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Nondairy ice cream that's worthy of Milwaukee's best

Wednesday, Sep 22 2004
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When I lived in Milwaukee, I spent a lot of time (usually during the dinner hour) lamenting the fact that I wasn't in San Francisco anymore. Good Chinese food was about as scarce as a sober Wauwatosan around closing time at Wolski's (a little insider humor for all you Westsiders out there), and the closest thing I could find to a tapas restaurant was the perpetually packed topless joint that I passed every time I drove down I-94 near Racine.

But Milwaukee had two gastronomic achievements that will never be surpassed on this side of the Mississippi: the Friday night fish fry and Kopp's frozen custard. The fish fry was more a cultural than a culinary event, but Kopp's ... Kopp's was a religious experience. Suffice to say, in the annals of creamy, frozen ice cream confections there is Kopp's and there is everyone else. Think of a heaping mound of frozen satin, only sweeter. And made with pure chocolate.

Since those days, I've held to the belief that only ice cream made with gobs and gobs of butterfat can even begin to grovel at the feet of a Kopp's cone. And then I had a child who is allergic to milk (a malady for which I partially blame -- with no basis in medical fact -- my OD on Mitchell's milkshakes during the last month of pregnancy), and suddenly I found myself scrounging in Real Foods for Rice Dream and chocolate Soy-Licious and thinking, "Man, if I can pass off this grainy-beany concoction as ice cream, I should ditch my feeble writing career and go into acting."

Not satisfied to leave it at Tofutti Cuties, I kept scouring the shelves at health food stores for a better, smoother, more ice-cream-tasting product. I pretty much peaked at Soy Delicious Chocolate Nirvana (all the while thanking Allah that my son isn't also allergic to chocolate and nuts). It's pretty decent, as these things go, but it ain't Mitchell's macapuno.

Then one day I was walking around Bernal Heights and stumbled into MaggieMudd (903 Cortland, 641-5291, www.maggiemudd.com), a cheery, Day-Glo ice cream parlor. Among the assortment of gelatos and ice creams was an entire section devoted to nondairy frozen foodstuffs. And not just your basic vanilla and chocolate, but things like coconut pecan praline, banana walnut, orange chocolate chip, and dark chocolate-peanut butter. One scoop and I knew this was no ordinary frozen bean.

Alternatively soy-, almond-, and coconut-milk based, MaggieMudd's artisanal creams are not only dairy-, cholesterol-, and animal byproduct-free (down to the sundaes with vegan whipped cream, the vegan marshmallows in the Rocky Road, and the use of non-bone-char-filtered sugar), but also the smoothest, richest, most intense fake ice creams I've ever encountered. They're so good that I triple-checked the ingredients for milk and butterfat. So good that when I secretly gave Tarmack (a blend of dark chocolate soy cream, Oreo-style cookie bits, and peanut butter chunks currently known in my family as "the one") to a friend who swears that soy ice cream is only a half-step above Vegemite on the bad-taste food pyramid, he gobbled it down without so much as a blink of suspicion.

The key, says MaggieMudd owner Michael Juarez, is that the place makes its nondairy creams with gelato equipment. "It's a slow-churning process, as opposed to commercial ice cream equipment, which introduces a lot more air," he says. "And we offset the soy milk, which doesn't have much fat, with combinations of solid and powdered chocolate and other textured ingredients."

Best of all, you can get it on a fresh-baked waffle cone -- just like they do in Milwaukee.

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Bonnie Wach

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