Kool-Aid pickles first emerged from the fertile culinary soil of the Mississippi Delta, where dill pickle halves are marinated in double-strength fruit punch mix for up to a week until they achieve the proper balance of puckery-sour and sugary-sweet. Frito pies hail from either New Mexico or San Antonio, depending upon which mythological origin story you choose to believe, though most Texans stump for the latter. Mangonadas have migrated here from Mexico, where ripe mangos are blended with spicy chamoy, orange juice, lime juice, salt and chile powder, blended together, frozen, then blended again to make a fruit slush that's both refreshing and remarkably savory; really modern mangonadas punch it up by adding Sour Gummy Worms and other sour-sweet candies.
What they all have in common, of course, is that each originated as grab-and-go street food. So it makes sense that you'll find all three at Magnolia's Ice Cream in Magnolia Park, a neighborhood fixture that specializes in the sort of food meant to be enjoyed outside at a picnic table as it slowly melts down your arm or munched on during a long, warm walk home.
A steady stream of families and kids flows through Magnolia's throughout the day on weekends; the hours just before sunset are its busiest, and at those times Magnolia's seems as though it were sitting on the Main Street of a small town square, though in reality it's tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood off Canal St. In a few short days, Magnolia's will be even busier in the afternoons once Tijerina Elementary School across the street is back in session.
The kids will stream in for picoyadas, in which those Kool-Aid pickles are diced into chunks, piled atop the snocone of your choice, the whole affair dusted with piquant chile powder. They'll come for Magnolia's jumped-up mangonada, which tosses three scoops of its homemade ice cream into the already-extravagant dessert. They'll come for Frito pies topped not just with chili and cheese, but with jalapeños, tomatoes, onions and generous glugs of Valentina hot sauce. Everything, anything goes here. Which is why everyone, anyone comes here.
Houston has never been short on neverias, or Mexican ice cream shops, nor has it been short on shops that introduce indecent takes on concession stand food (looking at you, Poppa Burger and your Flaming Hot Cheeto pie, as well as you, Mr. Natural and your over-the-top, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink chicharrones) but Magnolia's takes everything to exciting new heights, always looking for ways to improve upon old standards, like a banana-caramel sundae that's a decadent, fruit-forward take on the original.
My own favorite desserts at Magnolia's are among its most straightforward, however, including one that mixes chunks of cantaloupe with cantaloupe sorbet and vanilla ice cream, but even then the ice cream shop makes a statement: its simple fresh-fruit sorbets are consistently some of the best I've ever tasted, anywhere.
My advice: get the Magnolia's Supreme that mixes its three best flavors—mango, watermelon and cantaloupe—and tops the scoops with corresponding chunks of those three fruits. You may find yourself unable to discern where the fruit ends and the sorbet begins, so concentrated and intense are the flavors of the sorbet. In a place that specializes in delicious clashes of flavors and cultures, perhaps this refined harmony is the biggest surprise of all.
Magnolia's Ice Cream & More, 6421 Brady St., 713-926-7472