Like any eating establishment just about to open, Milkjam is still a construction zone. But based on first tastes of the ice cream, I'd say it's a done deal.
It started as an expansion to the adjacent World Street Kitchen. They needed more freezer space, so chef/owner Sameh Wadi thought, why not make a simple ice cream place to help pay for the trouble? But Wadi has never really been one to do things simply, so it's no surprise that the result is probably the most progressive ice cream/dessert place our town has ever seen.
"After a while it wasn't, 'Let's make good ice cream,' it was, 'Let's make fucking amazing ice cream.'"
They've done it, and stopped just short of making their own M&Ms.
There's not much to see just yet — an ice cream case and a soon-to-be seating area at the front window. But all the sexiness is in the scoops. We got a sneaky taste.
Once open (within the next two weeks), they'll have 16 constantly rotating flavors, and you'll want to visit often because they're a kaleidoscope of invention, color, and flavor — sweet, savory, floral, spice, and probably things you haven't even considered (tree resin, for instance).
Wadi is lactose intolerant, and if that seems like a liability for a guy about to open an ice cream shop, think again. My palate tells me it's a blessing in disguise. At least half the Milkjam flavors will be vegan, and if the thought of vegan ice cream makes you want to wrinkle your nose, just wait a cotton-picking second.
While we all love ice cream for all of its rich and fatty glory, dairy can act as something as a flavor-buffer, making for a sort of mask, or coat on the tongue. At Milkjam, where the ice "cream" is made with plant fat instead of animal fat (namely coconut and cashew milks) the flavor bases (which are all handmade, every single one) come on like a Ferrari rather than a cushy Towncar.
Get me? The flavors zoom instead of glide.
The passionfruit hibiscus (vegan) was easily one of my best bites of the year, with the twin flavors coming on like a marching band through your mouth. Just heady, powerful stuff in the exotic pink of the tropics. Wadi tells us the vibrancy of color is also thanks to the lack of dairy, which serves to mute color intensity as well.
A scoop of pumpkin brown butter is an example of a savory flavor — it's subtle, low in sugar, and compelling.
By no means are they eschewing the pleasure of traditional American-style ice cream, as evidenced by this blueberry crumble flavor, which is every bit a bite of blueberry pie, and impossible to stop eating.
Maybe you haven't heard of Arab ice cream, but you will soon, because it's here. Arab ice cream, also called "mastic" ice cream, owes its distinctive flavor from a spice derived from tree resin. This resin also gives this style of ice cream a sticky or elastic texture. The flavor is highly floral and one taster described it as "like walking into a Buddhist temple." As close as we're ever going to get, anyway.
Other flavors to watch for: Indian Elvis (peanut butter, banana, and curry), vegan chocolate which is the best thing that's happened to chocolate since the inception of the candy bar, and mezcal with fig.
All of this is not only the brainchild of Wadi, but also of Ben Spangler, his "ice cream chef." ("We're trying to come up with a better name for it," says Wadi, but that seems as appropriate as anything to us.) He's kind of a savant of ice cream, and has appeared on the Food Network twice for his eccentric and forward-thinking way with ice cream and pastry. Formerly the pastry chef of Zelo, he's a self-taught mastermind and clearly a perfect fit for the operation. He brought what is now their signature flavor, Milkjam, (three different kinds of milk, layered upon one another) to his interview. He got hired.
Other things you need to know: they'll be serving in-house bakery goods; there will be a signature ice cream scoop sandwiched in between a Glam Doll Donut that will NOT be called a "Glam Jam," no matter how much you want it to be called this, because you know, that's too easy. For this: choose your own ice cream flavor and toppings (to include the usual suspects — Oreos, M&Ms, Fruity Pebbles, but also curried peanuts, Szechuan peppercorn berry sauce, and salted caramel whip). Cones will of course be housemade.
Also! Expect beer, champagne, and lambic floats. So far as Wadi knows, they're the only ice cream outfit in town to be making boozy mashups like this. Also look for cakes, pies, malts, shakes, and who knows what else they have up their sleeves, all ice cream-based.
"'Everything Ice Cream' is Milkjam's middle name," says Wadi.
So there you go — everything ice cream, coming to you, very soon.
2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis