BLOWING SMOKE: Dragon's Breath, one of Sweet Turtle's most popular items, adds liquid nitrogen to Crunch Berries and other cereals for a cold, crunchy treat that emulates a dragon exhaling smoke. (Photo courtesy Sweet Turtle)
Is there a culinary act more eye-opening than any overtly blending science and food? Even those who didn't grow up glued to "Bill Nye the Science Guy" or "Good Eats" will probably get a kick out of Richmond's first Sweet Turtle, which freezes its ice cream base with liquid nitrogen.
"It's been really cool for the kids to see it, from a science perspective," says Jason Woolfolk, a Richmond-based operating partner who also co-owns a location in Newport News. "It gets kids a little more interested in science: showing how liquids turn into solids, that sort of thing."
Of course there's sweetness for more than just your brain: With more than 100 flavors on offer, the ice cream shop is set to bring nitrogen-frozen scoops and milkshakes, plus non-nitro snow cones, to 1211 W. Broad St. by the end of the month, parking permits pending.
The process is trendy, albeit simple: Begin with a base — dairy or vegan — and pick a flavor, from the popular "silver fox" (an almond-vanilla blend) to nonalcoholic versions of mojito or white Russian. (There's also a Butterbeer flavor, for fans of Harry Potter.) The flavor gets added to the base, which is slowly churning in a stand mixer before your very eyes. Then comes the science: An element so cold it keeps liquid form at -321 degrees Fahrenheit, nitrogen causes freezing almost on contact; just a few seconds will turn that cream base into your dessert. You'll see smoke flowing over the top of the mixing bowl, but that's totally normal — it's just the nitrogen boiling off at room temperature. If you're worried about nitrogen being safe to ingest, don't worry: You're breathing it right now. (Air is roughly 78 percent nitrogen. Neat, right?) It also won't add any taste to your ice cream.
Sweet Turtle uses the nitro-frozen ice cream to form the base of its milkshakes, which come standard at $3.49 for 16 ounces, or its "nitroshakes": creations that come rimmed with icing or ganache and stacked with toppings such as cookies, cereal, sprinkles or cheesecake bars. "If you just Google 'insane shakes,' that's pretty much what we're trying to bring to the Richmond area," says Woolfolk, who hasn't yet priced them for the Richmond shop. Speaking of cereal, Sweet Turtle also offers an item called "Dragon's Breath," where Fruity Pebbles, Crunch Berries and other boxed and bowl-able brands get frozen with liquid nitrogen, resulting in a crunchy and cold treat that makes kids and adults alike look like they're exhaling clouds of smoke.
Find 6 ounces of ice cream for $3, 8 for $4.25, and 12 for $5.75. Snow cones made from house-shaved ice range from $2.25 for 12 ounces to $5.25 for 32.
Woolfolk works with Newport News daycare centers and schools, holding educational presentations for them when the children visit his ice cream shop. Though the Richmond storefront is smaller, he hopes to arrange such demos for kids here, too, and provide them with additive-free desserts.
"We just try to do everything homemade," he says. "We try to stay away from the preservatives and stay away from the junk; we just want to offer people a healthy alternative to ice cream and frozen treats."
Sweet Turtle is expected to open at 1211 W. Broad St. sometime this month, with tentative business hours of noon to 9 p.m., daily. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram for opening updates and announcements.