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Rolled ice cream in the making

Ready to cool off? Go inside Detroit’s only ‘rolled ice cream’ shop

A Thai craze makes its way to Southwest

You could say these dessert makers are on a roll.

Now that forecasts are hitting the D with 84  (and well above that on some days), there’s no better way to beat the heat than a cool serving of ice cream. But it doesn’t have to come in a cone or a cup.

In a nondescript storefront at the corner of McGraw and Addison in Southwest Detroit, a number of dexterous employees are practicing a craft originated in Thailand, in a space occupied by a typical you-buy/we-buy Detroit spot. 

Here at the Rolled Ice Cream Factory, housed inside Avenue Grill Plus, fresh cream is made daily and flash-frozen into ice cream before on-looking customers on any of the four ice-cold slabs, and then rolled into spirals resembling a, well, take your pick of any rolled food: Taquito? Pinwheel? Cinnamon roll? 

A small crew makes about five to six gallons of the liquid cream, and on a really good day they find themselves restocking halfway through a shift. Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, but a variety of toppings from fresh strawberries and mangoes to Fruity Pebbles and Butterfingers can be mixed in. 

The cream is poured onto a cold slab and mixed with the add-ons, which manager Michael Valentino says can get as cold as -21 degrees. The mixture is then chopped up as it hardens from the cold as to make it creamy. Valentino uses metal spatulas to chop the mixture into chunks. Think of it as a cold-weather Benihana. 

Once the mixture is soft enough, Valentino smoothens the ice cream across the surface. “This is almost like doing drywall,” he said. “I’ve had a few people say ‘Oh, why don’t you just drywall’ and I’d say, ‘well, if drywall tasted this good I would.’” Valentino then finishes by using sharp spatulas to scrape the surface creating about six rolls. Your creation can then be topped off with chocolate or caramel drizzle and two vanilla wafer sticks. 

“Once you learn the basics of it, you can develop your own technique,” the self-dubbed professional ice cream eater said. 

Avenue Grill Plus -- smelling so overwhelmingly of fried chicken one would never guess ice cream was even available -- started as a lunchtime spot in the neighborhood but management decided to add rolled ice cream to the menu in July 2017. “We still do food and we stick with what we know,” Valentino said. “We have great food. We just compartmentalized it.” 

It wouldn’t be the first combination of new cuisine in an unlikely spot, something that seems to be working well for Flowers of Vietnam inside Vernor Coney Island. But Rolled Ice Cream Factory’s marketing tactics are a bit different. Everyone in the neighborhood knows about it, but only recently have videos from the shop’s Instagram begun to pierce the Detroit consciousness.

Valentino says once they started rolling ice cream, business went “through the roof. We went from just two people to like six people since February,” he says. 

A must-try for newbies: Butterfinger and caramel mixed into vanilla ice cream.  

The Rolled Ice Cream Factory is open seven days a week for all your ice cream needs at 8900 McGraw Ave.