Nothing Vanilla About It
Ice cream that tastes like home
In a city known for oppressive summers, one might expect to find an infinite array of icy desserts. But in this snowball stronghold, ice cream has long played second fiddle. Apart from a handful of established local stalwarts such as Angelo Brocato, many of the city’s other purveyors are chain shops that focus more on mountains of mix-ins than the ice cream beneath.
Enter two new artisanal ice cream parlors that serve up nostalgia by the scoop. Both Ice Cream 504 and Kream proudly churn out ice creams based on old family recipes, tweaked for contemporary tastes.
Michael Southall of Ice Cream 504 learned the craft in Napoleonville from his talented Aunt Ruby: “You can give her a cardboard box and she will make a meal from it – a very tasty meal.” Southall’s break into the ice cream business came several years ago over a game of pool. His opponent happened to own French Market Produce and, as luck would have it, was looking for a new ice cream vendor. Two weeks later, Michael made his first delivery of five flavors, including Almond Peach Petit Four, which he developed as a teenager for his peach-loving father. That flavor has gone on to become one of the best sellers on the menu. “People revolt if they come in and I’m out of it,” says Southall.
As his ice cream developed a following through French Market Produce, Michael’s friend and now business partner James Comeaux encouraged him to open a scoop shop. The two looked at various properties before falling in love with an old shotgun house just off Freret Street a few blocks from Michael’s home. “It was the most run down of all of them,” Southall recalls, “but I knew this was where I wanted it to be.”
After extensive renovations, Ice Cream 504 opened in September 2014 and quickly established a neighborhood fan base, including the many new restaurants and businesses along the bustling Freret corridor. The shop offers 14 flavors of ice cream at any given time, as well as snowballs. “I think what I offer is a very nostalgic product,” Southall says. “For most people, it takes them back to childhood. I get a kick out of it when I watch people taste it.”
By way of example, Southall cites one customer in particular. “Her face just came to life and she said, ‘Oh my God, this reminds me of the ice cream socials we used to have at church!’” He also says that such a reaction isn’t uncommon.
Southall uses local ingredients whenever possible and tries to keep everything “as pure as I can.” In addition to the Almond Peach Petit Four, menu highlights include Strawberry Cheesecake, Coffee (which features a local brew), Lemon Chiffon and seasonal flavors, such as Fig. “I like terrorizing the customers when they come in,” laughs Michael, “and when they say ‘Ugh, fig!’ I sort of force them to taste it. Oddly enough, I would say seven or eight out of 10 of those people buy it because it’s not what they’re expecting.”
On Oak Street, Marie Cawthon is putting her own home-style spin on ice cream. Hailing from Tennessee, Cawthon recalls nightly ice cream-making sessions with her grandmother, whose simple recipe of heavy cream, milk, sugar and eggs – no fillers – forms the “old school” base of the flavors at Kream. “That’s the taste I remember – it was always summer, and the memory of my grandmother.”
At a dinner party Cawthon hosted a couple of years ago, her friend Vincent Cook sampled her homemade ice cream and declared, “I want to put this in a shop.” He and several partners renovated the cozy space just down from busy nightspots Oak and Ale, with an eye to attracting a crowd in search of a sweet ending to the evening. “You have a lot of people who go on dates in this city,” says Cawthon. “You can come in for a date night, share an apple pie à la mode, and kind of get to know more about the person you’re with in a welcoming environment.”
Kream turns to local farmers markets for the majority of its ingredients and takes a seasonal approach to flavors. “When strawberry season is over, we won’t have strawberry ice cream,” says Cawthon. And they keep the list of offerings focused – with four to six flavors that rotate weekly, along with a selection of homemade popsicles.
A few flavors of note: Salted Caramel, Rockiest Road and an incredibly rich Chocolate top the ice cream list, as do Cucumber Mint and Strawberry Lemonade on the popsicle side. Cawthon is also busy concocting new flavors, including New Orleans Trash (which she promises will contain “everything you’ve ever wanted in an ice cream”) and Breakfast Cereal, made with cereal milk. Kream is unveiling customized ice cream sandwiches as well, allowing customers to pair a house-made cookie (from a selection including whoopee pie, oatmeal raisin and more) with the ice cream of their choice.
There is no sweeter way to bring out the kid in us this summer.
Quite a Pair
Looking for savory with your sweet? At Salon by Sucré chef Tariq Hanna combines Sucré’s otherworldly gelato with a menu ranging from killer Wagyu “sliderettes” and Belgian fries to a refined afternoon tea service. Gelato appears in the form of strawberry paired with orange blossom panna cotta, an affogato of espresso poured over an elegant scoop of vanilla (when iced coffee just won’t cut it) and a Banana ‘Fosteresque’ sundae featuring brown butter pecan gelato.
We All Scream…
Ice Cream 504
2511 Jena St.
Wednesdays through Sundays
8116 Oak St.
Thursdays through Sundays
Salon by Sucré
622 Conti St.
Wednesdays through Mondays