Local frosty treats to help beat the heat

July 03, 2014 11:02 am

New and innovative frozen treats pop up in Tucson daily. Try unusual iced coffees, a cone of frosty pork belly, an acai bowl or locally pasteurized ice cream.

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  • We’ve reached that time of year in Tucson where even thinking about trying to stay cool will make you break a sweat.

    The heat is on.

    Thankfully, there are those among us dedicated to getting us through.

    Ice cream, gelato and yogurt shops dot the city. New and innovative frozen treats seem to pop up daily.

    If the summer sun is driving you to the brink, we say, chill out. Let it go.

    Some of Tucson’s latest in shiver-inducing sweets are only a car ride away.

  • A steaming cup o’ joe this time of year? No thanks.

    But, since caffeination is a year-round activity, we appreciate that life-sustaining coffee quests still happen even when it’s 150 degrees outside. At 7 a.m.

    Iced is an option, but that’s so unimaginative compared to the creative cold coffees at local spots that cool you down while fueling you up.

    Science coffee

    That’s the nickname for the ice-drip coffee at Savaya Coffee Market, which has three locations.

    “The machine kind of looks like a chemistry set,” says Andy Ko, a barista and manager of the Williams Centre Savaya, 5350 E. Broadway.

    No joke. “The machine” is a Yama Cold Brewer, a glass contraption that does indeed look like something out of a high school chem lab. Ice and cold water drip through ground coffee for 12-16 hours and the resulting concentrate, which is smooth and clean and low in acidity, is mixed with water.

    “The taste is what gets you,” Ko says.

    $4 for 16 ounces.

    Cold brew with nitrous injection

    Sit down at a table with a glass of this, and it looks like you’re sipping beer for breakfast.

    A thick, foamy head tops deep brown liquid that looks a lot like Guinness. It’s really cold-brewed coffee on tap that’s injected with a nitrogen-carbon dioxide blend. Adding the gas to coffee that’s been steeped overnight in cold water (that’s known as cold brew or Toddy) and then diluted with water results in a creamy texture and taste with a hint of sweetness, says Stella Java owner Curtis Zimmerman, who researched the strange brew in Portland last year and added it to the menu a month ago.

    “I feel like there’s a need for it in Arizona,” Zimmerman says of the icy, refreshing coffee.

    $3 for 10 ounces; $3.50 for 12 ounces; $4 for 16 ounces at Stella Java in Mercado San Agustin, 100 S. Avenida del Convento.

    Exo’s regional ingredient coffees

    Exo Roast Co., 403 N. Sixth Ave., offers a trio of unusual brewed beverages that use regional ingredients like mesquite, ground corn and chiltepin.

    The mesquite Toddy — a limited-time offering that’ll be on the menu as long as the stockpile of milled mesquite flour lasts — uses cold-brewed coffee and mesquite syrup, says co-owner Doug Smith.

    “It comes out kind of sweet and malty, you can really taste the mesquite,” he says.

    The just-added-to-the-menu iced pinole incorporates dried, ground corn — a staple of the Tarahumara Indians — and mole sauce with espresso and milk. “You can really taste the corn, but it has the consistency of horchata, creamy and a little bit chalky,” Smith says.

    Though it seems counterintuitive to suck down a spicy chiltepin Toddy, the capsaicin in the peppers actually cools you off because the resulting sweat that evaporates lowers body temperature.

    “It’s doubly cooling,” promises Smith.

    Iced pinole, $4 for 12 ounces; mesquite Toddy and chiltepin Toddy, $3.25 for 12 ounces.

  • With the names Ben and Jared, it seems fitting that Ben Rine and Jared Wren have gotten into the ice cream business.

    For the last seven years, Rine and Wren have been slinging pork, chicken and other tasty meats as the operators of the popular BrushFire BBQ chain.

    It’s only in the last five months that the duo have upped their cool factor by opening the BrushFire Ice Creamery, next to its east-side location at 7080 E. 22nd St.

    The shop, which was launched on Valentine’s Day, offers 24 flavors that are always rotating. Wren calls it small-batch ice cream making. Varieties are created a gallon-and-a-half at a time in an industrial Emery Thompson machine (the same kind Ben & Jerry used when they first started out).

    Wren says it gives them a chance to be creative.

    “The barbecue side of BrushFire is what it is,” Wren said. “We’ve changed things occasionally, but our customers notice so we aren’t allowed to do that anymore. With the ice cream, we can do as we please.”

    The end results of these bursts of innovation are new flavors using unique ingredients.

    Among their past and current selections are Nutella Rocky Road, malted Butterfinger and a bananas foster.

    One of Brushfire’s true oddities is its pork belly ice cream, a vanilla cinnamon selection with candied bacon, maple caramel syrup and glazed walnuts.

    “When people hear about it, they crinkle their noses, but everyone likes it when they taste it,” Wren said.

    Customers also enjoy sweet treats with a little spirit.

    Wren said one of the benefits of having an ice creamery attached to a restaurant with a full bar is that alcohol becomes a readily available ingredient.

    The BrushFire crew has dabbled with incorporating Guinness and Knob Creek bourbon into their flavor profiles. Shots of Baileys and Kahlua are also common.

    “Anything they want to put in there, they are more than welcome to do so,” Wren said.

  • They call the açai berry a super fruit.

    No, a frozen spoonful of the stuff won’t give you the power to transform this desert into an icy wonderland, but the açai bowl does have a little magic to share.

    And by the way, it’s pronounced ah-sigh-ee.

    The creamy, frozen puree of the purple açai berry, topped with any variety of fruits and nuts, goes a long way for cooling down and filling up. The berry itself has a subtle flavor, but blended and topped with other goodies, it’s one of those trendy foods that actually tastes the part and does the body some good. Full of antioxidants and omega fatty acids (plus whatever benefits you get from the countless add-ons), açai bowls come from Brazil. Fitting for World Cup season.

    Exploding in popularity in Hawaii and California years ago, they’re still not the easiest (or cheapest) snack to come by in Tucson.

    A few spots with ready-made bowls include Goodness Juice Bar and Fresh Food, 2502 N. Campbell Ave., The Parlour, 611 N. Fourth Ave., and Xoom Juice, 6222 E. Speedway and 2739 E. Speedway.

    About a month-and-a-half ago, the downtown Xoom Juice, 245 E. Congress St., started offering a build-your-own açai bowl, a creative detour from the beloved Açai Soy Berry and Velvet Amazon bowls at the east side and central locations.

    Almond milk. Chia seeds. Blueberries. Anything and everything is fair game in your custom-made bowl, starting at $6.95 and including several fruits and toppings. Additional add-ons range between 50 cents and $1, depending on what you toss in — but not by hand. This isn’t self-serve fro-yo. You still place your order at the counter.

    “I tend to use my own desires and gut feelings as my guidepost,” said Xoom Juice owner Ari Shapiro. “I found myself, whenever I was making an açai bowl, just putting in all sorts of random ingredients we had in the shop, and I thought, ‘This is natural.’”

    If you’re the indecisive type, or just like things simple, that works too. Blend açai pulp with one or two fruits and your choice of milk and top it with granola and honey.

    Shapiro says he has lunched on an açai bowl almost everyday for the past 10 years, even skipping lunch invites for his treasured treat. Xoom Juice also blends açai smoothies, and will add the fruit to any smoothie for an additional cost.

    Another magic trick: The bowls can double as meal or snack. Sweet, creamy and fruitier than a big scoop of ice cream, the açai bowl sure does cast a spell on a hot, summer day.

  • The Screamery will open July 12 with 16 inventive flavor concoctions that include cotton candy, and stout beer and chocolate complemented by chocolate-covered pretzels.

    But what separates it from other ice cream shops will be the big stainless steel pasteurization machine in the kitchen.

    That will allow owner Kenny Sarnoski to control every step in the ice cream creation process, starting with the base. The Screamery is the first one in Tucson — and one of only a handful nationwide — that will pasteurize its own cream.

    “I will be able to do whatever I want with my base. I can add anything I choose during the pasteurization process,” said Sarnoski, who owns the 1,500-square-foot shop at 50 S. Houghton Road with his wife, Linda. “There is just an abundance of flavors you could do when you pasteurize. If dirt tasted good, you could do that.”

    Sarnoski, who until April worked for his father at Architectural Openings Inc., has the state and federal OKs, and a 15-gallon pasteurizer shipped from a manufacturer in Maryland earlier this month to start making ice cream from step one.

    Traditional ice cream shops start with a premade cream base and introduce flavors in the last step of the process — as the cream swirls around the ice cream machine. Sarnoski will infuse the flavors during the pasteurization, heating the flavorings with the cream, milk, sugar and eggs to 155 degrees for 30 minutes. The mixture is then put in a cold bath for about an hour to chill to 50 degrees before it’s refrigerated for up to 24 hours where “all the sciencey stuff happens” to infuse the flavors, he said.

    Sarnoski said The Screamery will use only organic ingredients, including milk from grass-fed cows, eggs and sugar.

    Sarnoski and his wife stumbled onto the idea of making their own ice cream when the family — they have two daughters — started the paleo diet nearly two years ago. “We wanted to find a way to have ice cream the paleo kind of way.”

    That meant making it at home in a $40 ice cream machine using coconut milk. It wasn’t ice cream, but it was a frozen, creamy treat that “was actually pretty decent,” he said.

    His Screamery ice creams, obviously, do not follow the paleo diet. Included in his 16 flavors of ice cream, Sarnoski said he also will offer a blackberry sangria sorbet with red wine and a couple of coconut milk treats. He also plans to introduce gluten-free frozen delights.

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