At Bebe Zito, each ice cream tells a story


If you could take a personal moment in your life, unique to you, that you cherish, and turn it into ice cream, what would you create? Your mom’s special yellow birthday cake, the packet of Dunkaroos and frosting you brought to eat at the dock, and the blue of the lake? Maybe it would be the bananas your mom brought from the store and the glass of orange juice you drank helping her unwrap the groceries while she told you news from your home in Brazil?

If you had asked me what was personal about ice cream flavors before going to Bebe Zito, I would have guessed it was your favorite flavor: my son always tries vanilla. My grandmother physically started happily if there was black walnut in the freezer.

But then I started going to Bebe Zito, the ice cream parlor that Ben Spangler, founding ice cream chef of Milkjam and longtime local pastry star, and his wife, designer and shopkeeper Gabriella Grant, opened. at the corner of the Red Dragon during the pandemic. Here, each flavor is personal, a story, a story.

“Romeu e Julieta” is a tale from Grant’s childhood, in which his Brazilian mother made a dessert with groceries she could buy in Eagan. all folded together into something alternately rich and tangy. “Slam Dunkie” is Spangler’s birthday keepsake: cookies made from yellow cake batter mixed with lake-colored ice cream, with real Dunkaroos added for good measure. “Sugarloaf Mountain Sorbet” is another tale from Grant’s family: roasted bananas in molasses and orange juice combine to make something a bit like a cognac cocktail, a bit like tropical fruit. in the rain, much like thunderstorms you hear just in the distance. “Breakfast Club” is the childhood of Spangler eating Lucky Charms and Fruity Pebbles in front of cartoons, merged with his current reality as an accomplished pastry chef who knows his way around the essence of flowers and herbs. sicilian Fiori di Sicilia and uses it to make American cereals even more flavorful.

Tales, served in a cup or cone. It’s the way of eating at elite restaurants for quite some time now. For example, when San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn creates a dish called Autobiography of an Oyster, it is understood that it is a dish not only about the oyster, but also about its memories. – her story, her story, or as she calls it, her “poetic cuisine”.

It’s actually a more accurate way of talking about food than what we had before, in my opinion. There is no purely immediate experience of an oyster. You can drive up to the Pacific Coast and eat at the shack near where the oysters are harvested, or you can have your oysters at your usual table in your favorite old steakhouse, and that’s a lot of fun, too. stories, even if we don’t. t mention them.

History, biography, story, dialogue, you will even find them in Bebe Zito’s plain vanilla ice cream. Because it is not plain vanilla. It’s Tahitian vanilla with MSG added, both to enhance flavor and take sides in the MSG wars raging on the internet. (Bottom line: MSG is a form of glutamate, a natural amino acid that your body spontaneously creates. It is naturally present in a large number of foods, including tomatoes and cheese. However, starting in the 1960s, many Americans have claimed that the Chinese technique of adding it directly to food gave them headaches. In 1999, legendary food writer Jeffrey Steingarten asked, in a culture-changing essay, “Why everyone in China doesn’t he have a headache? ”And since then, this continued chatter around MSG use has been viewed more as veiled anti-Asian racism.)

At Bebe Zito, Spangler and Grant insist, “Vanilla MSG” is the store’s way of telling a story about justice. “All this xenophobic ideology around MSG is bad for you: I want to force people to think about it,” Grant explains. “And I don’t want a ‘normal’ flavor on the menu either.” It’s an interesting story to tell about Bebe Zito’s particular stretch of 22nd Street, the ribbon connecting the Wedge Co-op and Tao Natural Foods, two of the world’s most important baby boomer health triumphs. But what is a story without conflict?

The bigger story behind Bebe Zito is that Ben Spangler grew up in Maple Grove, the son of a chef father who worked in town, including the Sofitel hotel, and a mother who was a baker and sometimes worked as a school canteen. . At 17, Spangler got his first job in the kitchen, in a pizzeria, and soon found himself in a key position at sister Italian restaurants Bacio and Zelo, where there were ice cream machines. “When everyone was drinking at the bar after work, I would say to myself: i think i will go ice cream, he recalls. Many, many experiments followed. Someone noticed it and his name ended up on a long list of stunt TV contenders. He started to receive phone calls like: Can you upload a video of something cool made from ice cream tomorrow? That’s how he ended up with a few trips to the coasts and appearances on culinary television. (“I always get calls—Hi it’s The great American pastry fair. I know it’s midsummer, but can you make a log tomorrow?”)

“When everyone was drinking at the bar after work, I would say to myself: i think i will go ice cream. “

Ben spangler

When Spangler heard that World Street Kitchen chef Sameh Wadi was looking to hire an ice cream chef for Milkjam, he introduced himself and went on to develop some of the city’s most sought-after cult ice creams, like bitter cocoa. “Black”. “I remember the Star Tribune came out with a list of the top five ice cream a year. Two were mine, one from Rustica and one from Milkjam, and my name was nowhere on it, ”Spangler remembers of those years of effort. Then, one day, fate and fortune changed everything, thanks to Tinder. Swipe right; between Gabriella Grant.

Grant grew up in Eagan – the child of a Brazilian mother who baked home wedding cakes and a Minnesota-born computer programmer father who spent a decade training in Brazil – it goes without saying that she lived and breathed Brazil. Once Grant grew up, she attended Milwaukee Art School, returning home with strong skills in design, branding, and creating immersive experiences. Then she met Spangler.

“When we first started dating, most of our dates were going out for ice cream,” says Spangler. “And talking to Gabriella, I realized in my heart that I love making ice cream, but I don’t want to do it for other people; I want to do it for me.

Grant says, “What was important to us was to create a space where we can tell our story, in any way we can. And that’s the story behind these sweet, pick-up stories.

Grant is responsible for branding and design. Radical / adorable tattooed Kewpie doll is her take on the heavily tattooed Spangler. Spangler is responsible for the demanding ice cream making, going through 20 versions of yellow cake cookies to get the right texture to blend in with the ice cream, sifting through all the pistachios in the world to find the ones that sing. (These pistachios are raised in armed custody in Sicily because the Mafia otherwise steals the precious harvest. But they are worth it. They make shiny, nutty ice cream and better than any other pistachio ice cream I have had. .)

Spangler has also perfected the burgers that Bebe Zito sells every weekend. Made to order in a trailer parked at the back of the glacier, they are awesome. Crispy patties, gooey cheese, a sweet Hawaiian-style bun and at $ 5.95 each, one-third the price of most of the city’s cult burgers. Well deserves the crowds up front and the burger expansion in the Malcolm Yards food hall. This burger, too, tells a story: Spangler’s allegiances are firmly on the side of people who only have $ 10 for dinner and cooks who want to finish their service after reaching greatness without hassle. “When you do one thing, you’d be surprised how much better you can do it,” he says. “If more people did one thing, we would have better food.”

This thought seems to have taken root in many minds this year. The Nelson’s Ice Cream team in Stillwater took over Izzy’s old space on Marshall in St. Paul for one thing: ice cream sandwiches made with homemade cookies.

A to Z Creamery has become an internet sensation, with founder and owner Zach Vraa turning his mother’s birthday present from an ice cream maker into an Instagram-based business. These days, he sells 300 to 400 pints of a unique flavor each week to customers on his mailing list of nearly 10,000 people. Follow the Instagram account, and you too can sign up for a chance to try Pints ​​of Potato Chip Ice Cream or Cheese Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream.

“I have obsessed fans. I think it’s because I’m doing everything from scratch, and people get excited when they see the flavors and know they only get one chance, ”says Vraa. Weekly lottery winners collect their pints in St. Louis Park, although they are looking for a physical location for a possible opening in the fall.

It’s hard not to wonder that all of the kids who were locked at home last year during the pandemic are now stepping out this summer and trying out this new world of original ice cream. What stories will this summer’s ice cream eaters turn into their own biographies? And how will these stories and these ice creams infiltrate through art and fit into the ice creams of the coming summers? This is called in trade a never-ending story. And sometimes they are the sweetest and the best.

Bebe Zito, 704 W. 22nd St., Mpls.,; Creamery A to Z,; Nellie’s Ice Cream, 2034 Marshall Ave., St. Paul, 651-645-7839,

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