Yet another ice cream shop in Palo Alto? It's a crowded field, but it would be wrong to dismiss Scoop Microcreamery, a small-batch, mom-and-pop ice cream shop that opened on University Avenue in late September.
Scoop is owned by Dave and Cindy Somasunderam, New Jersey transplants who clearly love making ice cream.
Cindy, who has been making ice cream at home for years, makes two flavors of her own vanilla extract (classic and bourbon vanilla). The pair use homegrown herbs to make their sorbets. And she refers to herself and her husband as "Mr. and Mrs. Scoop."
But Scoop is not conventional. With two giant tanks of liquid nitrogen on hand, the folks at Scoop make all their ice cream throughout the day, freezing it on-site in small batches at minus-321 degrees Fahrenheit. This method of making ice cream is gaining popularity in the Bay Area because it creates a product that is said to be denser, creamier and more flavorful than traditionally churned ice cream.
The couple got the idea from an episode of "Shark Tank," an ABC television show that searches for unique businesses. One episode featured Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt, a Utah-based franchise that uses nitrogen to make made-to-order frozen treats.
"My husband said, 'We gotta do something like this,'" Cindy said. "But we didn't want to do one serving at a time, because we don't want people to have to wait for it. We also want people to be able to taste it. We wanted to do it not just for the novelty of having it made to order, but to make really good ice cream."
Their daughter, a scientist, got them some liquid nitrogen to play around with.
"Cindy whipped up some of her ice cream recipes and we froze it with the nitrogen," Dave said. "It was amazing, and at that point we knew we wanted to combine the best ingredients with the best ice cream technology."
The two shuttered their frozen-yogurt shop in New Jersey and moved to the Bay Area a few years ago, making the final move to Palo Alto this summer. They've taken over a space in downtown Palo Alto that used to house Haagen Dazs, adding personal touches along with two giant metal tanks of nitrogen behind the counter.
Cindy said that they blend all their ingredients -- starting with Strauss Family Creamery organic cream, eggs and sugar -- in advance, so the ingredients are ready to be frozen. Ingredients are poured into a bowl that resembles a KitchenAid mixer that's hooked up via a hose to the nitrogen tanks. As the nitrogen does its job, what looks like dry-ice vapor envelops the area surrounding the bowl. It takes approximately five minutes to make a batch of ice cream.
"It's nice because it's freezing it so fast, it doesn't have time for the ice crystals to form," she said. "Conventional methods of churning are a little slower. With nitrogen, there's no air pumped into it so it's creamy and dense. It really is a beautiful, velvety texture."
Dave said they make numerous "tiny" batches of each flavor throughout the day. Nothing is carried over from one day to the next in order to preserve freshness -- one of Scoop's main commitments.
"We try to do everything the best quality possible," Cindy said. "We're not a big space but we're trying to do as much from scratch as we can."
Cindy's homemade vanilla extract, made from Madagascar vanilla beans, goes into Scoop's classic vanilla bean and chocolate. Her other extract, made with bourbon, makes what she said is their most popular flavor, vanilla bourbon with salted caramel.
It costs $4.50 for one scoop, up to $5.75 for three scoops. Flavors vary from day to day. They include mint with brownies (made with real peppermint oil), maple bacon crunch (so popular they started selling the crunch concoction, similar to bacon brittle, on its own), pumpkin with ginger streusel, dark chocolate, dark roast coffee, saffron and "hella Nutella," a play on the Northern California slang word.
Vegan options come in the form of sorbets, including strawberry-peach balsamic, raspberry-hibiscus and chili-mango.
The chili-mango sorbet drew Jennifer Real, a Fremont native who works at Stanford University, into Scoop on a recent afternoon. "I saw this interesting flavor -- chili-mango sorbet -- and tried it. I think it's amazing, but I wasn't in the mood for mango."
So she left with a single scoop of Biscoff cookies n' cream (made with Biscoff cookies and Biscoff spread).
"It's very light and not sweet at all," she said. "It's very subtle in flavor but not as creamy as regular ice cream."
Real didn't opt for any toppings, but Scoop offers quite a few: Cindy's homemade brown sugar caramel sauce; hot fudge; a drizzle of honey, maple syrup or olive oil; whipped cream; Nutella or a chocolate shell.
There are also almonds, carob coconut clusters, toasted coconut, peanuts, roasted cashews, "cornflakes n' milk crunch" (from Mrs. Scoop's secret recipe) and chocolate toffee almonds. All toppings and sauces are 75 cents each.
And there's more. Create a sundae for $6.95 or a "fruit twister," essentially a smoothie, for $6.25. The milkshakes -- chocolate, vanilla, coffee or avocado for $6.25 -- are touted on the menu board with this slogan: "The best ice cream makes the best shakes."
203 University Ave., Palo Alto