What type of ice cream would perfectly represent Arbor Day?
Sebastian Joe’s is searching for the answer in partnership with the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, and they’re preparing to scoop a new flavor at an April 27 Arbor Day festival at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Park.
So far they’ve tried maple ice cream sprinkled with chocolate “bark” — a Kingfield committee decided the flavor was too sweet, then couldn’t stop eating it, leaving them second-guessing their first impressions. Now they’re experimenting with ice cream bases of pistachio or birch (birch flavor is described as similar to spearmint or sarsaparilla). To represent twigs and bark, they’re layering pretzels over chocolate with almonds, dried cranberries and white chocolate.
“Calling something birchbark in this state will be a huge seller,” suggested Sarah Linnes-Robinson, executive director of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association.
Sebastian Joe’s has developed flavors for Kingfield on a nearly annual basis, scooping the ice cream on National Night Out. The most famous Kingfield creation is Nicollet Avenue Pothole, which launched in 2009 as a “protest ice cream” to highlight the deteriorating condition of Nicollet Avenue. Created by Robinson and her kids along with co-owner Mike Pellizzer and his son, they added toffee “gravel,” fudge “tar,” a dash of sea salt, and fudge chunks to resemble manhole covers. They shipped a pint to former Mayor R.T. Rybak to lobby for road repairs.
“It became a crazy popular flavor for us,” said Greg Hefferan, Sebastian Joe’s manager of production and wholesale.
Other Kingfield flavors included “Sweet Deal,” designed in collaboration with the 4100 block of Garfield, which earned the honor for its heavy participation in an energy audit program. “Open Streets Cycle-delic” was a mango ice cream with raspberry puree and chocolate chunks. “I Have a Dream Ice Cream” — created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and raise funds for the MLK Park playground — featured vanilla swirled with Dreamsicle-inspired orange sherbet and chocolate chunks. “Crème Fraiche Curry Crunch” was sold at Anodyne, with a portion of proceeds going to the MLK Park playground. “The Kingfield” was based on Five Watt Coffee’s drink of the same name, infusing Five Watt espresso, Black Hawaiian Sea Salt and coriander bitters.
Inside the commissary at 43rd & Nicollet, staff greet visitors by spraying foam on the floor. Visitors walk over the foam to sanitize the bottoms of their shoes before entering the commissary, which became a kosher certified facility in 2010. On a recent weekday, staff made birthday cakes and vegan cookie dough ice cream.
Pastry Chef Patrice Swingler is constantly developing new adult-focused ice cream flavors. She created a black walnut flavor commonly found in the south, and her favorite recipe is a rosemary dark cherry ice cream.
“You have to make sure the texture of it is right,” she said. “Certain things don’t hold up well. … Not everything works.”
Some flavors have a love-it-or-hate-it quality. That could be said of a honey mustard pretzel flavor developed with varying levels of Dijon at the request of a Sebastian Joe’s co-owner. Some staff loved it and others refused to taste it.
Swingler said she dislikes the taste of chocolate. But that’s not a problem at the commissary.
“It’s really not that hard to find someone to sample some chocolate,” she said. “You make a lot of friends that way.”
A typical chocolate chip would freeze hard as a rock in the ice cream, so the commissary uses low-melt chocolate, Hefferan explained.
“If you put it in the palm of your hand, it would start to melt,” he said.
They tweak flavors as they increase production. Swingler dialed down the amount of cayenne pepper while making large batches of a spicy curry coconut flavor, for example.
“There is a fine line that you can’t cross,” Hefferan said.
The new round of flavor development comes at a busy time for Sebastian Joe’s, which typically brainstorms new ideas during the slower winter months. The business is remodeling its Franklin & Hennepin store (the Linden Hills store is set for a remodel next winter), and the Franklin shop will offer free morning coffee throughout a brief closure this week. The business recently rebalanced the sugar and fruit levels in its sorbet flavors. And it’s expanding production of vegan ice creams for wholesale customers, including local restaurants.
“We were frustrated with the flavor and creaminess of vegan flavors out there, and we decided to develop our own,” Hefferan said. “We created a rich, creamy product as close to regular ice cream as possible. People can’t believe it’s not real ice cream.”
Sebastian Joe’s new ice cream flavor will appear at the Arbor Day celebration April 27 from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The event features food and beer, live music and kid-friendly activities like tree climbing, bucket rides and a bounce house. Kingfield neighbors will encourage children to plant trees and return to take photos each year on the first day of school.
For more information, visit the Kingfield Neighborhood Association event on Facebook.
Arbor Day Celebration
When: Friday, April 27, 4 p.m.-8 p.m.
Where: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 4055 Nicollet Ave.
Details: Arborists and volunteers will plant 150 trees at the park as part of an all-ages festival with live music, food trucks, a craft beer garden, rope-and-saddle tree climbing and a “5k-ish Fun Run.”
Sponsors include People for Parks, Brewing a Better Forest and Pat’s Tap.
More info: minneapolisparks.org.