Calgary

Calgary ice cream scene is the true innovation economy

Calgarians looking for what's new, cool and Instagram-worthy in ice cream should head for Centre Street.

Fish cakes, Hungarian chimney cakes, charcoal soft serve, rolled ice cream all reinvent summer favourite

Ice cream in the age of Instagram combines crunchy outsides, soft insides, and sprinkles of everything from cereal to cookie crumbs. Traditional vanilla soft serve is being combined with flavours popular in Asia, such as macha, purple yam, or Pandan. (Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, CBC News)

While ice cream never really goes out of style, it does reinvent itself from year to year, usually into something that tastes familiarly delicious, but these days — the age of Instagram — also looks amazing.

The Homestretch reached out to food trends columnist Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, a Calgary-based food writer, to find out what's new in ice cream.

Q: I know we're supposed to talk about trends in ice cream, but isn't ice cream always trendy?

A: In my books yes. Not even just in summer — all the time. But ice cream trends do change all the time. Remember a couple summers ago, it was all about the gelato? And Calgary still has a lot of great gelato places. It will never go out of style. They will always be classics. But there are some new trends that are popping up for this summer.

Q: Like what?

A: Without a doubt, soft serve. Those cones with the spiral of soft serve? They're so nostalgic — and we're not talking about Dairy Queen ice milk here. It's a step beyond. So Made by Marcus on 17th Avenue S.W. — it's a great hard ice cream place.

Marcus Purtzki's understanding of the science behind ice cream is bolstered by his background is in food science, which includes a thesis focused entirely on dairy. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Their hard ice creams are amazing. But they also always do one soft serve and they change it out every month. Right now, they have passionfruit basil. Last month, they had huckleberry buttermilk. But this week they're going to change it out this week. What will it be? It's more flavorful, a bit creamier, a bit more gourmet.

Another big one that was all over Instagram last summer and is back this summer is Luke's Drug Mart, which does a charcoal soft serve. So it's black.

Q: What's it taste like? Tell me not charcoal.

A: To be honest, it kind of tastes like vanilla. But apparently it has some health properties and it looks really cool and it turns your tongue black.

But this is a trend that's continuing. [For example], Yann Haute  Patisserie — which is known for its macarons, which was a food trend a couple years ago — they're opening a brand new soft serve place next door any day now called Berlingo.

Another place called Sweet Haven just opened on Centre Street N., and they do this soft serve that's covered in cookie crumbs, or cereal crumbs — again, these weird crazy, Instagrammable concoctions that are pretty delicious.

Q: Is there anyone absolutely pushing the ice cream envelope?

A: My absolute favourite new ice cream place in Calgary is Uzu Taiyaki, which is in Chinatown at the strip mall just at the bottom of the Centre Street Bridge. And Taiyaki is a Japanese cake shaped like a fish. They make these little fish cakes, and then they line them with red bean paste or nutella — and fill them with soft serve ice cream — either vanilla, or typical Asian flavours like matcha, purple yam or a sweet leaf called Pandan.  And they're colourful, they're beautiful, and you can top them with sticks of Pocky, or little Teddygrams or cookies — those are really cool and again, all over Instagram.

One of the distinctive soft serve ice cream cones served at Calgary's Uzu Taiyaki. (Uzu Taiyaki Facebook)

Surprisingly similar, but from a different part of the world, there's these things called Hungarian chimney cakes which are a sweet, yeasty dough cake that they coat with cinnamon, or sprinkles, or coconut. They're a little crunchy on the outside, but soft and bread-like on the inside — you can get them in a place in Victoria Park called Utka and then they fill them with soft serve. So those are some more interesting, out-there options.

Q: But the fish ice cream doesn't taste like fish, does it?

A: It does not taste like fish. But it's delicious! It's far and away my favourite new ice cream in the city.

Q: What do red bean, purple yam and Pandan taste like?

A: Again, the flavours aren't that strong. They're huge flavours in Asia, as far as desserts go. I had the purple yam and pandan swirl, which is like a beautiful purple and green colour — and it tasted a bit beyond vanilla, but it was a very subtle taste, so you're not going to get slapped in the face by yam.

Rolled ice cream, which originated in Thailand, from Sweet Tooth on Centre Street in Calgary. (Elizabeth Chorney-Booth)

Q: What if you're not into soft serve stuff?

A:  Calgary has its share of amazing scoop shops. Village Ice Cream is always a favourite. Made by Marcus. Things like that. But if you're looking for something different, a lot of these more novel ideas are coming from Asian countries.

Rolled ice cream has become really popular in Calgary. It originated in Thailand.

They pour some cream onto a very cold pallet and kind of roll it out flat as it freezes and then makes it into curlicues, almost like jelly rolls. And my favourite place to get that is Sweet Tooth, also on Centre — it is kind of becoming the ice cream belt in Calgary.

Q: What about vegans or lactose-intolerant frozen dessert lovers? Is there anything out there for them?

A: Yes.  Not all the places I mention offer vegan or lactose free ice cream, but  a lot of them do — one of the best things  you can get is coconut milk ice cream. Which has a little bit of a coconut taste. It's really, really creamy — and I often will order it even though I can eat dairy.


With files from The Homestretch

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca