By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
A year since its opening, An’s Dry Cleaning tried a new venture: the small batch gelato shop let another company pick their flavors for a menu that debuted on Aug. 4. Each of the employees at Specialty Produce got to pick a list of ingredients for their own gelato creation. It was then up to An’s Dry Cleaning chef David Aguilera to turn them into recipes that could be shared with the shop’s loyal fanbase. He said he normally sits with headphones on and music playing for a weekend to develop the gelato that will be featured at the storefront on Adams Avenue for two weeks.
The Specialty Produce employees provided Aguilera a series of unusual ingredients inspired by the season’s freshest ingredients and their own personal inspirations for each. A few highlights of the playful flavors include chocolate, popcorn and tajin; brown butter, whey, squash blossom and nectarines; vegan cucumber, melon and scorpion pepper salt; spruce tips, honey and oat milk. The ingredient-driven flavors were named after the employees who thought of them, so for a few more days, customers can order a Christopher (mead and triple berry jam), Kelly (ube and tamarind) or Jake (Asian pear and vanilla). Normally, the flavors are named after fabrics.
Erick Dietz, who has worked at An’s since the beginning, said the shop is able to introduce customers to ingredients they would never normally come across because gelato is approachable.
“Ice cream is available for everyone but you get to try these unique ingredients here,” Dietz said.
The collaboration with Specialty Produce is far from the first experiment An’s Dry Cleaning has undertaken. First, the founders refrained from naming it anything gelato related and decorated the interior with ironing boards for tables, hangers, and fabrics in a nod to the retail space’s laundry roots. Sometimes, confused people still come in with their laundry. Then, they have limited the menu to only gelato and gelato cakes — no water bottles, no other desserts, and definitely no paninis. Instead of getting to choose one or two flavors to sample, when a customer reaches the front of the line, they are given a spoonful of each flavor before making a selection.
The gelato selections at the specialty shop are made in-house from scratch. Unlike other places where all flavors have the same base, Aguilera makes a different base for each recipe. In this menu alone, oat milk, goat cheese, whey and brown butter are all used to create the creamy base.
At a tasting event for the new menu held at Specialty Produce’s Hancock Street location, Aguilera gave attendees a special look at how he develops recipes. He shared the first recipe he created for Nick. While the flavor was good, he pointed out the gelato was too cold, causing a watery melt off the scoop. A huge chunk of nectarine distracted from the base and shredded squash blossoms created a stringy texture. At staff meetings, An’s employees might give Aguilera similar notes on the upcoming flavors so the temperature, balance and texture are right before they are debuted to the world. He then passed out the perfected blend he made based on those notes, which was creamier, warmer and each ingredient was inseparable from the others.
Aguilera is one of four longtime friends that founded the gelato shop together. He had worked in Europe for 10 years making gelato before coming to the U.S. to help start the North Park phenomenon. He still splits his time between Spain and San Diego.
Aguilera shared that the collaboration with Specialty Produce made him try new ingredients he did not know existed and brought him back to other ingredients he discarded because they were too hard to work with. For instance, he learned spruce tips, which look like the pine needles on Christmas trees, can be frozen and made into a paste. He was also forced to use tamarind, the pod-like fruit grown on trees native to Africa with a sticky pulp inside. It is so tart he had given up on it in another recipe last year, but he found it blended with the bland, sweet taste of ube, or purple yams, perfectly.
The contrast between tart and sweet in the Kelly is not the only contradictory flavor Specialty Produce had Aguilera bring together. One grain of scorpion pepper salt in an entire batch of ice cream packed a through-burning kick only mellowed out by cucumber and cantaloupe. Of the specialy offerings, Jalapeno spices up a blueberry and goat cheese gelato that was a personal favorite.
Since the menu changes every two weeks, there are only a few days to try the ingredient-driven menu. Still, customers can always request that their favorite flavors are brought back by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
An’s Dry Cleaning is located at 3017 Adams Ave. and is open until 11 p.m. every day.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.