When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Novel Ice Cream
Location: 1028 Grand Avenue, #6
Open: About seven months
Eats: Artisanal ice cream, available as doughnut or waffle ice cream sandwiches. Plus, novelty soda pop.
Everybody loves ice cream, of course, but Brandon Douglas really loves it.
Douglas, one of the owners of Novel Ice Cream in Phoenix, says he's been known to plan trips around novelty and limited-edition ice cream flavors that are only available in other cities.
He speaks about ice cream in the language of art and connoisseurship, describing it as "a medium where you can explore and play with flavors."
You can feel the passion as soon as you step into Novel Ice Cream, a small, colorful shop that's earned a loyal following since making its debut in the Grand Avenue Arts District earlier this year.
Douglas runs Novel Ice Cream with his wife, Jennifer, who is also a full-time kindergarten teacher, and his brother, Travis. Together, they're a very friendly team, chatting with everyone who comes into the shop, and learning the names of regulars.
Novel specializes in small-batch, artisanal ice cream, made locally in collaboration with a professional ice cream maker. There are 12 flavors to choose from, including staples like vanilla and strawberry. Four of those slots are reserved for a rotating selection of new and seasonally inspired flavors.
Douglas says he's a "sucker for novelty flavors." Some of the shop's more unconventional flavors include Honey Lavender, Bourbon Caramel Toffee Crunch (a crowd favorite), and Fat Elvis, featuring peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Recently, there was even a flavor inspired by Rick & Morty, the popular Adult Swim cartoon (sorry fans, that flavor is no longer on the current menu).
At Novel, you can order your ice cream in a traditional cone, but good luck trying to resist the shop's signature offering: The Dough Melt, a glazed doughnut stuffed with the ice cream of your choice.
On a recent visit, I tried the Dough Melt with the shop's bright blue Cookie Monster ice cream, a delectably creamy cookies-and-cream flavor that stains your tongue light blue.
Parks & Rec fans, of course, will want to try the shop's other popular signature treat: the Lesley Knope. It's a nicely crisp, chunky waffle ice cream sandwich, which seems to pair well with pretty much any flavor. I tried it recently with the Bourbon Caramel Toffee Crunch, which bears a warm caramel sweetness, a delicious stand-in for syrup.
There are also toppings, which often come in the guise of classic breakfast cereals, including Fruity Pebbles and Cookie Crisp.
For vegan ice cream lovers, the shop carries naturally vegan sorbets. On the weekends, there's a vegan confetti cookie cup dessert, made with fresh-baked cookies from nearby Treehouse Bakery.
"We don't want anyone who wants ice cream to leave without it," Douglas says.
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Novel Ice Cream, in its own way, is also a tribute to the glories of coming of age in the 1990s. The shop carries a small but noteworthy selection of hard-to-find soda pop, including '80s and '90s cult classics like Jolt and Surge.
"This place represents everything we love under one roof — ice cream, doughnuts, cereal, and soda," says Douglas.
For more information on Novel Ice Cream, check out the shop's Facebook page.