From several doors away, the buttery fragrance of fresh-made ice cream cones announces Revival Ice + Cream, a creative new ice creamery in Monterey, California. With minimalist decor of pea green, pinewood and white, and a painting of a giant apron-clad octopus dominating the room, it boldly states: this is no ordinary scoop shop. One look at the menu confirms the maverick mentality of Chef Ron Mendoza.
Twelve rotating daily flavors represent a fraction of the flavors Mendoza dreams up, and the brief one- or two-word titles barely hint at the complexity, imagination and outright surprises revealed in smaller print:
Sourdough: toasted house-made sourdough bread, soaked overnight in custard, combined with apple jam and pomegranate seeds.
Burnt Orange: charred orange slices and toasted whole cloves steeped in custard, finished with buttermilk.
Bees Knees: burnt honey, beeswax, bee pollen and crushed honeycomb candy.
Local Ingredients Used Creatively
After 17 years as a pastry chef in the California fine dining scene, Mendoza hung up his whites to bring the vibrant creativity (which earned him a James Beard Award nomination) to everyday folks. In the kitchens where he used to work, like Napa’s celebrated French Laundry, he depends on local ingredients, both fresh and prepared. He does the same at Revival Ice + Cream.
“The farmers market happens every week outside. Right there,” says Mendoza, pointing to a spot on the pavement opposite the door. “A woman brings the jams she makes, like a block away, in a huge copper kettle. We could make our own, but it’s so great to support the local community.”
I try the flavor labeled mint–of course, there’s so much more to it. Fresh eucalyptus leaves, wild-crafted from Del Monte beach just blocks away, are infused into the milk. The chef blends fresh mint into the base right before churning, and swirls deep chocolate fudge in to finish. “I try to pick the young eucalyptus leaves because they produce a fresher scent and I don’t need too much of it,” Mendoza explains. This is ice cream with serious terroir, and it’s the best chocolate mint I’ve ever tasted. The eucalyptus is expressed with a slight and subtle hand, the mint is garden-fresh and likewise restrained, and the body of the ice cream is light and milky, framing the dense chocolate beautifully.
“We make and pasteurize our own custards here, so we can customize them for each flavor. Right now I’m working on an eggnog flavor for the holidays, so that’s getting extra eggs to be really rich and custardy,” says Mendoza.
He’s also developing flavors for wholesale clients. Osio theater, a block away, buys his custom-crafted popcorn ice cream for resale: buttered popcorn base is swirled with salted caramel sauce.
One flavor especially reflects the Monterey Bay location: Kelp and caramel. The custard is infused with kelp, then caramel and olive oil shortbread crumbs are swirled in. There’s no lingering taste of seaweed–it’s just a locavore take on salted caramel, with a sea salt-umami boost from the kelp.
Vegan options are in the case as well. Pear-celery root sorbet is an unexpected winner, with the heady herbaceousness of the celery root balanced by poached Warren pears. It’s clean, complex and slightly savory. I can imagine it as a palate-cleanser at a lavish multi-course meal. The pina colada relies on house-fermented pineapple contributing a deep, concentrated fruity note, balanced with lime zest and juice in a coconut milk base.
Housemade Cones and Toppings
I’m a purist, content with these elaborate flavors on their own, but Revival offers plenty of ways to gild the lily. The housemade cones are exquisitely light and crispy, and certainly no afterthought: “We tried several recipes for cones and found that this one had a more delicate texture,” explains Mendoza. “Typically the cones are made with standard melted butter but we use brown butter which I think gives a richer flavor.”
Toppings include peanut butter powder, cocoa paper, berry meringues and chocolate ‘soil.’ In the sauce department, chocolate and caramel are joined by kaya (a house-made coconut jam) and whipped coconut milk.
Specialty floats are on the menu. The daily specials when I visited included carrot-ginger soda and ginger-rose-geranium, both served with vanilla ice cream. Yes, Revival offers vanilla and chocolate.
After opening Revival Ice + Cream in November, Mendoza’s excited to continue connecting with local community purveyors as the wheel of the seasons turns in this rich agricultural cornucopia. “I’m really looking forward to doing something with grapefruit. Possibly with tarragon or Campari or muscovado sugar. Endless possibilities….”
I can’t wait.—by Annelise Kelly, RFT Contributor
Revival Ice + Cream
463 Alvarado St.
Monterey CA, 93940
11 am – 9 pm Sunday-Thursday
11 am – 10 pm Friday and Saturday.