ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Andrew Brazas showed up at Chillz Frozen Custard earlier this month, he was ready to win the store’s challenge:
Eat eight scoops of frozen custard, eight waffles and eight toppings – all in half an hour. Finish and it’s free. Fail and pay $30.
“I woke up today and said, ‘Today’s the day!’ I came in very confident,” said the 23-year-old supervisor at a movie theater in Rio Rancho, who’s tried the challenge unsuccessfully five times in the past three years. “But I was wrong.”
He got too full to finish in a half hour because he picked half vanilla and half carmello custard, the flavor of the day, which was not to his liking. “That was my undoing,” he said. But no matter: he’ll try again in six weeks.
Brazas is one of thousands of Albuquerque metro area residents and visitors who have been chilling out with frozen dessert treats.
Offering frozen custard, gelato and custom-made ice cream, these three offer new ways to have a summer treat:
- Chillz Frozen Custard, on Central near the University of New Mexico, featuring a flavor of the day every day;
- Frost – A Gelato Shoppe in ABQ Uptown shopping center, whose vibrant display case has so many dressed-up flavors that 9-year-old Kayla Johns, serving as a reporter’s taste-testing assistant, barely scratched the surface after trying 16 samples; and
- Chill-N-Grill in the North Valley, where customers are wowed watching their ice cream made to order, frozen before their eyes with liquid nitrogen.
Chillz Frozen Custard, where Brazas tried his luck at custard-scarfing, opened five years ago on the south side of Central near Vassar – a block on which other merchants have given shops with niche food selections a go – with mixed results. Next door is Walker’s Popcorn Company, which has been open for 12 years; next to that used to be R U Cereal?, which sold cereal by the bowl and shuttered after 13 months.
Nonetheless, Chillz owner Justin Carson, 31, is upbeat most of the time, letting Brazas use his frequent-customer points to pay for most of his $30 defeat. “These guys are here every week,” he jokes of Brazas and the friend he came in with, “ruining my lunch!”
What distinguishes custard from other frozen dairy desserts is that it contains more egg yolks, Carson explains, which gives it a higher amount of protein and less butterfat. The mouth feel is different as well, as the custard seems to linger longer, with a more intense flavor.
Several times a day, Carson’s custard machine slow-churns the ingredients of the base mix – milk, cream, cane sugar and egg yolks – then pumps out enough at a time that he can store it in a bucket in the freezer.
He creates a daily specialty flavor, in addition to the always-available chocolate and vanilla (which he says he perfected after picking from 16 different vanilla flavorings). Instantly popular ones have included maple bacon, honey butter and caramel fudge eclair. The flops, according to Carson, were honey lavender, which came out tasting like shampoo, and tutti frutti, which tasted like children’s cough medicine, he says.
“Every flavor has its fans, but there’s some flavors that will probably never be coming back.”
Coming back is big in the frozen dairy dessert world, and over at Frost – A Gelato Shoppe, it seems lots of people do. An estimated 800 to 1,000 people show up every day, according to owner Daniel Romero, 35, who noticed Albuquerqueans needed a fun, high-quality place to get gelato. “It’s sort of hard to be grumpy when you’re going to get gelato,” he says. “It’s that experience that I get to experience all day long.”
He was motivated to change careers because he was going nuts in the financial field, and he was drawn to opening a Frost franchise last November because he wanted to see more places to get gelato in Albuquerque.
So far, Frost franchises are in four U.S. cities: Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson and Chicago.
Romero checked out the franchise in Tucson when he heard about it from a friend. “The first time I walked in, I was just blown away,” he says.
He now has 15 employees who give out an unlimited number of samples to newbies.
Nine-year-old Johns, who got dressed up for her visit to the dessert shops, pronounced the pistachio (made with pistachio paste imported from Bologna, Italy) the best; the caramel too caramelly; and several strawberry sorbets and gelatos equally delicious.
Gelato is different from ice cream in that it has about half the calories and contains between 2 percent and 8 percent butterfat, as compared to between 12 percent and 24 percent butterfat in ice cream. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires 10 percent butterfat before a frozen dairy dessert can legally be called ice cream.)
Gelato, which is about 20 percent air, is also more dense than ice cream, which is about 75 percent air.
The display case shows time and effort went into decorating it. Fresh mangoes are cut up on top of the mango sorbet; fresh apple slices have been stuck into the raspberry sorbet; and dark chocolate bark is placed atop one of several choices of chocolate gelato. Frost has tables inside, and an outdoor seating area handy for people-watching at ABQ Uptown.
Over at Chill-N-Grill, which has been open for one year, the highlight is the visual experience. This easy-to-miss spot in a small cluster of shops on Montaño between Second and Fourth has a burger bar in the front, an ice cream bar in the back.
Chill-N-Grill’s claim to fame: unlike traditional parlors where big vats of ice cream sit in a freezer waiting to be scooped from, the ice cream is made to order.
During a recent visit, co-owner John Lund pours handmade base of heavy cream, milk, sugar and a touch of cornstarch into the bowl of an electric mixer, along with a flavor syrup, such as hazelnut. Then he fills a stainless steel pitcher with liquid nitrogen from a 40-gallon tank behind the counter and pours it into the mixing bowl as well, and turns it on.
Vapors rise like steam because of the liquid nitrogen, which is at a temperature of negative 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the ice cream mixes, the base hardens and freezes, rising in temperature to about negative 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lund dips the mixing bowl into another bowl of room-temperature water to make the ice cream easier to remove, then scoops it into a cup. Then it’s ready for decoration with anything from gummy bears and fruit chunks to coconut sprinkles and almond pieces.
He said his brother-in-law, Henry Gabaldon, who co-owns the place, came up with the concept after watching a TV cooking show; on it, a chef was making ice cream at customers’ tables, using liquid nitrogen.
The whole crowd-pleasing process takes about two to three minutes, according to general manager Jonathan Lund, 25, son of co-owner John. “They get to see what flavors are going into it, and plus everything is fresh. The water vapor … makes a really neat effect. It brings the kids to shock and awe – the steamy, smoky effect. It’s an eye-catcher.,” he said.
According to the elder Lund, 53, a retired building inspector, a customer could come in several thousand times before having to repeat an order.
Chill-N-Grill just celebrated its one-year anniversary, and according to John Lund, “business has really been booming here.”