Photos by John Anderson
It was likely inevitable that Christina and Ashley Cheng from SPUN Ice Cream would get into the grocery store. The sisters’ father, Ronald Cheng, is an Austin hospitality legend who has owned and operated the fine dining restaurants in Chinatown for more than 30 years. It also likely helped that Christina studied baking and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, and that Ashley worked behind the scenes in PR and as vice president and communications chairman for Slow Food Austin. To say they know the business is an understatement.
That business head start shows in their fully realized business. Like most similar businesses in town, SPUN has a small, minimalist dining room full of DIY charm. A blackboard painted wall lists flavors, pairings, ingredients, and prices. Frames highlight doodles from the youngest sister Bella. And sky blue paint highlights simple plywood benches, stools, and fixtures. The main event, however, is the four KitchenAid industrial mixers connected to liquid nitrogen generators, giving the store a laboratory-like atmosphere.
Nevertheless, science is not a gimmick. The size and distribution of ice crystals in ice have everything to do with texture. The longer it takes for the base of an ice to freeze, the larger the crystals are, creating a grainy texture. Liquid nitrogen reduces the freezing process to seconds, resulting in tiny ice crystals and an unusually smooth texture. Even the non-dairy flavors (Earl Gray was available when we tried them) are so creamy in texture that it’s hard to remember they’re vegan.
The milk flavors are even richer. Dark chocolate has the lushness that chocolate demands, and vanilla pod is a reminder that taste doesn’t have to mean boring. Three flavors alternate, but in the past it contained gingerbread and kettle corn. The rotation also includes a composed treat. While the store opened, kettle corn was topped with peanut brittle, brown butter powder, and caramel popcorn sprinkles à la Cracker Jack (and a temporary tattoo of the store’s logo). The current suggestion is the Lemon Bar: Vanilla pods with shortbread crumble, sour Meyer lemon quark and tiny dots of candied citrus confetti. There are plenty of other pairings for those who like to experiment. The shortbread crumble gave the chocolate a lasting crunch, and the salted chocolate shell loosened the right Earl Gray.
All flavors are made with local ingredients, if possible from organic farming. The dairy comes from Liberty Dairy Farms in small batches in Hico, a business dedicated to ethical animal care and sustainable practices – and antibiotic-free, non-homogenized, pasteurized low temperature milk and cream. Everything is made to order without emulsifiers, so the result is as fresh as possible.
It’s a perfect afternoon treat for this unusually mild winter. But if the temperature drops due to an accident, you can still get the flavors in a “steamie”.
SPUN ice cream
1912-D E. Seventh, 512 / 524-1768
Sun-Thu, 12: 30-10 a.m.; Fri-Sat, 12: 30-11 a.m.