Asian touches, such as taro snow and toppings that include lychee jelly and mochi.

Lumi Snow: 7355 N. Beach St., No. 141, Fort Worth, 817-420-6622, Hours: noon-9 p.m. daily (summer hours)

Snow Bar: 280 Commerce St., Southlake (inside the 280 Sports complex), Hours: 3-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.


Liquid-nitrogen ice cream at Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt

Even those of us who didn’t do well in our science classes thought liquid nitrogen was cool — because it looks less like liquid than it does the opening moments of a ’70s arena-rock concert, with fog spilling out over the stage or, in this case, over the ingredients.

At Sub Zero, you can either choose a “Sensation” — a pre-designed flavor — or create your own (size, base cream, flavor, mix-ins) and then watch the show as the ingredients are whipped together, then frozen via that foggy liquid-nitrogen process.

Sub Zero originated in Utah. Jeremy and Naomi Hancock, who already owned an assembly-line burrito store, wanted to bring that “customizable food” idea to desserts, according to the company’s website. Jerry — who, surprise, has a chemistry background from Brigham Young University — came up with a method of freezing the ingredients using nothing but liquid nitrogen.

The first store opened in 2004 in Orem, Utah. In 2015, the Hancocks took their idea to the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” in which budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to “sharks,” including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, in search of finding an investor.

Although the sharks didn’t bite, the business still turned into as such a hit that there are now locations in much of the western and eastern United States, as well as China and the United Arab Emirates. There are several in Texas, including a Hurst store that opened in 2015 and a Flower Mound store that’s due to open soon.

Kirk Jones happened to be watching that “Shark Tank” episode. When a friend told Jones that a Sub Zero was opening in San Antonio, he and Alnawaz Suhani, who now co-own the Hurst franchise, flew down to check it out. The liquid-nitrogen process avoids freezer burn or the kind of crystalized, over-frozen ice cream you find too often in grocery stores.

“You can taste that on your palate,” Jones told the Star-Telegram in 2015. “I noticed that the Sub Zero ice cream had a very creamy taste and texture.”

This was our experience with the Banana Cream Pie Bismuth “Sensation” made with banana, marshmallow cream, graham crackers and cheesecake bites, all frozen with the liquid nitrogen and then topped with fudge sauce and whipped cream. (Bismuth is an element on the periodic table, or as those of us who didn’t do well in science class say, “Ooh, look at the fog from the liquid nitrogen.” The “Sensations” tend to have science-geek names. Extra credit if you know whom the first name in “Bernoulli Brulee” refers to.)

And there’s more fog out there and more to come: CultureMap Dallas reported in April that Creamistry, a California-based chain that uses liquid nitrogen, plans to open a location in Addison, and notes that another liquid-nitrogen spot, iCream Cafe, is open in Frisco.

9986 Grapevine Hwy, #B, Hurst, 817-849-5509, Hours: noon-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.


Thai-style rolled ice cream at Orchid City Cafe

If you don’t already live in south Arlington, Orchid City Cafe is worth the trip. It’s in a modest two-shop strip across from Tarrant County College’s southeast campus, in the type of spot you might just drive by on the off chance that you’re even in the neighborhood. But stop in: It’s an inventive Asian-Cajun fusion place that also does some juicy, monster-sized, grab-the-fork burgers.

Last summer, it made a splash when it introduced Thai-style rolled ice cream to DFW. Or at least got credit for introducing it: Rolled ice cream was already trendy in other cities, and who knows if some hole-in-the-wall elsewhere in DFW got to it first. But when Orchid City put it on the menu, it got the attention of The Dallas Morning News, the UTA Shorthorn (Orchid City owner Martin Doan is a UTA grad) and Star-Telegram Eats Beat columnist Bud Kennedy.

Again, this comes with a show: Orchid City has roughly a half-dozen ice cream creations, including our choice, the Grease Monkey ($6), a banana-Nutella mixture. The ingredients are mixed together on cold metal plates, rolled out till they’re about as flat as they can get, then scraped up with a spatula that coils them into pretty little rolls. They’re then placed vertically in a cup, usually with some kind of topping.

Even if Orchid City wasn’t the first to bring rolled ice cream to DFW, it was ahead of a big curve. In April 2016, CultureMap Dallas reported that Chills 360, a Thai-style rolled ice cream shop, would open a location in Deep Ellum, but it didn’t get its doors open till last fall. It has been a hit, and it recently got buzz for its coconut-flavored black ice cream.

Two more locations of Chills 360 are close to opening: one in Rockwall, and one in Fort Worth, with a target July date on Foch Street in the West Seventh area. Be warned: Facebook reviews of the Deep Ellum location talk about crazy lines and wait times, and there is debate over whether the wait is worth it.

Around the same time Orchid City made waves, Iceland Ice Cream, another rolled ice cream spot, opened on Arbrook Boulevard just north of the Parks at Arlington mall. And Ice Cream Mania opened in Colleyville with an emphasis on rolled ice cream; originally known as 8° F Ice Cream Mania, it now goes by the simpler name, perhaps to avoid confusion with Atlanta-based 8° Fahrenheit Ice Cream, which plans to open a rolled-ice-cream spot in Carrollton.

Carrollton is the place to be for rolled ice cream: the new 7F Ice Cream Rolls (take that, 8-degree places!) also does the rolled ice cream, and there’s a location of I-CE-NY, a New York-based chain that, according to its website, has roots in I-TIM-PAD, the Thai company that says it created rolled/smashed ice cream in 2011.

But that’s not all: SnowFlake Cafe, new in Plano and Richardson, has rolled ice cream on the menu. And then there’s 10°F Rolling Ice Cream, with shops in Plano (in the food court at the Shops at Willow Bend) and Little Elm.

Clearly, this type of ice cream is on a ... nah, the pun’s too easy.

Orchid City Cafe: 2135 Southeast Parkway, No.101, Arlington, 817-468-3777, Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday.

Iceland Ice Cream: 1201 W Arbrook Blvd., No. 121, Arlington, 682-622-0550, @iceland121 on Facebook. Hours: noon-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday.

Ice Cream Mania: 5615 Colleyville Blvd., Colleyville, 682-325-4542. No website or Facebook page. Hours: 1:30-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 1:30-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Chills 360: 2646 Elm St., Dallas, 469-687-6797, @chills360irolls on Facebook. Hours: 1 p.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 1 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, 1 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Coming soon to Foch Street in Fort Worth.


Halo halo at Shojimoto and che at Bambu Desserts and Drinks

Although neither is technically ice cream and only one has ice cream in it, the Asian inspirations behind shaved snow and rolled ice cream led us to these two desserts.

Halo-halo (pronounced more like “hollow hollow”) is a Filipino dessert made with shaved ice and sweetened milk, with a mix of fruits and beans. At Shojimoto, a small ice-cream/Filipino-food spot on Cooper Street in Arlington, the halo-halo comes with red beans, white beans, jackfruit, coconut and gulaman, and is topped with your choice of ice cream (flavors range from chocolate, vanilla and strawberry to avocado, taro and ube).

It’s the type of dessert you tend to both eat and drink, with just a touch of sweetness from the milk and a wide mix of textures from the beans (which give it a slightly nutty flavor) and the fruits. We topped it with sweet, velvety mango ice cream, which seemed to split the difference between the prosaic and the exotic.

Che, according to the Bambu website, is a Vietnamese word for homemade beverages, dessert drinks and pudding. In the case of Bambu, a San Jose-based chain with locations in Grand Prairie, Plano and Garland, it’s a dessert drink. Or many dessert drinks: You know you have a lot of options when they have a flip binder with pictures of the drinks at the register.

Bambu’s che uses coconut water or coconut milk, with more than a dozen options that include such exotic offerings as smahed avocado and “Thousand Eyes” (basil seed, grass jelly and coconut juice). We went for the “Fruit Addict” (lychee, longan, red tapioca, jackfruit, palm seed, Jell-O, pandan jelly, coconut and coconut milk. That’s all topped with shaved ice.

The young woman at the register suggested stirring before drinking, because the sugar is in the middle. This meant poking through the shaved ice with an oversize straw to the point that stirring was possible, then mixing everything up, yielding a pleasing, non-cloying sweetness. The fruit, which has a gummi-bear-like texture, settles at the bottom; it’s the type of thing you drink first, then collect what’s left with a spoon. Or try to suck it up through the oversize straw.

Shojimoto: 1220 S. Cooper St., Arlington, 817-801-3131, Shojimoto on Facebook. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday; 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Monday.

Bambu: 2625 W. Pioneer Parkway, Grand Prairie (in Asia Times Square), 972-408-1445, Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Robert Philpot: 817-390-7872, @rphilpot

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram