The newest ice cream trend for the Instagram age is a visual feast, just as fun to watch as it is to eat.
Rolled ice cream has spun into Connecticut within the last year, with a handful of specialty shops opening throughout the state. The dessert, a popular street food in Thailand, has gone global thanks to a proliferation of demonstration videos on YouTube and Facebook.
The intricate concoctions are crafted to order, right before the customer's eyes. Once they choose a flavor, a staff member gets to work, pouring a liquid ice cream base and any mix-in ingredients (fruit, cookies, candy) onto a steel "ice pan" that's electronically chilled to temperatures around -15 Celsius.
As the liquid freezes, it's chopped and shaped into a semi-solid that quickly starts to resemble a soft ice-cream consistency. Using a metal spatula, the employee spreads the mixture across the frozen pan, painting it into a thin, rectangular sheet. Once the mix is completely smooth and reaches its desired frozen consistency, the staffer uses the spatula to scrape the ice cream into tight coils. The method takes two to three minutes.
The rolls are arranged vertically in a cup, then decorated with any toppings you desire: whipped cream, fresh fruit, assorted sauces, candy, even Japanese snacks like mochi and pocky sticks. A portion, with 5 to 6 rolls, sells for about $7.
"You [don't] just enjoy the ice cream. You enjoy the process; it's a show," says Chris Tse, who opened the Icy Rolls shop in Granby on June 24 and is close to debuting a second location on Lasalle Road in West Hartford.
Tse first learned of the ice-cream craze while visiting Manhattan, he says, spotting a long line of customers and stopping to take a look at what attracted such a crowd. He decided to pursue the venture back in Connecticut, in part because the startup capital was considerably less expensive than a full restaurant. (He also owns Windsor Asian Bistro on Poquonock Avenue in Windsor, which is undergoing renovations after a fire.)
At the Granby shop, the most popular flavors are Hulk (mint Oreo); Cookies & Cream and Brownie Delight, with a chocolate ice cream base. Salted caramel pretzel is another favorite, along with Tarzan Lover, a banana-and-Nutella creation. Icy Rolls also offers three dairy-free flavors with a coconut-milk base.
Ivan Lin's 0 Degree Ice Cream was the first to break into the Nutmeg State, Lin says, opening in December on Main Street in Middletown. A few years ago, he and friends traveled to Thailand on vacation and spent evenings enjoying street food, where rolled ice cream first caught his eye. Once back home in the United States, he decided to open a store in New York City.
0 Degree's ice pans freeze at about -18 Celsius, Lin says, which converts to just about zero degrees Fahrenheit. Flavors range from a best-selling Cookie Monster with Oreos and a Reese's Blast with peanut butter to Matcha Made In Heaven with green tea and strawberry, and Wild Berry Lavender with blackberries. An array of 30 toppings includes cookies, Fruity Pebbles, coconut flakes and pretzels.
0 Degree has since expanded to New Haven, with a location at 48 Whitney Avenue, and a West Hartford store at 120 Park Road opened in July.
Crazy Ice, which opened Aug. 1 on the Wallingford/Meriden town line, offers 10 flavors, with favorites like I Love You A Latte (house-brewed coffee and condensed milk); Monkey Business (banana with graham cracker) and S'Mores, which is crowned with a torch-toasted marshmallow. Like Icy Rolls and 0 Degree, the shop also offers bubble tea with tapioca boba and natural fruit teas in a variety of flavors.
"People like the whole experience they get, watching their ice cream made in front of them," says Jenny Yang, daughter of owner Qi Yang, who says her favorite flavor is Crazy Sesame: black sesame with condensed milk. "The whole process is really cool."
Rolled Ice Cream Locations
ICY ROLLS, 10 Hartford Ave., Granby (search "Icy Rolls Granby CT" on Facebook); and soon to open at 56 Lasalle Road, West Hartford.
CRAZY ICE, 1251 S. Broad St., Wallingford. facebook.com/crazyicect.
ICE MONSTER, 34 Wilbur Cross Pkwy, Storrs. facebook.com/IceMonsterCT.
YO YO ICE CREAM, 159 Main St., New Britain, facebook.com/YoYoIcecreamCT.
ICE AND FIRE, 1201 Boston Post Road (Connecticut Post Mall), Milford. facebook.com/iceandfireicecreamroll.
FREEZING MOO, 1700 Post Road, Unit 2D, Fairfield freezingmoo.com.