Azucar Ice Cream: Cubans Like It Sweet

If you woke up from a blackout in the middle of Azucar Ice Cream Company‘s store, you’d still have little confusion about what Miami street you were on. There’s a huge portrait of Cuban-American salsa singer Celia Cruz on the wall. There are T-shirts for sale with phrases like “Ya tu sabes” across the chest. And the benches are made of guayabera shirts, donated by the menfolk in owner Suzy Batlle’s big Cuban family and covered in stick-to-your skin plastic furniture covers, “just like Grandma’s house,” as Batlle says.

For all the gringo South Beach lubbers who still haven’t figured it out, we’re on Little Havana’s Calle Ocho, in perhaps one of the cutest little ice cream shops any of the Americas has ever seen.

Azucar opened its doors a month and a half ago, making available to the public some of the most Floridian and Cuban flavors imaginable. Avocado, Cuban coffee, mamey, mango, coconut, platano maduros, and dulce de leche are some of the more locally significant flavors.

Batlle also mixes innovative grown-up concoctions including Pinot noir, made with real wine, the requisite rum raisin, and the Bellini sorbet, indeed made with champagne and orange juice.

Customers Bryan Avendano and Clariselle Ocasio, wearing colorful attire that fits right in with Azucar’s rainbow decor, opted for a three-scoop combo of the mamey, Pinot noir, and Sicilian pistachio ice creams.

“It tastes just like wine!” says Clariselle of the Pinot.

“I love the mamey and Pinot, but the pistachio also adds some creamy heavy contrast to the fruitier flavors,” adds Avendano.

Battle may have taken some decorative cues from Grandma, but her ice cream skills weren’t just handed down the family tree. She attended Penn State University’s ice cream short course in the College of Agricultural Sciences, the oldest, best-known, and largest continuing education program centered on the science of ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs, and representatives from just about every other major ice cream brand have taken the intensive seven-day course.

She says she’s quickly gained recognition and loyalty in the neighborhood. “Everyone loves the homemade ice cream. I have people that keep coming back every single day,” she says.

Not surprisingly, one of the main flavor attractions is her Cuban coffee mix.

“I put vanilla ice cream, I throw in four shots of Cuban coffee, and hot fudge. So it’s like acafe con leche on steroids. It’s very popular, and I have it every day at four o’clock. It’s a good pick-me-up,” she says.

For those ADD-afflicted customers who need something to do with their other hand while they nosh on their ice cream cones, Batlle has a chalkboard wall just begging to be scribbled on. She wipes the slate clean the last Friday of the month, just in time for each Viernes Culturales fest.

“It always fills up again right away,” she says. “One person always writes ‘don’t panic’ on the wall but I never see who it is. This time I’m gonna aim my camera right there so I can figure it out.”

Batlle’s shop may have already taken off, but she won’t be happy until she has a 29-foot ice cream cone sticking out of the roof of her shop. Literally. She has an artist putting the finishing touches on an immense five-scoop ice cream cone crafted from Styrofoam, fiber glass, and resin. She’s put the design through hurricane testing and obtained permits from the City, all of which has cost her upwards of $20,000.

“It’s going to be wrapped in a huge neon sign,” she said. “People are gonna say, ‘Meet me at the cone.’ But the dance studio upstairs isn’t all too thrilled with it.”

Guess she’ll have to try to sweet talk those hungry dancers with a scoop of her peanut butter and banana-flavored Elvis ice cream.

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