Sweet Republic recently released two Mexican flavors. The ice cream shop is known for doing things the hard way – crafting marshmallow from scratch for Rocky Road or baking Irish soda bread for a frozen St. Patrick’s Day scoop. Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung take the well-worn long road, also, to impressive horchata and Mayan chocolate ice cream, both recently released in the run-up to Cinco de Mayo.
In general, horchata is a marvel. It is one of the unheralded gastronomic wrinkles that gives Phoenix character, setting our city’s food scene apart from those of the big cold cities. So many places make their own horchata here. So many make it gloriously.
The lush, sweet, spiced rice milk elevates food laced with capsaicin. It brings smooth texture and cool flavor that seem protean, displaying a handy ability to chameleon into a worthy foil to just about any savory food, snapping a food’s particular quirks and edges into sharper focus.
The Valley’s innumerable takes on horchata are like fingerprints: they have the deeply exciting potential to vary infinitely, and no two versions are the same.
This seems doubly true once you’ve let Sweet Republic’s horchata ice cream melt in your mouth.
Its flavor is sweet, yes, but like a good horchata, seems to coax latent floral notes from the rice and round these out with luscious creamy depth. Careful use of cinnamon adds backbone and enigma. As the ice cream melts in your mouth, the texture inches closer to horchata in beverage form.
And that’s when you register, with a start, that this is one of the city’s good ones.
The Sweet Republic team steeps jasmine rice and Ceylon cinnamon in Sarah Farms Milk; overnight, a tea-like infusion forms. This infusion is cooked, blended, and frozen.
The flavor is deep and satisfying alone. But like the beverage, the ice cream plays nicely with others.
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Sweet Republic’s new Mayan chocolate flavor makes a good sidekick. The team tested many chocolates before settling on Callebaut (Belgium) for the flavor, liking how this chocolate melded with the other ingredients. Ancho chiles, toasted, lend a tingle that feels low and distant and comes at the end. Like the horchata, the chocolate contains some cinnamon; the cool spice acts as a bridge from one flavor to the other and back again.
The two go together well. Horchata is all low-key coolness. Mayan chocolate is dark, dusky, and in-your-face.
We’re lucky to have an ice cream shop that plumbs the local food scene and crafts thoughtful takes on important local flavors. We’re lucky to have this new entry in the Phoenix horchata Rolodex, this novel fingerprint that speaks to the gastronomic fingerprint of our city.
Sweet Republic. 9160 East Shea Boulevard #105, Scottsdale (plus Phoenix location). 480-248-6979.
Sunday to Thursday, noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m.