I am from Vermont, a state fiercely protective of her few specialties. The consensus in Vermont is that leaves only turn color there in the autumn, ski mountains out west are too tall, and Canadian maple syrup contains pesticides. Likewise, Vermonters believe that any ice cream which doesn’t originate from a certain factory in Waterbury is suspect in some way.
I have put such provincial notions behind me since moving to the Midwest. For after all, who better than Midwesterns would know how to make ice cream? Dairy and cold are two of the area’s leading exports. Like an Amish boy going to Vegas on his rumspringa, I have visited a great many of the Twin Cities’ independant ice cream parlors since leaving Vermont. I like none better than Pumphouse Creamery.
Pumphouse is owned by Barb Zapzalka, a nice homegrown lady with salt and pepper hair and horn rim glasses, whom you’ll likely find behind its counter. She grew up making homemade ice cream with her nine brothers and sisters, which means she made a lot of it, but in spite of having gained such valuable experience Barb initially pursued a career in the base world of computer programming. She came to realize that ice cream is a far higher calling, so she established her parlor in 2003.
Pumphouse is a cozy place, with two old-fashioned glass cases that show everything Barb’s got. She sensed my and my girlfriend’s difficulty committing to only three of her flavors during our visit, and proceeded to hand over so many samples that we could have boarded up a house with the leftover wooden tasting spoons. This was fortunate, as I would not have tried her lemon infused olive oil with sea salt ice cream had I been left to my own devices. I used to think that olive oil is only useful for burning food with at home, but Barb’s ice cream’s deep creaminess has changed my worldview. Vietnamese cinnamon, fresh banana, black raspberry crisp — I was delighted by one sample after the other, and finally had to insist that Barb stop before I ran out of room for a whole bowl.
At Pumphouse, you quickly come to expect that Barb’s ice cream isn’t just good because of her mastery over time-tested methods. She is also cheating by using only the freshest, most local ingredients she can source. Barb’s milk and cream come from Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake, her eggs are organic, and her fruit is seasonal when it’s possible for it to be so. Her sugar might be harvested by Oompa Loompas for all I can tell. And do you remember how I just used the word “cozy” as a euphemism for small? Barb explained to me how that actually works in an ice cream parlor’s favor: With so little space to store her goods, everything she serves must of necessity be super fresh.
“It’s not difficult for me to come up with new flavors
— it’s spontaneous creativity”
“I’m very open to new ideas,” said Barb. “It’s not difficult for me to come up with new flavors — it’s spontaneous creativity. I even love going grocery shopping, when I’ll see a new ingredient and think to myself ‘Now that might be good in an ice cream.’ I’d like to switch up my flavors more than I do, but whenever I take one away someone comes in disappointed that I don’t have their favorite!”
We finally settled on strawberry, pumpkin, and praline pecan ice creams, eating each carefully so as not to comingle them in the bowl. The pumpkin ice cream itself gave me an uncanny flashback to my childhood. I remembered eating a cone of sweet potato pie ice cream, now discontinued by the two business hippies who used to make it, while riding back home from town in the front seat of my dad’s Grand Prix. Somehow Barb has locked onto a flavor that I hadn’t tasted in over 25 years.
A pint of that nostalgia is now sitting in my freezer, next to some gluten free waffles that my poor girlfriend tortures herself with. I’d have said that Pumphouse Creamery is worth the trip, but since it’s in the Nokomis neighborhood it’s hardly a trip at all. You can visit at 4754 Chicago Ave S, or learn more at pumphouse-creamery.com.