Miami's New Wave of Ice Cream Offers Exotic Flavors

Inside a light-pink ice-cream shop in Wynwood, an Electro Freeze machine rumbles and a yellowish cream made with vanilla bean, passionfruit, and ají amarillo erupts from the spout. Nearby, stored in a cooler set to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, are other creative frozen flavors, such as raspberry-wasabi, salted caramel and black licorice, and mint made black with activated charcoal. Other flavors are chicken 'n' waffles, coffee, and cinnamon rolls. In the next few weeks, a buttered toast variety will join the collection.

Ingredients at the Dasher & Crank creamery on Wynwood's main drag (2211 NW Second Ave., Miami; dasherandcrank.com) are culled from local favorites such as Zak the Baker, Knaus Berry Farm, and Kush. The store is among the newest in a wave of exotic ice-cream shops to land in Miami-Dade. They include Serendipity in Surfside, Azucar in Little Havana, and Sweet Melody in West Miami-Dade

Simple milk, sugar, and egg recipes are being dressed up with booze, candied hemp seeds, and miso honey.

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"Inspiration is tricky," says 45-year-old Dasher & Crank chef Thomas McCarthy, who wears thick-framed square glasses and a black apron. "It just sort of happens. But the best is when a flavor takes you back to a moment in time."

Ice cream dates to the Seventh Century during China's Tang Dynasty. More than a thousand years later, Italy and France made ice cream thicker and richer. By the late 1770s, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were serving it at political functions. The product went mainstream in the early 1900s, when ice cream in a cone was sold at the St. Louis World's Fair.

In Miami Beach, the Frieze (1626 Michigan Ave.; 305-538-0207; thefrieze.com), which opened in 1987, is arguably Miami-Dade's first craft ice-cream shop. Owner Lisa Warren's storefront offers more than 50 varieties, including not only vanilla and chocolate, but also red wine sorbet, cappuccino chip with cinnamon, and candy cane ($4 to $8).

"When we started, there was no artisan ice cream in Miami," Warren says. "I was fascinated with how creative you could make it. Chefs have asked us to make wasabi, horseradish beet, and blueberry chipotle pepper. I'll always go for something unusual."

Seven miles north in Surfside, one bite of the cereal milk flavor at Serendipity (9457 Harding Ave., 305-865-1506; serendipitycreamery.com) will take you back to early-morning grade-school days. The creamy flavor tastes just like a bowl of Frosted Flakes. The shop, opened in 2008, also carries a blue vanilla, a lavender orange made with edible flowers from Miami's Paradise Farms, and a dark stout using J. Wakefield beer ($5 to $7).

"This whole thing started because there wasn't an ice-cream shop near where I lived," says owner Jessica Levison, a 38-year-old lawyer-turned-ice-cream-maker. "My son wanted blue vanilla, so that's how that happened. My kids inspire a lot of my flavors."

Daniel Levine (left), Ryan Elias, and Thomas McCarthy of Dasher & Crank.
Daniel Levine (left), Ryan Elias, and Thomas McCarthy of Dasher & Crank.
Photo by Javier Storch

In Miami's Little Havana, the Cuban-influenced Azucar Ice Cream Company (1503 SW Eighth St.; 305-381-0369; azucaricecream.com) opened in 2011. Inspired by owner Suzy Battle's abuela, the flavors are pure Miami. There's flan, café con leche, plátano maduro (sweet plantain), and Abuela María, which is made with vanilla ice cream, ripe guava, chunks of cream cheese, and crushed Maria cookies ($5). There's also the Burn in Hell, Fidel! — which was created days after the announcement of Castro's death — containing chocolate ice cream with a kick of cayenne.

"A lot of our flavors come from old Cuban desserts that we've been eating our whole lives," the 50-year-old Battle says, a former banker who began making ice cream when the industry plummeted in 2008. "But others come from having drinks or when the kids play with flavors in the kitchen."

Sweet Melody Crafted Ice Cream Co. (786-376-2814, sweetmelodyicecream.com) doesn't have a storefront but wholesales to restaurants such as Pinch Kitchen and R House. It pops up most weekends at Lincoln's Beard Brewing, and Sweet Melody owner Mike Romeu plans to open a permanent spot inside Mojo Donuts' expanded store in West Miami-Dade before year's end.

The business, which began operating in 2016, is named for and inspired by Romeu's 5-year-old daughter Melody. Romeu began experimenting in his house with an ice-cream maker from BrandsMart. At first, he used it to churn out the Sunday Morning Hangover, a bourbon ice cream containing candied bacon, peach, and bits of biscuits. In the past two years, he has perfected more than 100 recipes and scooped flavors such as I Love It When You Call Me Big Poppy, infused with lemon and fresh-baked poppy-seed cake, and Let It Brie, a Brie and apricot flavor inspired by a dinner-party cheese plate ($4 and up).

"There's a lot of trial-and-error involved when mixing all the ingredients," says Romeu, a 39-year-old with a bristly brown mustache. "But that's the most fun part."

Back in Wynwood at Dasher & Crank, McCarthy serves two sunburned customers a few scoops of Salty Beach, a creamy flavor made with coconut, sea salt, and graham cracker crumbs.

Dasher & Crank is new in Wynwood.
Dasher & Crank is new in Wynwood.
Photo by Javier Storch

"It tastes like the beach," McCarthy says with a grin, "lotion, sweat, sand, and all."

Adds cofounder Daniel Levine: "Thomas is able to tap into the emotional truth of a flavor. It's more than tasting good — it takes you back to another time in your life."

Levine, a 26-year-old with light-brown side-swept hair, was raised in South Miami and met McCarthy in 2016 shortly after the chef moved to town to head Zuma's pastry program. (He spent 11 years as pastry chef at Morimoto in Philadelphia.) A year later, the two met Ryan Elias, a snazzy 30-year-old with a rough beard and perfectly gelled hair, through a mutual friend. The trio decided to partner. McCarthy would oversee ice-cream experimentation and production, Levine would handle business, and Elias would head marketing and outreach.

Their sleek storefront, outfitted in glossy wood furnishings and pastel-pink and baby-blue accents, debuted in December 2017 during Art Basel. The store offers 18 unique flavors, including Earl Gray and chocolate chip. Then there's Fat Elvis, with peanut butter, banana, and Miami Smokers bacon. McCarthy has also made Back to School, a variety mixed with peanut butter, jelly, and goldfish crumbles; Five Spice Pork, made with rousong, which are dried fluffy meat shavings; Easter Candy, containing malted milk, chocolate, caramel, Cadbury eggs, and bunny ears; and Mary Jane Brownie, a mix of brownie chunks, molasses, peanut butter, and candied hemp seeds.

"There are lots of ways to get a flavor into a cream base," McCarthy says. "You can infuse, swirl, or mix in. A lot of the time, I choose to mix in. There's something good about chunky ice cream."

In the next few months, the shop will roll out a line of breakfast-inspired ice cream. That's where Zak the Baker's Sourdough Toast flavor will come in, as well as other coffee and tea varieties.

"Flavors come from experience and tasting as many different foods as possible," McCarthy says. "Hot, spicy, sour, sweet — I've built up a flavor lexicon in my 20 years as a pastry chef. What it comes down to is giving you something delicious that somehow reminds you of something deeper like childhood or a past memory."

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