Here's the scoop

A kosher ice cream parlor in Queens serves up flavors such as cholent and felafel.

November 17, 2005 13:12
ice cream cone 88

ice cream cone 88. (photo credit: )

We all scream for ice cream, but at Max and Mina's Homemade Ice Cream shop in Queens, New York, they're screaming for ice cream that looks like vanilla but tastes like ketchup. "We knew a guy who was nuts about ketchup," explains Mark Becker, co-owner of Max and Mina's. "He put ketchup on everything, and he just had to have ketchup ice cream. We made it for him and he loved it." Mark and his older brother Bruce, who opened Max and Mina's eight years ago in tribute to their grandfather, have experimented with lots of unusual flavors, from jalapeno to beer and nuts and even something called elephant's dream. "Our grandfather was an organic chemist, and was able to break down foods and figure out their recipes," Mark explained. "He loved ice cream, and one day he took his favorite ice cream, which at the time was called Dolly Madison, broke down the recipe and figured out how to make it himself. "After that, whenever we used to go visit my grandfather he would always have new, weird flavors of ice cream. I remember his first flavor was coconut caramel chunk, and at that time all anyone wanted was chocolate or vanilla. "Time passed, and my grandfather passed away, and Bruce was going through his stuff and found a book with recipes for all his ice creams. One day, years later, we decided to try making one and it came out pretty good. That's when we decided to open up an ice cream shop." Named after their grandparents, the store has hundreds of different flavors of ice cream, 50 of which are available on a rotating basis, depending on the season and demand. The majority of the flavors are mainstream, but customers don't come to Max and Mina's for chocolate and vanilla. "Just like our grandfather always had weird flavors, we wanted to follow in his footsteps and also have weird flavors," said Mark. "We wanted to push the envelope nd do something different." The brothers' first creation was lox ice cream, which they formulated for a friend who was having a business meeting and wanted an ice cream to keep everyone interested. After that, rumors of their wacky ice cream spread by word of mouth, and slowly the store grew into a large manufacturing company. Now, the list of funny flavors ranges from horseradish, cholent, kaigelach and garlic to tobacco, frosted flakes, avocado and corn. And each flavor has a story behind it. "Mayor Bloomberg raised the taxes on cigarettes in New York, so we had people really addicted to cigarettes who asked us to make tobacco ice cream to help wean them off the now-too-expensive cigarettes," Mark relates. "So we made it, and the smokers loved it, but obviously there's not actually tobacco in there, so it didn't satisfy their cravings." The brothers are observant Jews, and not only is the entire store kosher, but special consideration is given to the Jewish holidays - on Purim, there's hamentashen ice cream, on Rosh Hashana, there's apple and honey, and on Succot, you can even find etrog ice cream. The question is, is the ice cream any good? Jeffrey Hiller, a native New Yorker, heard about the shop from a friend, and went to decide for himself. "It's unbelievable," he said, tasting the Raging Cajun, named after spicy New Orleans cooking. "This ice cream is really spicy, it tastes like actual New Orleans cuisine!" And as Hiller soon found out, the ice cream wasn't made with simple, artificial flavorings. Taking a spoonful of the "lox nova lox" flavor, Hiller exclaimed, "If you're ordering lox ice cream, get ready, because you're getting what you order - there's actually lox in here!" Shira Appelbaum came all the way from New Jersey to try out the wacky flavors at Max and Mina's. "Who would ever think of combining ketchup and ice cream?" she said, sampling the unusual flavors. "You can't help but have a good time in here. And if you like the flavor, the ice cream is delicious!" Shira's favorite flavor was peanut butter and jelly. "It was like having lunch in ice cream," she said, laughing. "If you have a taste for the exotic, you'll love this place," added Hiller. "It's so unexpected - the whole time I was eating this stuff I couldn't help smiling." Taking a bite of the falafel flavor, Hiller did smile, but jokingly remarked that he "couldn't imagine that ice cream in a pita." Even the boring flavors are good. Hiller sampled the chocolate fudge and the banana chocolate chip, noting that the ice cream itself was indeed creamy, and of premium quality. The owners, however, like many of their customers, prefer the more interesting tastes. Mark's favorite ice cream is currently candy cane, though he admits that his preference changes with the season, and this summer he preferred birthday cake (which no one should confuse with the totally distinct cupcake flavor). Bruce's number one choice nowadays is either sour cream or falafel. And the benefits of their business have gone way beyond ice cream. In addition to numerous television appearances and newspaper write-ups, in 2002, the brothers were featured in People magazine's "50 Most Eligible Bachelors" issue. "We didn't believe it at first," said Mark. "But once the issue hit the stands, we started getting phone calls from grandmothers in Florida who wanted to set us up with their granddaughters, and poetry in the mail from girls who love ice cream." Even better, Max and Mina's was named the most unique ice cream parlor in the United States in last year's book Everybody Loves Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop on America's Favorite Treat. Big supporters of Israel, the brothers currently have no plans to open up a franchise here, but admit "we never say never - where there's a demand, we'll fill it." Meanwhile, they pay tribute to their homeland through ice cream, featuring halva, falafel, humous and tehina flavors, and even a Yitzhak Rabin flavor, which contains olive oil and cherries, and the brothers are always on the hunt for new, crazy flavors - especially if it incorporates their heritage. "The idea is that eating ice cream is a momentary time when people escape from reality and are brought back to their childhood," Mark explained. "For the five minutes it takes to eat ice cream, we try to come up with themes that will put a smile on people's faces and make them feel like a kid again." For just $2.25, you can feel like a kid again too, and tell your friends you ate wasabi ice cream.

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