Hidden Cleveland: ice cream secrets

From Piccadilly Artisan Creamery to Mitchell's Ice Cream, the north coast is home to more than its fair share of uniquely local purveyors of summer's quintessential treat, but what's really lurking behind that cup of cool creamy sweetness?

Is there a mystery in that malt? Do cereal and ice cream get along? And what about the elusive phosphate? This week, Fresh Water uncovers it all, from a soda fountain Frankenstein to how Alton Brown informed the area's best sorbet.
Higbee’s Frosted Malt is really Weber’s and it doesn’t come in a cup

With vintage and modern fresh ice creams, sorbets, and sherbets as standards and an ever changing selection of custom flavors, Weber’s has something for every sweet tooth, and legions of loyal customers to prove it. However, the best known of the shop’s flavors may be one of its six originals - Frosted Malt. Throngs of Clevelanders remember it as the taste of their childhood when it was served at the beloved downtown Higbee’s Department Store.
Weber’s maintains quality by using the original 1931 machines.The taste sensation actually began in Rocky River.

Rocky River resident John P. Murphy served as Higbee’s president from 1944-1962. According to current Weber’s owner David Ford, Murphy, a regular Weber’s customer, attempted to buy Nathan Weber’s Frosted Malt recipe several times to no avail. Murphy then offered a Weber’s employee a job downtown if he’d procure the recipe. The boy did, but missed the final ingredient that firms it up.
Unbeknownst to Murphy, “Frosted Malt, needed to be further frozen, after it was manufactured to make it solid enough to sit on a cone the way Mr. Murphy was used to getting it,” Ford says.  So, Murphy had his staff serve the soft ice cream in fountain glasses without spoons to prevent silverware theft. He told them to sell it at half price — a mere five cents.
“Every bargain shopper that ever went to the basement to get something half-off tried it, loved it, then went and told all of their relatives,” Ford says. “Unfortunately, this is where the problem I still have to deal with started. People characterized it to one another as ‘the shake that is so thick, it won't even come out of the glass!’
"It wasn't a shake, it was fresh ice cream.”
Now located in Fairview Park, Ford still maintains Weber’s quality by using the original 1931 machines.
“The only reason that we can make a product that is delicious, satisfying, has no aftertaste, and made with only natural flavorings and products, is because of these machines, which were originally designed for use by dairies,” Ford says, adding they are free of iron. “Weber's was created at the top of the arc in ice cream manufacture and has never let go of that designation or intent.
"Weber's is the last place you can get fresh ice cream made from scratch to 1930s standards.”
The east side and west side have different tastes in ice cream and Churned caters to both

With locations in Tremont and University Heights, Syndee Bergen and Wendy Thompson sell their Churned ice creams within their A Cookie and a Cupcake bakeries.
“The take on ice cream that we have is a little bit different,” Bergen says. “We don’t have normal flavors, and if we do what is considered a normal flavor, we tweak it just enough that it puts our spin on it.”
Their most popular flavor is brown butter with lavender brittle, which she describes as a little bit different but familiar. As for new flavors, inspiration can strike any time they get a taste for something that's in-season.
“We like to eat, so this is our field day of fun,” Bergen says. “Sometimes it’s just what we’re hungry for. Things that you crave someone else may not crave. So the savory items — my business partner she craves that stuff — whereas I crave the uber sweet stuff.
"Sometimes one flavor goes to one location and another flavor goes to the other location when I make it. The east side doesn’t have the roasted paprika, but the west side does. Some things sell better than others on the east side, so I make it tailored a bit.
We find a lot of sorbets sell better on the west side. The crazy flavors tend to be more accepted on the west side, and I don’t know if it’s because the neighborhood lends itself to an artisanal feel.”

Churned Ice Cream Shop
The more “traditional” flavors like malted cookie dough and brown butter with lavender brittle, caramel cashew and red velvet sell more on the east side.
The partners used to work at Lockkeepers where they made desserts and enjoyed playing around with recipes. Now their experiments create new unusual ice cream flavors, though not all are an instant success. Although delicious, the cantaloupe with jalapeno didn’t sell well.

Lastly, what about marrying everyone's favorite Saturday morning staple with a sundae?
“We love Fruity Pebbles," laments Bergen, "but that doesn’t work in ice cream.”
Requests at The Sweet Spot may get you your own flavor and even a job
Celeste Blau opened her hand-made gelato shop, The Sweet Spot, six years ago using only whole (mostly local) ingredients, unrefined organic sugar, and milk and cream from Ohio cows that are free of growth hormones. She has also operated the Sweet Spot On The Move gelato truck for the past two years. Displaying local art and offering a pool table and chessboard, the Lakewood shop is filled with stuffed cows the family collects in their travels along with a rotating selection of 50 flavors.

Got moo?

“We'll try any flavor at least once,” Blau says. “We've had requests and made flavors that have included ingredients such as hops, black sesame seeds, vegan bacon and bologna. Coconut Almond Fudge was a request by a kid three years ago. We've had it ever since and we now employ the requestor [Joshua Owens].”
However, their most popular flavors are Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Cinnamon Caramel Swirl and Pistachio, which Blau says people drive from long distances to purchase, often armed with coolers and ice packs. And for Cookies n’ Milk devotees, worry not — the flavor happens to be Blau’s favorite, hence it is rarely out of stock.
Mason’s Creamery served Alton Brown his best Cleveland eats in 2014

Helen Qin and Jesse Mason opened Mason’s Creamery in October 2014, but the Ohio City location has been an ice cream stand for more than 50 years. Local artist Haley Morris painted the mural of Forest Gump eating ice cream on the back shed. The spot gained popularity quickly, along with some national love.
“Since we opened in 2014, Alton Brown of Good Eats from Food Network has gotten our ice cream both times that he's been in Cleveland,” Qin says. “He tried everything but did say the apple cider sorbet was the best thing he ate in Cleveland when he came in 2014. We made a watermelon Campari sorbet for him when he just came to town earlier this year, as that was his suggestion in 2014.”
She says her childhood in Chengdu, China and food they try while traveling internationally inspire new flavors. They also write down customer suggestions.
“Since we do such small batches, we are open to trying more creative things,” she says of the three-gallon recipes. “So there are definitely flavors we've made that we know probably won't be as popular but are still worth playing around with.”

Mason’s Creamery vegan: Olive oil, blueberry, Thai tea, lulo, guava, strawberry jam sorbet
Some of these include Spam and pineapple and caramelized onion. Surprising successes include durian ice cream, a sundae of fried garlic atop salted caramel ice cream, and squid ink black sesame ice cream.

“Just a little bit of squid ink adds a really nice umami and savoriness to the nutty black sesame,” Qin explains. “We first made it for Halloween and wanted to do a black ice cream, but since we don't use any artificial dyes, we were trying to figure out how to achieve it when we realized we had some leftover squid ink from making pasta.”
Mason’s Creamery also makes sriracha sauces, chocolate ganache, and homemade caramel toppings and flavored whipped creams — Nutella, coffee, cinnamon, taro, and peanut butter, to name a few. They make churros in both stick and ice cream sandwich form and offer egg (bubble) waffles topped with ice cream and whipped cream.
The couple keeps 16 of their homemade flavors (which change weekly) up front and another five or six in the back freezer. Customers can order off of the ‘secret menu’ of back cooler flavors if they are ready to serve.
Sweet Moses is a beautiful Frankenstein constructed with components from across the country. Also: phosphate matters!
When Jeff Moreau fell in love with the lost era of the soda fountain, he decided to bring the magic back piece by piece. Now Clevelanders can relive a bygone period in Gordon Square at Sweet Moses.
“We’re using all authentic soda fountain equipment,” he says. “The soda fountain we have is from the 1940s. It was the largest soda fountain that they made. Our back bar is over 100 years old. We use the authentic triple spindle milk shake machines. Anything that looks like an antique in our shop is an actual soda fountain antique. I decided early on that anything that was an antique in there needed to be a usable functional part of the business. I don’t want bicycles hanging on the wall and antiques collecting dust.
“The front marble soda fountain bar was in a drug store in Virginia that had closed in the 70s. The actual soda fountain itself was originally in a candy store in Kentucky. The back bar was in northeast Pennsylvania. Our blackboards are from an 1869 schoolhouse from Mansfield. Our chairs all match but they’re actually from a four-state area. I collected them all two - three - four at a time, took them all apart, had them sandblasted, powdered coated and reassembled them.”
The vintage and antique equipment lends itself to a variety of specialties that other shops are incapable of making. Sweet Moses produces its own sodas and root beer, carbonating it all by hand. The process,which they even use for their Cokes, involves pouring syrup, adding carbonated water, and stirring it by hand. It allows for unique flavor combinations as well.

Sweet Moses
“We’re not just a scoop shop,” Moreau explains. “Our phosphates actually contain acid phosphate. That is what they used to use before bottling companies started using citric acid to make all of their pops. A lot of times what people call phosphates are more like Italian sodas — syrup and carbonated waters. By adding the acid phosphate, it adds a little bit of tartness. It cuts a little bit of the sweetness. We’re probably one of only six soda fountains in the country that actually makes true phosphates using acid phosphate.
"Phosphates are a true drug store drink. Acid phosphate was almost like a quack medicine (people used to say it would help you with indigestion or vertigo), but it had a tart taste to it. So the pharmacist who also ran the soda fountain started using acid phosphate to put that tartness into their drinks because they couldn’t get citrus year-round.”
Sweet Moses also makes going out for ice cream an event.

"What I wanted to do was create a unique experience and someplace that people would want to go to after dinner that would feel a little bit special – to me the old soda fountain was such a great vehicle for that,” he says, adding that the old fashioned way requires time and attention to detail. “Things take a little bit longer when you’re using a milkshake mixer that’s that old or when you’re scooping instead of using a flurry-type machine.

"You can hide a lot in a cup under whipped cream, but when you’re using glassware, you have to make sure the presentation is right.”

Mason’s Creamery

Read more articles by Hollie Gibbs.

Hollie Gibbs earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University and studied photography at School of the Visual Arts in Manhattan. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous local and national publications. She spends her free time playing guitar, taking pictures, and traveling.