Taking a Bite Out of Houston's First Vegan Ice Cream Shop
First things first: Vegan ice cream is not sorbet, though sorbet is often vegan. Gretchen Todd, the woman behind the Juice Girl truck and 19th Street store and its cold-pressed juices, makes her own cashew milk to produce dairy-free scoops not so far from the stuff that comes from a cow. This Friday, her ice cream brand, Over the Moon, will debut as the centerpiece of the new Juice Girl location at 214 Fairview Street, conveniently sandwiched between Cuchara and Max's Wine Dive. The soft opening will continue until the official grand opening next Thursday, October 20.
Todd does not adhere to a raw vegan diet herself, though her products all do (with the singular exception of an acaï bowl topped with honey). She is, however, sensitive to lactose, which made it a priority to create ice cream she could eat. She began with a line of Juice Cream, frozen treats made from her juices. In advance of the Fairview store's opening, Houstonia stopped in to the wood-paneled space to try a few 100-percent organic scoops.
Green Apple'ade was the color the name suggested thanks to the addition of kale, with an apple flavor perked up by lemon. That hint of sweetness reminiscent of banana? Actually dates. A white scoop of pineapple-coconut cream was less recognizably health food and more like Disney World's beloved Dole Whip. Todd suggests dusting a bit of cayenne pepper on top to add a sizzle of heat.
Soon the store will contain two freezer cases that will allow Todd to offer eight rotating flavors at a time. For now, she's working with half that. But chances are, they'll include some basics. The rich chocolate ice cream straddles the line between ice cream and sorbet. Strawberry is pleasingly pink and speckled with seeds. Not surprisingly, it doesn't taste so different from biting into the real thing.
A lifelong fan of Indian food (particularly that served at Little India's Shiv Sagar), it was only natural that Todd would turn her beloved masala chai into a vegan cold brew, then make the next step into ice cream. She's still tinkering with the sweetness level, but when we tried it, we found the lighter dose of sugar especially refreshing. We felt the same way about another experiment, sweet potato chocolate chip ice cream, spiced with cinnamon. How did she come up with the unconventional idea? "At the farmers market, sweet potatoes are in season," she said with a shrug. She's also working on a mint chocolate chip flavor that's made green with spirulina.
Those looking for more sugar will have plenty of toppings to choose from. Besides toasted coconut, faux Butterfingers and vegan Gummi Bears, Todd is also perfecting sauces in flavors including strawberry, caramel and chocolate. She originally tried to make them using dates, but found the texture too thick. Sometimes, we all need a little cane sugar in our lives, after all. Other future modifications may include using other types of nut milk, including pecan, peanut and pistachio. While opening her store, Todd is also working on getting her labels and other materials in shape to begin selling Over the Moon at Houston area Whole Foods stores this spring. It will be something of a homecoming for her—she began her juicing career at a Whole Foods juice bar.
Of course, fall may not be the most intuitive time to open a store that specializes in cold desserts. For customers planning to skip the ice cream until the weather heats up again, Todd is also planning a line of what she calls herbal lattes. Coffee drinkers will be able to get their nut milk jet powered with some local Black Hole cold brew, but the herbs in the moniker refer to the fact that most of the concoctions focus on teas and tisanes, including Earl Grey-and-lavender, rooibos or turmeric mixed with hemp milk. Vegan meals will come later, making the new Juice Girl a true one-stop shop for vegans—and people who like delicious, real food—and anyone who likes dessert.