If Steve Jobs were alive today, he would have stopped here for the name and kept coming back for the goodies. iSweets Cafe in Plantation is a bright and tidy hidden gem run by three Vietnamese sisters with a knack for making melt-in-your-mouth treats.
Susie, Darlene, and Helen Truong bake and design a wide selection of sweet treats. They have some popular classics always on hand, like strawberry shortcake, French apple tart, and eclairs. There’s always a chocolate cake of some kind and homemade macaroons with flavors like Rice Crispy, Earl Grey chocolate, and rose water.
Most pastries are French-inspired, but they also offer American favorites like cupcakes, banana bread, and oatmeal raisin cookies. “Um, those are so good,” Susie and Darlene croon in unison. “We have one regular that only comes in for those," Darlene adds, referring to the oatmeal raisin.
“We are going for a place that has a little bit of everything, in terms of desserts. Everything is made in-house. We’re not like a traditional bakery but rather have a small sampling of pastries,” Susie explains.
Another big seller is the Snow Ice, an enticing Taiwanese dessert of flavored shaved ice popular in California and trending throughout other big cities like NYC but practically unheard of in South Florida. The blocks of flavored ice are held in a retro-looking turquoise machine that looks like the vintage juicer's badass older cousin. As the motor begins to run, spirals of ethereal shaved ice fall into the cup below.
“My sister Susie concocted a lot of the flavors of the shaved ice. We wanted to take a product and give it more of a fresh ingredient. Vanilla has real vanilla beans in it, the coffee has shots of our organic espresso in it, the mango has real mango pulp.”
The fun part comes after the layers of ice land in the cup: toppings. Guests can opt to order one of the signature iCreations or customize. Choices range from Fruity Pebbles and Brownie Bites to more healthful choices like fresh blueberries and pineapple. Finish it off with a drizzle of butterscotch or chocolate or — for a traditional Taiwanese choice — condensed milk.
Their iCreations include Candy Crush (Vanilla Snow, dummies, M&Ms, rainbow sprinkles with chocolate drizzle), a kid favorite, while the Tropical Paradise (Mango Snow, strawberries, pineapple, coconut with condensed milk drizzle) is a top pick for adults.
Minimalists can enjoy the pure flavors of the snow ice. Lychee Snow uses the floral fruit that hails from China to best showcase that point.
Coffee is another big draw. iSweets Café uses organic coffee from Sarasota, Florida. “We try to support local businesses,” says Darlene. One of the specialties is Vietnamese Coffee, usually served cold, with a specific condensed milk that gives it a rich, buttery flavor. Darlene defers to Susie, who is their coffee expert. “The key to Vietnamese coffee is that it is slow-dripped.”
“Condensed milk makes everything taste better,” adds Darlene.
To satisfy the needs of customers that want to hang out for several hours and not just eat sweets, the sisters began offering soups on weekdays, making a different one each day using homemade chicken stock as the base. Some favorites have included roasted eggplant, split edamame, and roasted beet with ginger.
You can order cakes here as well. To accommodate a wider range of palates, the sisters offer fresh whipped cream or buttercream icing. “I don’t like things too sweet, so I’ll go for a cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream, but my sister,” Darlene says, referring to Susie, who has left us and gone back to tidying up, “she loves sweets, so she’ll go for the buttercream every time!” Susie smiles without looking up from her task.
Flavors include cookies and cream, caramel pecan, chocolate mousse, and their best-selling strawberry shortcake — they use fresh strawberries in their buttercream.
Although they do not have formal training as bakers, the three sisters know what they're doing. Their uncle and aunt owned a successful bakery in Coral Springs for 25 years, where they frequently helped out as teens.
“We studied under our uncle. He taught us a lot,” Susie says, taking a quick break from cleaning to sit with Darlene and me. “They retired and helped us open up this place a year and a half ago. They come in every now and then to check on us,” she adds with playful grin.
Although the sisters had help developing their successful family business, life hasn't always been easy for the Truongs. “We came here after the fall of Saigon, when we were very young,” Darlene, the middle sister, tells me.
The girls spent a year and a half in a refugee camp with their parents in Thailand before moving to Plantation under the sponsorship of a church in South Florida. “That’s why we have English names,” Darlene explains. “The pastor and his wife wanted us to assimilate, so they gave my mom some choices of names to pick from. As you can tell, our names are very old-fashioned.”
Her younger sister, Susie, is busy cleaning tables while Helen, the oldest, works diligently behind the scenes on a pending cake order. Darlene adds, “I always hated it because in school there was a Stephanie, or a Heather, or a Jennifer, and then here I was: Darlene. Now I like it.”
She grins, adjusts her ponytail, and turns to her sister Susie, who is meticulously tucking away chairs left astray by recent customers. They share a phrase or two in Cantonese and giggle. Helen briefly pokes her head out from the kitchen to see what she has missed. The three exchange a few more comments in their native tongue and share a chuckle. It is clear the sisters, who are very close in age, are good friends.
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Helen is now behind the store counter attending to the growing line of customers. “Have you ever seen the movie Eat Drink Man Woman?” Susie asks, referring to the '90s comedy about a widowed chef and his three daughters. “That’s us. That’s how we grew up. All our family moments revolved around food. There is a lot of bonding over food.”
“Yeah, we like to eat,” Susie continues. “We try everything. If we try something we like, we always are seeing how to incorporate those new flavors into the café.”
iSweets Café. 7031 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation; 954-530-1909; isweetscafe.com.
Alona Abbady Martinez lives in Plantation. She writes about food and family on her blog, Culinary Compulsion, and is currently working on her book, My Culinary Compulsion, a global food memoir with recipes. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.