For several years in the tech industry, “disruption” has been the watchword for investors looking for the next big thing. What facet of consumer technology can be disrupted, or re-engineered, to change the way people think about the service. In food, too, a new take on a classic occasionally appears, and then takes off like wildfire across the industry. A new ice cream spot in Middletown has the potential to do such a thing, as Americans discover Thai rolled ice cream.
At 0 Degree in Middletown, owner Ivan Lin brings a style of ice cream to the discerning palates of Middletown’s Main Street straight from Thailand via New York City. With Thai ice cream, customers can watch the transition from fresh cream to ice cream happen before their eyes. In a process somewhat reminiscent of the Cold Stone Creamery chain’s creation of ice cream treats on a frozen granite stone, Lin or an employee pours a cup of fresh cream over a cold slab of metal which is kept at about 15 degrees, along with whatever is to be mixed into the ice cream (Oreo cookies, in my case). It’s a bit like watching someone scramble eggs on a skillet, but with a lot more anticipation and excitement.
312 Main St., Middletown
Hours: Daily noon-10 p.m.
As the cream freezes, Lin molds and spreads it into a square of fresh ice cream on the cold metal. Using his two spatulas, Lin then scrapes the ice cream off the metal in five thin strips, and the ice cream curls into a spiral in the process. Once the rolls are packed into a cup, customers can then choose from a variety of toppings. Some of the toppings are ice cream shop staples, such as Oreos, chocolate chips, and various fruits. Other options include outside-the-box ideas such as Teddy Grahams, Fruity Pebbles cereal and Nutter Butter cookies. I opted for Nilla Wafers, which Lin arrayed in a presentation which — after the addition of a dollop of whipped cream and some caramel sauce — resembled a bouquet or a floral arrangement. The result was wonderful. Rich, creamy ice cream, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, made for an immensely satisfying experience.
Lin says he first encountered this method of making ice cream on a 2014 vacation in Thailand with some friends. On the sidewalks of Bangkok, street-food culture is king. Vendors hoping to attract customers from the throngs of people on the sidewalks must dazzle, with food that is delicious and looks as good as it tastes. Presentation and novelty is important. Lin, a native of China who moved to New York City as a child, says that when he saw this method of making ice cream, he paid some vendors to teach him.
“We came back to the United States, and we talked to each other, my friends. We think we need to change it a little bit, because coconut milk, maybe Americans won’t like it a lot,” Lin says. He instead decided to use fresh cream in his own version of Thai ice cream, thinking it better suited to American palates. Lin would know, as he is not just any old ice cream maker. For 12 years, he worked in a Häagen-Dazs shop in Flushing, Queens. “I made every banana flavor every day,” he says.
Lin says the big seller at 0 Degree, which has been open since December, is the Cookie Monster, made with Oreos. Other intriguing flavor combinations include Monkey Business, with Nutella and bananas, and Matcha Made in Heaven, with green tea and blueberries. All the flavors, with whatever toppings you want, are $7, tax included. 0 Degree also offers a selection of bubble teas ($3.50-$5), fruit teas ($3.50-$4.25) and smoothies ($3.50-$5).
Lin says he expects to open two more locations this summer in New Haven and West Hartford, so people all over Connecticut can get a taste. Check out our website for a video of Lin making the ice cream.