Chuck Woodward is still a University of Miami student finishing his master's in finance. He also happens to be the cool co-owner of Chill-N, a unique ice-cream concept off the beaten path in Pinecrest. He and business partner Daniel Golick will open their second outpost in Aventura come early May.
At Chill-N, ice cream is made using the flash-freeze liquid nitrogen method and on the spot. The drawback: You can't sample the ice-cream flavor you want. The payoff: It's possibly the creamiest ice cream you'll have in Miami. Even kids of Azucar owner Suzy Battle head to Chill-N to get a fix.
Chill-N opened in October 2012, but it has flown under the radar. I came across it only when I ran into its owners at a Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Affair during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. They were scoping out some competition. Woodward and Golick had no idea what they were getting into when they had the idea to open the frozen concept.
They began making ice cream in a garage at a house where they lived near the Biltmore. Imagine a bunch of guys in suits with tanks of liquid nitrogen in their garage cooking something up. "Oh, people thought we had a drug operation going on," Woodward says. "I didn't even know ice cream had eggs till we started making it, but family friends told me about a similar concept in Orlando, and I knew it would work here, so we went with it."
The freezing process explained.
The boys would look up Emeril Lagasse's ice-cream recipes and watch him making treats on television in order to learn. Finally, mom came to the rescue and helped the boys prepare ice cream in a giant kettle.
"We went through a lot of testing and probably ate lots of ice cream that we shouldn't have, but it couldn't have been that bad if we're still here. And it led us to opening the store," Woodward says.
Woodward and Golick didn't have any previous restaurant experience. The first day Chill-N opened was the first time Woodward had touched a cash register.
A year and a half later, it's worked out for them rather well. They do anywhere from 500 to 700 covers on weekend days. It's obvious why. From the moment you walk in, you're instantly excited by the menu that looks like a periodic table. That touch, along with the sight of liquid nitrogen tanks, will bring a bit of bittersweet nostalgia to fans of Breaking Bad. Don't fret -- nothing a little creamy goodness can't fix.
Mom no longer makes the base because the boys have upgraded a bit and are on the fourth version of liquid nitrogen technology. "Opening an ice-cream shop ignited this whole knowledge for ice cream within us," says Wooward, who will without fault try ice cream anywhere he goes.
"There's even an ice-cream convention at Penn State," he says. So what does one do at an ice-cream convention? Talk to the quality control guy from Ben & Jerry's and find out secrets of the trade, of course. "He told me that for them, ice cream is best when they eat it directly off the production line, which is the optimal temperature for ice cream to be kept in."
Unfortunately, in order to be manufactured, transported, and deposited into your fridge, the product fluctuates between being unfrozen and refrozen, not to mention the freezing temperatures themselves. With Chill-N, the guys eliminate the need for all and any freezers, keeping ice cream in its purest form and with absolutely no crystals.
Many ice-cream companies also pump air into their ice cream to decrease food costs, just as long as it upholds the nation's legal standard for ice cream, which happens to be "frozen dairy dessert." This is why sometimes ice cream will taste like air or a whole lot of nothing. Next time you're at the grocery store and you see a frozen treat labeled "frozen dairy dessert," beware -- it's pretty much fake ice cream with 100 percent overrun.
At Chill-N, ice cream has zero overrun and 100 percent density, making it about the creamiest ice cream you'll encounter. Especially since it's flavored using all-natural ingredients. One of their most popular flavors, Nutella, requires tubs and tubs of Nutella -- 66 pounds a week to be exact.
"We go through ten six-pound jars a week," Woodward says. "We have a pallet of Nutella sitting in our warehouse right now waiting to be picked up and put to work." Other naturally flavored ice cream includes vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, cake batter, biscotti, dulce de leche, peanut butter, butter pecan, and mint. There's also a yogurt alternative in case you're trying to be good, although this isn't the kind of place you come to behave.
Mix-ins give you an array of options to top your treat, although Chuck admits less is more. "Whenever we see people adding three or more mix-ins to ice cream, we advise against it," he says. "All you really need is two, and even that's a lot."
I opted for three concoctions -- strawberry with mixed berries and gummy bears; Nutella with cookie bites; and dulce de leche with Heath bar. Other mix-in options include M&M's, granola, Reese's, honey, pecans, crunch, bananas, and shredded coconut. All three of my choices were delicious, but my favorite was the Nutella with cookie bites. No wonder they go through six tubs a week.
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Prices vary depending upon size and mix-ins -- $4.55 for regular, $4.95 for large, and 50 cents for each additional mix-in. That's more than fair considering the amount of ice cream the fact that it's made using all-natural ingredients. I opted for a large because I'm a glutton, but most people will be satisfied with a regular because the ice cream is so dense.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha