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Which brings us to Mexicans, clear contenders for the world cup of ice cream. Indeed, judging by the implicit history of La Michoacana (636 Belvedere Rd., West Palm Beach, 561-514-3030, open daily from 9 a.m. till 10 p.m.), a Mexican ice cream parlor, they may be even more fanatical than Italians and Argentines combined. The chain of La Michoacana ice cream parlors can be traced back to Tocumbo, a formerly nondescript village in central Mexico. Tocumbians developed paletas, fruit Popsicles, and sold them, along with ice cream, at paleterias. Two Tocumbians, Ignacio Alcazar and Augustin Andrade, introduced paletas to Mexico City in the 1940s. Their businesses became so lucrative that they were able to assist other Tocumbians in setting up similar shops. Today, all the stores are independently owned and operated, but conservative estimates place La Michoacanas at about 15,000, and Tocumbo is a town wealthy enough to make citizens of Mexico City dream of owning a country house there. You can taste why the formula is so addictive at the West Palm Beach outlet, where fruit pops made from the pure juice of mangoes or strawberries are incredibly refreshing. For chunkier sweets, the ice creams, or paletas de crema, have swirls of fresh fruit in them.
Willie's Tropical Ice Cream (7748 W. Commercial Blvd., Lauderhill, 954-746-9555, open daily from 11 a.m. till 11 p.m.), which moved to its current location from Fort Lauderdale last year, is a similar success story. Trinidadian Willie Balgobin started his ice cream business in 1986 with a hand cart and two employees, churning sun-ripened soursops and mangoes into ice cream that became an instant hit. Today, Willie's Ice Cream has about 30 stores, and the Jamaican grape and raisin, Caribbean coffee, guava dream, and peanut soy flavors remain as authentically Trinidadian as a hammock swinging between two palm trees.
But not all ethnic ice cream parlors are alluring for the frozen goods alone. Along with tropically oriented flavors worthy of Aventura restaurant Chef Allen's proprietor, Allen Susser, who cranks out a mean jackfruit ice cream, Willie's rolls a rich, savory roti. Carol's Ice Cream (615 71st St., Miami Beach, 305-865-3166, open daily from 7:30 a.m. till 11 p.m., Saturday till 11:30 p.m.) in Miami Beach offers some incredibly enticing dulce de leche and key lime pie ice creams, neither of which lie too lightly on the hips, but the café also presses Cuban sandwiches and bakes a bubbly cheese bread that is ideal for dunking in a cortadito.
The easiest place to be gastronomically distracted, however, is at downtown Miami's Bali Café (111 N.E. Second Ave., Miami, 305-358-5751, lunch daily from 11 a.m. till 4 p.m.). I went in purely for the durian or avocado ice creams, both of which the restaurant had run out of, and wound up staying for some Indonesian curried chicken and a shredded beef-cucumber sandwich. I left with a cup of lurid, purple yam ice cream that boasted more tuber texture than flavor. Which is probably why when I return, it'll be for a long, slow rijstafel feast so heady and filling that appetite-wise, purple potato ice cream won't even be an option.