It’s been a big year for ice cream in Houston. Class 502 debuted in March — the first spot to offer rolling ice cream in Houston. Lee’s Creamery debuted this past week at both Petite Sweets and Lee’s Chicken and Donuts, offering small-batch locavore ice cream made with milk from grass-fed Jersey cows raised at Graman Farms in Tomball. Then just this past weekend, Creamistry, an Arizona-based nitro-spun ice cream concept, debuted in The Centre at Post Oak.
Today, we're checking out the new Sub-Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt in Sugar Land, a franchise concept with more than 50 locations nationally (including one in northwest Houston’s Vintage Lakes area), which recently opened to rave reviews. Like Creamistry, Sub-Zero utilizes liquid nitrogen to make customized cups of ice cream as you stand and wait.
Sub-Zero’s location itself is pretty nondescript, but can easily be spotted from the southbound 59 feeder to Highway 6. It sits in a strip mall sandwiched between a Torchy’s Tacos and a Five Guys Burgers. When you enter the space, it’s long and narrow, and it's pretty clear that the word is out on this place, because there is a never-ending line of people waiting to get their ice cream.
On the left wall, a red and blue mural painted to look like organic chemistry symbols depicts the process with the words “delicious + science makes it fresh.” The chemistry theme is underscored by a gigantic liquid nitrogen tank positioned in front of the service counter. It’s this liquid nitrogen that drives the entire concept.
Like Chipotle or Blaze Pizza, Sub-Zero Ice Cream is all about customization. You choose the ice cream you want (original whole milk, low-fat, custard, yogurt, lactose-free, vegan or sugar-free); select from among 18 mixable flavors ranging from blackberry to cake batter or peanut butter; and choose from a variety of mix-ins like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Oreos and almonds. In lieu of customizing, you could also go with one of the shop's pre-designed “Sensations,” with chemistry-themed flavors such as Magnetic Mint, Birthday Cake Capacitor or Chocolate Conduction.
When you arrive at the counter, a member of the staff takes your order and puts all the ingredients, which look like a heavy cream, in a metal bowl. The metal bowl is handed to one of three people working the nitrogen station, and this is when things get fun. There are three nitrogen mixing stations, and the staff try to coordinate so that they are working in unison. Counting down “Three, two, one,” they activate the hoses that let the nitrogen flow, which also activates a blue neon light right in front of the counter. A huge burst of cold smoke billows out from two faucets, blanketing the entire work counter like a cloud, while the employees mix the cream together until it's thickened enough to get scooped up. Patrons, especially kids, are mesmerized by the spectacle.
The whole process takes just under two minutes and the final product is sort of curdly and chunky, appearing like a frozen cottage cheese. On taste, my peanut butter custard flavor was excellent, not too sweet and very creamy, like a hand-churned nutter butter in frozen form.
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The prices were very reasonable, too: $3.99 for a small, $4.99 for a regular and $5.99 for a large. Additional mix-ins, whipped cream or hot fudge are an additional 50 cents, and a waffle bowl is 80 cents.
Sub-Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt is located at 15810 Southwest Freeway and is open Sunday-Thursday from noon to 10 p.m.; Friday from noon to midnight; and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight. For more information, visit subzeroicecream.com.