The Summer Scoop: Denver’s (ice) cream of the crop
posted by: Mile High Mamas
Denver is a year-round ice cream town, but come summer, we lose our collective cool for the stuff. Just check the lines at Bonnie Brae, Liks, Magill’s or any of the other neighborhood ice cream shops around town. These longtime leaders have been serving the market for years. But as much as we love our standbys, there’s something about new ice cream shops that really tempts our sweet tooth. Here, we catch up with a few of the newer kids on the ice cream block.
A. Sweet Action
A frozen-flavor revolution has been churning on Broadway this year in a fun and airy space with graphic illustrations on the wall and front- window bar stools where customers take in the continuous street theater. Spurred by a sweets-loving couple who never met an exotic taste they didn’t like, Sweet Action Ice Cream began logging loyal followers almost immediately after opening in March in the art-, music- and night-life-friendly Baker neighborhood. “What else could the neighborhood use but an ice cream shop?” asked Sweet Action co-owner Sam Kopicko, who started the business with her boyfriend, Chia Basinger. Their instincts were spot-on. Consider the swarm of people outside of Sweet Action any night of the week, or the dozens of Sweet Action fans who have commented on the store at yelp.com. One of them writes: “Oh why can’t I walk by this place without dragging whomever I am with in for a sample, or, um, like 5?” Perhaps because of the yumminess made fresh every day, primarily with local and organic ingredients. New flavors happen at Sweet Action based simply on whatever Kopicko and Basinger find at farmers markets, the Savory Spice Shop, or ethnic food stores like Avanza and H Mart. Some hits include strawberry balsamic, brown bread molasses, Jack Daniel’s lemonade and baklava ice creams. Spicy Carrot sorbet, on the other hand, “was really tasty but not a big seller,” Kopicko says. And even if Sweet Action – a synonym for “awesome!” – failed to cultivate a following with its farm-stand-inspired ice creams, the latest flavors of which devotees can follow on Twitter, the store also stocks an array of fresh fruit sorbets, ice cream sandwiches using cookies from the Sugar Bakeshop, ice cream-filled Shoppe cupcakes, ice cream bars and ice pops.
B. Red Rock Ice Cream
Jeffery Johnson brings a background in drug counseling and restaurant management to the Red Rock ice cream cart on the 16th Street Mall. As the former owner of a Dairy Queen, Johnson knows something about ice cream, and with a degree in psychology, he understands people and their cravings. “I see a ton of my old clients. They stop by and say hi, and I ask them if they’re staying sober. Most of them say ‘yeah,”‘ says Johnson, who was a drug and alcohol counselor downtown for many years. After his venture into franchise ownership and running a sports bar “kind of all tumbled down,” Johnson downsized to the little red cart that he parks nearly every day on 16th and California streets. He opened in May 2008 and has spent much of the last year working on non-soft-serve recipes – he’s testing various vanillas, and thinks that peach is better with the addition of mangoes. “Sometimes peppermint is a good seller; strawberry is usually good; so is dark chocolate,” says Johnson. “Honestly, it depends on the ethnic group. Black people seem to like butter pecan and peach mango. Hispanics like strawberry, coconut and peach mango. White people come up and ask for Mexican chocolate – it’s chocolate with a hint of cinnamon. And the kids like all the candy.”
C. Red Trolley
Sometimes a scoop can make a bad day seem all right again. It had been quite a while since the hankering for ice cream hit me. I had been making do with sweet fresh fruit and the occasional Healthy Choice fudge bar. But after living without power for 24 hours thanks to a freakishly strong July storm, the craving was insatiable. Co-workers had raved about ice cream from Red Trolley, a little shop in my old neighborhood. The thought of yummy, exotic flavors coupled with natural ingredients in an independent shop ensured I’d head there instead of the grocery store aisle for some Ben & Jerry’s. After a challenging day at work heading into a dark night at home, I detoured to the Highland neighborhood for my fix. An array of flavors, from New York Berry Cheesecake to decadent chocolate, awaited me. I was allowed to try as many flavors as I wanted, while the server and I chatted about storms, power outages and the dearth of dry ice in town. I decided to buy a pint of blueberry-lemon sorbetto, a perfect combination of tart, sweet and summer, and, in memory of my recently shredded garden, a pint of honey-lavender ice cream, which balanced sweetness with the somewhat bath-product aftertaste of lavender. As we packed up my ice cream to go, the ice- cream man took a hard look at me and decided that I looked like I’d had a rough day and only charged me for a pint instead of two. Tearing up a little (as I had been doing for most of the day) I thanked him and promised to come back on a day when I wasn’t having a hard time, bringing friends who also would enjoy the sweet ice cream and even sweeter staff.
What are your favorite ice cream shops?