For a number of years, I have been hearing good things about a certain ice cream store that has built its reputation on its unique offerings that are not found in most establishments. However, I never made the trip on the busy beltway to it despite my curiosity for such tempting offerings. But recently, I opened an e-mail with an offering of coupons for said place which I bought three of them immediately. The reasons were twofold: to force me to make the trip to Tropical Ice Cream Cafe, and, the other, to satisfy my curiosity of what its unique ice creams would taste like. For this blog, I made a couple of trips to Silver Spring, MD, just off the beltway, and here are the offerings that I sampled. Advisory: No animals were harmed in the process, except this sole reviewer who had to endure savoring these cold sweet samples.
The pictures of these twin scoops will read from left to right.
Tamarind/Lychee: The tamarind version has its characteristic sourness of this Southeast Asian/Central American pulpy pod that I enjoyed in this mix. Its fruity sour qualities are tempered by the right amount of sugar along with the richness of the cream. Bits of the pod fruit are studded in the scoops giving off hints of clove-like qualities in each bite. The lychee version is a floral bite with its unique exotic but quite subtle qualities, with heady gardenia-like hints on the palate. Bits of this Far East Asian fruit in the ice cream reinforce the mild floral and exotic qualities that I particularly enjoyed savoring with each spoonful.
Rambutan/Durian: The flavor of the Southeast Asian Rambutan is very subtle but containing a rather high sugar content. The ice cream version is close to the Lychee version but lacking in the floral notes of the latter. However, knowing what the fresh Rambutan tastes like, I could detect a bare hint of the fresh fruit qualities. The Durian version was far from subtle. Here, the pungency of this fruit leaves its mark without any shadow of doubt. The assertive sulfurous flavor is much evident in the spoonful, an acquired taste that I grew up on in the tropics, without overwhelming the palate. I indeed relished every bite of this bold flavor, but make sure to taste a sample before venturing into palatal terra incognito.
Mamey Sapote/Jackfruit: The flavors from this Central American fruit were completely new and interesting to me. The only way I can describe its flavor is that it reminds me of a slightly fruity bubblegum, with its pink color adding to that impression. The slightly rough texture of the ice cream is an indication of the fibrous fruit. I found each spoonful intriguing, wondering what the fresh fruit must really taste like. The Jackfruit version was brimming with the flavors of this South American and Southeast Asian fruit. Just like the Durian, its flavors are quite heady but, in this case, not sulfurous at all. Like the Durian, its notes hints of something fermenting but it is more subtle with the Jackfruit.
Passion Fruit/Soursop: Another fruit from the both Caribbean and Southeast Asia is the Passion Fruit. This sorbet version packed a lot of punch with each spoonful filled with the citrusy fruity flavors tempered by its sugar content. Its unique fruit flavors are still fresh tasting in this frozen version and I could not get enough of it. Similarly, the Soursop comes these same tropical regions. The flavors are more subtle than the above scoop with a distinctive subtle fruity note. A rich custard-like quality is also evident which points to this fruit’s other name – Apple Custard. Subtle but still exotic.
Rum and Raisin/Mango: Back to the Caribbean with this spoonful. Rich ice cream is studded with large rum-soaked raisins tasting sweet yet boozy from the alcohol, further reinforced by the rum running through the cream, leaving a slight bitter foil to the sweet flavors. I must say this is one of the most alcohol-tasting R&R I have ever had, fit for any adult aficionado of this flavor. The Mango version was a bit too subtle for me at first. After trying a few bites, I could detect its unique flavors, much like a creamy Mango puree rather than the fresh fruit bits. This reminded me of a yogurt-based Mango Lassi I have tasted in some Indian eateries.
Mango-Lemon/Ginger: This joint offers no-sugar-added ice creams and this version had a combination of mango and lemon flavors. The taste was slightly fruity, creamy, with a mild taste reminding me of sherbet. I must say that the lower sugar content was barely noticeable from a regular version, and this would be high on my list if I were on a low sugar diet. The ginger ice cream vowed me with the first spoonful. The pungent ginger bite permeates every molecule of this frozen treat with notes of mature ginger and molasses-like brown sugar, with pieces of ginger studded throughout it tasting like crystallized bits – I could not get enough of this biting treat.
Guinness/Pistachio: When I saw this version made from the dark stout, I knew I had to taste this Jamaican favorite. Since I was familiar with this alcoholic drink, I could detect the subtle dark notes along with a distinctive hopsy flavor in each mouthful. This reminds of sneaking a few sips from my grandmother’s favorite brew (despite my father’s disapproval) but in a frozen version. The Pistachio ice cream was green in color, well-flavored with its nutty oil. Bits of the toasted nut punctuate the cream with its strong heady flavor and aroma. Green jelly bits were mixed in the ice cream that made this frozen custard more interesting than just the singular nut flavor itself.
French Almond/Harambe!: Another nut flavored ice cream was French Almond. This was not as subtle as the Pistachio as it was packed with the assertive flavor of almond oil which I enjoyed by itself – it overpowered the other flavors that I was tasting. The creamy body is mixed with toasted almond slivers that further accentuated the nut flavor. On one visit, the special was Harambe! consisting of Orange, Pineapple, Banana, Coconut and Rum flavors. No individual flavor was too prominent as all the ingredients performed a well-balanced act with each individual component exerting an equal presence. There was a slight Piña Colada and Orange flavor that made this special offering very enjoyable and worth tasting.
Behind the large display cases of the frozen treats, Tropical Ice Cream Cafe also offers other sweet treats like Rum Cake, Carrot Cake, and Lemon Cake. Amidst all the sugariness, there is a large sign displaying a savory offering – Ghana Fish Pie. This struck my curiosity and I had to try it. Very short flaky pie dough encase a rather moist stuffing made from salmon, flavored with sweet onions, spiked with bits of fresh chili, and colored and flavored with the ever-present West African ingredient – palm oil. I did enjoy these crumbly bites that brought back memories of a similar version made with sardines which I grew up on. I can see why the owner, who hails from Ghana, is proud to sell these warm turnovers, and look out for these while you are there.
Tropical Ice Cream Cafe is the United Nations of ice cream for it offers frozen treats that are skilfully made with the bold flavors of fruits from all regions of the world, from the Lychee of Far East Asia, to the Durian, Rambutan, and Soursop of Southeast Asia, to the Mamey Sapote, Passion Fruit, and Tamarind of Central America and the Caribbean, and to the Jackfruit of South America. In addition to the exotic flavors, I also enjoyed the standard fares with the nutty French Almond, Rum and Raisin, and Pistachio versions, amidst the low-sugar or no-diary offerings. The seasonal specials too were worth tasting, like the Rambutan and Harambe! This is indeed a most unique ice cream store that makes a gourmand’s eyes like mine light up and go into a frenzy with indecision. I’m sure after a few samplings you will be returning back to explore the other missed flavors.