Put your prejudices aside and get ready to try the dairy-free, vegan ice cream that just might be your new favorite at Frankie & Jo’s.
“Welcome to our new tradition of mindful ice cream,” says the website for Seattle’s new Frankie & Jo’s. You’d be forgiven an eye-roll at the language, appropriated from the realm of yoga or meditation: “We live and breathe the layered nuances of plant-based ice cream making so that your experience can be pure, intentional, and delicious.” (What would an unintentional ice-cream experience be like? Sounds fun, could get messy!)
The “ice cream churned from plants” is 100 percent vegan and, of course, gluten-free. The Capitol Hill shop is, of course, great-looking; the aesthetic is Palm Springs Ace Hotel, nothing parlorlike about it, courtesy of self-described “boutique style design and build company” H2. The chef/owners come from their own boutique food experiences: Kari Brunson’s the proprietor of Juicebox, while Autumn Martin runs Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery. The name comes from Martin’s grandmothers, Frances and Joanne (who were neither vegan nor gluten-free).
If you’re preciousness-sensitive, you may be writhing. The veganism-opposed might mount a protest: “Cream” is in “ice cream” for a reason — it’s not “ice plant”! Linguists could calmly take issue: “New tradition” is an oxymoron. And there may be some part of us all that screams: Can’t we just enjoy our ice cream, of all things, mindlessly?!
Frankie & Jo’s
Frankie & Jo’s
1010 E. Union St., Seattle; open
Sunday-Thursday 2-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 2-11 p.m.; 206-257-1676; frankieandjos.com
Take a deep, cleansing breath and prepare to have your palate, not to mention your mind, expanded, for Frankie & Jo’s ice cream is straight-up delicious. As in: Yes, if you didn’t know it was dairy-free, you’d never guess. Believe it or not — all dietary needs and political predilections aside — it could be your new favorite ice cream.
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Frankie & Jo’s vanilla has a faint caramelly flavor from its brown cane sugar, plus the taste of real vanilla bean; it’s unabashedly sweet, lush and very ready for any berry to top it, come summertime. Is it slightly lighter than regular ice cream, with maybe a little bit of a soft-serve texture to it? It’s something to ponder while you eat it all up. The cocoa-nib brownie mint was my instant favorite, despite the fact that I don’t usually like stuff mixed into my ice cream. The brownie bits, like everything here, are vegan and gluten-free, and as such are a major achievement of gooey goodness; the cocoa nibs add welcome little explosions of bitter crunch; the mint is subtle, not fake-bright-green bludgeoning. Beet strawberry rose sorbet practically glows a bright crimson, its flavors unfolding equally brilliantly. Electric-yellow gingered golden milk is even brighter, its complex taste a love-it-or-hate-it punch of fresh turmeric root; fresh and candied ginger; cinnamon; cardamom; black pepper; and sea salt. If you love it, its spicy coconut richness will remind you of curry, in the best way. (I’d say skip the waffle cone; it’s made with oat flour, and it ends up a little crumbly and overly healthy-tasting.)
How do they do it? For the ice-cream base, Frankie & Jo’s takes organic, raw cashew nuts, sprouts them overnight and makes nut milk from them the next day. Most flavors also contain the nondairy lusciousness that is coconut milk — think of the smooth richness of a piña colada. The ice cream is made on-site, five days a week, in a big, expensive Vitamix that sounds like an airplane taking off, Brunson says. And she says the secret — the thing that makes it so much better than whatever other dairy-free ice cream you may have had the misfortune of trying — is what’s not there: no gums to create an artificially fluffy texture, no stabilizers to keep the fat and liquid combined for an artificially prolonged shelf life.
The path to Frankie & Jo’s began with pastry chef Martin realizing she had a dairy allergy, ironically enough, when she was in culinary school. Martin started making her own dairy-free ice cream back then, eventually approaching Brunson about sharing it with the world. They’d met through food events, and “kind of admired each other from afar,” Brunson says. “We weren’t best friends like we are now.” Their research and development included a trip to L.A. to test the options there, shipments of more nondairy ice cream from around the country, eating every kind available in the grocery-store freezer case. Then came “experimenting a lot with the fact that ice cream is a formula of sugar and fat, just like most baking … playing with those percentages to get a beautiful, creamy texture.”
Brunson and Martin worked for a year and a half to get the recipes right and the shop open, and the reception has been almost clamorously appreciative. They’re so sincerely delighted that people like the result, even the most cynical heart might melt. For those with allergies or diets of their own choice, “It doesn’t feel like an afterthought — it’s specifically for them,” Brunson says. “We love that.”
It’s not meant, she says, to be trendy; neither of them are vegan themselves, but they both respect “the idea that you don’t have to use animals to make beautiful food.”
“Every day, I’m just proud and honored,” Brunson says.
And those with a knee-jerk negative response might just come around with the first spoonful.