Grass Roots: Where Ice Cream Is An Adventure

If you are the indecisive type, you may want to prepare before heading to Grass Roots Ice Cream.

The shop by the Granby Town Green serves 36 uniquely crafted flavors that would give even the most resolute ice cream fans pause. Strawberry balsamic. Garden berry pie. Apricot white chocolate chip. Molasses oatmeal. Guava. Cardamom cashew. Pear lavender sorbet. Birch beer. Lemongrass coconut. Try to pick just one.

Grass Roots is enjoying its first full summer in business, after opening on July 4 last year. It's a family affair, run by husband and wife Lee and Eliza Florian with the help and inspiration of their children.

The shop started out as a "hobby," said Eliza Florian, who had been exploring creative pursuits – violin lessons and ceramics classes – as her older children entered high school.

"We started this on a whim, something we were doing on the side," she said. "I originally had seen it like a hobby, but it's become a little bigger than that."

They didn't have experience running a small business, but they knew food, as Eliza had grown up on a small Connecticut family farm and the couple cooks extensively at home. The ice cream production was entirely self-taught: Eliza bought instructional books, went through several trial and error batches and figured out what worked.

And experimentation is what drives the daily flavor board. Customers will suggest ideas in person or on Facebook, or a staffer or family member will dream up something new. The Florians' daughter suggested lemon ginger, which became an instant hit, and one of their sons pitched "snapping turtle," a turtle ice cream with pecans, caramel and chocolate and the addition of chocolate-covered pretzels.

A soft and subtle honey lavender, which Eliza describes as a "one-box experiment," sold out in a day, and has returned regularly since. And any time the owners make a flavor with bacon from Granby's Maple View Farm, it flies out of the freezer case. With a first batch of salted caramel bacon brittle, "I thought I had two weeks' worth" of supply, "and it sold in three days," she said.

Though the shop does carry plenty of conventional options (chocolate, cookie dough, pistachio,) the Florians' effort to showcase the more unusual flavors has been successful. "I'm getting more adventurous, more brave, trying to push this area toward more gourmet flavors," Eliza said. "And I thought it would be more of a struggle, but people have gone crazy and loved it."

The Florians strive to produce what they call a "new movement" in ice cream, shunning artificial ingredients for all-natural products and flavors. The cream blend is made with dairy from local farms in Connecticut and Massachusetts and the flavors are produced with essential oils. Even the toppings are a cut above – natural "gummies," real chocolate sprinkles and organic rainbow sprinkles.

Searching for the natural ingredients was more of a challenge than they expected, Eliza said, as many in the industry rely on artificial bases, syrups and colors. Experts told her "if it's not bright blue, they're not going to buy it," she said. "…But we feel [the artificial ingredients] detract, and that's not something we believe in. What I feed to my kids, I will feed to you. I've always tried to have clean food in my house."

The servings are priced starting at $2.75 for a kids' scoop, $3.60 to $5.40 for one and a half to three scoops; $5.75 for a milkshake and $5.90 to $6.90 for two and three-scoop sundaes. Waffle cones, plain or chocolate-dipped, are extra, and pints and quarters are $5.75 and $9.90.

Upcoming flavor experiments include rhubarb and possibly seasonal berry creations, and Eliza hopes to work with violet and jasmine oils for another floral option. Ideally, she says, she'd like to connect with restaurants to produce ice cream for their dessert menus.

The shop's name has a particularly emotional meaning for the Florian family. Their youngest son, Joshua, died suddenly in 2008 at the age of two from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD.) The genetic disorder is rare and potentially fatal, but can be treated very early with diet and medication if the infant is tested at birth, Eliza said. When Joshua was born, Connecticut did not require screening for ALD.

But the Florians, along with other state families affected by ALD, worked to change that, urging politicians to introduce a bill requiring Connecticut health care institutions to screen newborns for the disorder. The bill was passed quickly by the state Senate and House of Representatives, and Gov. Dannel Malloy signed it into law on July 2, 2013. Named in honor of the grassroots campaign intended to save lives of others diagnosed with ALD, Joshua's family's ice cream shop opened two days later.

"It just feels right," his mother said.

>>GRASS ROOTS ICE CREAM, 4 Park Place in Granby, is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 9 p.m.; and closed Sunday. Information: 860-653-6303 and grassrootscreamery.com.