Dining With Denise Neil

Review: Churn & Burn mixes up creative ice cream treats

Jamee Lowe, Churn & Burn’s co-owner, mixes up a concoction using liquid nitrogen.
Jamee Lowe, Churn & Burn’s co-owner, mixes up a concoction using liquid nitrogen. The Wichita Eagle

If you’re marble-slabbed and fro-yo’d out, perhaps you’d like to try a little instafreeze.

Wichita has a fun new ice cream shop that, perhaps smartly, opened at the tail end of ice cream season last year and spent the winter perfecting its Alton Brown-esque approach to frozen dessert.

Churn & Burn appears to have perfected the dramatic art of liquid-nitrogen ice cream making just in time for the season to start over.

The tiny shop at 556 S. Oliver in a strip mall next to the huge new Kwik Shop just off Kellogg is owned by local businessman Christian Shomberg and his fiancee, Jamee Lowe, a developer. Shomberg said he wanted to find something he and Lowe could do together. They settled on an ice cream (the churn) and coffee shop (the burn) hybrid, which they theorized would keep them busy year-round.

During their research, they learned about liquid-nitrogen ice cream.

Kansas State Fair visitors are familiar with the concept. Until last year, a liquid-nitrogen ice cream maker was a regular and busy vendor at the fair. The ice cream is made using a tank of quick-freezing liquid nitrogen, which comes out cold enough to freeze the top layer of the ingredients. When that layer is stirred in, instant ice cream appears. The finished product is smoother, Shomberg said, because the quickness of the process prevents the forming of tiny ice crystals, as happens in typical ice cream mixtures.

And it’s fun to watch the process. Employees release the liquid nitrogen from its giant gray tank, and as it shoots through a nozzle into a metal mixer bowl, it releases a “whoosh” and a smoke-like vapor. It’s an edible magic trick.

Churn & Burn keeps a case of pre-made ice cream ready in creative flavors. There’s a bright-purple, grape-flavored one named for Kansas State University. Oz’s Emerald City is green tea and honey-flavored. And there’s also buttered popcorn, cinnamon and strawberry balsamic.

Customers also can order custom, made-on-the-spot-with-liquid-nitrogen creations by choosing one of the shop’s four ice cream bases – vanilla, chocolate, soy milk or coconut milk – and selecting candies or nuts purchased from Nifty Nut House to mix in. Choices include walnuts, almond slivers, Oreos, pretzels and Snickers.

There’s also a list of suggested ice cream mixtures posted on the counter, including the “Twisted Sister,” made with vanilla ice cream mixed with peanuts and pretzels and with chocolate drizzle on top, or the chocolate cherry made with a chocolate base, cherry syrup and chocolate chips mixed in.

Or customers can order coffee-shop-style hot drinks, including espresso, latte, mocha, cappuccino and hot chocolate. Almond milk can be substituted into coffee drinks to “make it skinny.”

And for the ultimate Churn & Burn experience, a menu of treats that combine coffee and ice cream is posted. The Snickers Surprise is made with vanilla ice cream, espresso, hazelnut and caramel syrups and Snickers pieces and topped with whipped cream, caramel and chocolate sauce. The Mexican Chocolate is made with coconut milk, espresso, honey, cinnamon, chocolate sauce and cayenne pepper with whipped cream and cinnamon on top. Note: You just gained 3 pounds reading that paragraph.

We visited on a recent Saturday night just as the storm clouds started spilling, assuming it would be a less busy time. We assumed wrong. The line was out the door. (Though in a space as small as this one, it takes only about 10 people to achieve that.)

When we opened the car door, we were greeted by the sweet aroma of fresh-baked waffle cones, and we followed it directly to the front door. Though the line was long and it appears to take several minutes to prepare each fresh-flash-frozen creation, it moved quickly, and we were to the front in about 10 minutes. The kids distracted themselves by inspecting the several colorful Joyland artifacts the owners salvaged and used to decorate the store: a sign from the Crystal Palace that hangs over the counter and a neon-lighted one touting the Joyland Arcade, which fills up most of another wall. They also were happy to discover two 1980s-era, cocktail-style dual player video games, one Ms. Pac Man and one Gallaga, which appear to double as tables.

The kids were drawn to the posted ice cream mixtures and chose the Joyland Dirt, made fresh with vanilla ice cream mixed with Oreos and Gummies and topped with a Gummy worm. It was ice cold, and the Oreos were evenly spread throughout the sweet ice cream. The kids loved it, but it didn’t pack the flavor of their other selection – the Gimme Some S’Mores – made with an ultra-rich chocolate ice cream and mixed with chocolate graham crackers and marshmallows. Each bite of the intense, dense chocolate ice cream uncovered another chewy marshmallow buried inside.

As the only grownup in the group, I decided I’d sample the “burn” menu, even though I feared the effects of a late-night espresso treat. To take the edge off, I ordered from the caffeinated ice cream menu. I chose a concoction boasting one of my favorite flavor mixtures: salted caramel. The drink was made with vanilla ice cream, espresso and salted caramel chunks from Nifty Nut House. It was topped with the shop’s homemade whipped cream (no Reddi-wip here) and caramel sauce.

The flavor took me back to a treat I banned for caloric reasons back in the early 2000s: the Starbucks frappuccino, a popular frozen coffee drink. The coffee’s acidity is neutralized when blended with ice, sugar and cream, and this version was amplified by the fact that it was spiked with salted caramel chunks that tasted like toffee bits. The drink is served with a super-fat straw so that with every sip, a new candy crunch or three lands on your tongue. Also for caloric reasons, I forced myself to part with my treat before it was gone, but it was difficult. When I saw the remnants in my trash the next morning, I shed a tear.

Once our orders were placed, it took about five minutes for our treats to appear. The staff members work quickly, and the atmosphere behind the counter is intense. The prep area is in view of the tiny waiting area. It’s fun to watch the liquid nitrogen whoosh out of the tank and see the employees turn it into instant frozen gratification.

My only criticisms of Churn & Burn: It’s a bit difficult to figure out how things work in the shop when you first walk in. The coffee menu faces the waiting area, and it’s not immediately clear how the pre-made ice cream in the case differs from the mixes listed on the menu posted at the counter. I deduced this all after I left and studied the website more closely.

Also, I wish I could sample the shop’s coffee drinks during the coffee hour, but Churn & Burn doesn’t open until 11 a.m.

Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

Review

Churn & Burn

three out of four

Where: 556 S. Oliver; 316-425-7766

Type of food: Ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, coffee

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1-9 p.m. Sundays

Cost: Mix-in treats range from about $4.55 to $5.45. Coffee/ice cream drinks are $4.58 to $7.95.

Website: www.churnandburnicecream.com

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