One of our favorite things about writing this blog is the fact that it is a bidirectional experience. We love it when our loyal blog fans tell us that we helped them find their new favorite go-to spot or weekend foodie adventure. But what we love even more is when our loyal blog fans tell us about their favorite new foodie discovery. When we first started, we found most of our restaurants using Yelp and Urbanspoon (when it existed-RIP, my favorite app). But now, we spend most of our time following up on tips sent to us by our readers. Sometimes, we even get to meet our readers in person.
Several weeks ago, we told you that we met blog fans Nancy and Deane at Red Bowl, and they tipped us off about Brito’s tamales. While at Brito’s, we discovered the best Mexican fruit popsicles you could imagine, and posted this picture:
So of course Nancy and Deane went back to Brito’s and tried the popsicles. But Nancy took it a step further. When we saw the popsicle wrapper, we noticed that it contained an address just down the street on Valley Avenue. We made the assumption that these popsicles came from a popsicle factory of some sort, and didn’t give it any more thought. But not Nancy. No, Nancy took it upon herself to locate the popsicles’ birthplace. And last week, we received an email with a few pictures and a description that we knew meant we had to do daily Crossfit workouts in preparation for what was to come. But nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared us for what we would find: one of our favorite and proudest foodie discoveries to date.
This place is hard to find, so let me help you. I’ll tell you what Nancy told me: if you are at the corner of Greensprings and Valley, head away from Great Wall and towards Red Pearl-two landmarks that every foodie will know. About a quarter of a mile down the road, you will see a large Herzing University building on the right. There’s a strip mall to the left with a Western wear store and this place (does anyone know what this is? I would really like to know):
(According to the popsicle wrappers, the official address is 277 W Valley Avenue.)
Here are the hours:
What we saw was a small, dimly lit narrow space that extended farther back than we could see. A case of commercially available frozen treats was on the right as we walked in. There were a handful of tables. A woman stood about 10 feet in front and to the left of us behind a large glass ice cream case. She smiled.
As we walked towards her, we saw this taped to the wall:
“Where do you get the ice cream?” I asked. She gestured to the back. “You make it all here?” I asked incredulously. Yup. Mr Foodie and I looked at each other. We have been saying for years that what Birmingham needs is an honest to goodness homemade ice cream shop. “How long have you been open?” I asked, figuring they must be new. “Three years,” she replied. My little foodie heart started racing.
I asked about the paletas, or Mexican popsicles. Those are also made on site. But where were they?
Our new friend gestured to a side room. She turned the light on for us:
She opened the freezers for us:
Twenty-five different flavors of paletas, arranged in a beautiful rainbow in each cooler. Did I mention they are only $1.25 plus tax?
This was a lot to take in.
We paused and discussed strategy. Since we had both eaten several of their paletas at Brito’s, we agreed that we would go for the ice cream. How to pick a flavor? We decided to get three scoops and after a flurry of debate, ended up with the combination of guava on the bottom, walnut in the middle, and piña colada on top. Here’s what it looked like:
Note the piña colada had chunks of fresh pineapple and marischino cherries in it. The ice cream itself tasted like a creamy, frozen pina colada. Absolutely wonderful. We noticed right away that the texture of the ice cream was a little different than store bought. I know from making homemade ice cream myself that the reason store bought ice cream is so scoopable and has such a firm consistency is the preservatives manufacturers use. This had the texture of homemade ice cream-still smooth and creamy, but slightly more icy and flaky-in a good way. We also noticed it tasted lighter and less sticky-sweet than your typical store-bought ice cream-a very good thing-more about that in a minute.
As we ate through the top layer, we made it to the walnut. I absolutely love nuts of any kind, and I can’t say I’ve ever had walnut ice cream before. Chock full of walnuts, with a slightly sweet creamy ice cream base, this was incredible. Sorry for the nature of this picture-it’s a half eaten cup of ice cream. You’ll survive.
Also, we had to have a paleta. This time, we went for mango. Fairly dense, packed with puréed mango. Beautiful and outstanding.
As we finished our ice cream and stood up to leave, a man with a grin a mile wide appeared from the back. His name is Eloy. He told us he makes all the ice cream and paletas, and wanted to know how we liked it. He explained that the ice cream is a specific Mexican style that uses only milk, a limited amount of sugar, and real fruit or other ingredients like nuts. Because it has less sugar, and doesn’t have eggs, it’s lighter than most American ice creams. We noticed that even after all that ice cream we didn’t feel bloated or over-full; this was a relatively light dessert – I wouldn’t go as far as to say healthy, but definitely healthier than your average ice cream. And way more delicious.
We didn’t feel right posting about this place after having only tried three flavors of ice cream. No….. That wouldn’t be up to the standards of our blog. So we returned twice, with a total of 6 friends between the two visits. We even enlisted the help of some experts: a friend from LA, and her parents who are originally from Mexico, to help us put the place into culinary perspective.
On these next two visits, Eloy kept us company as we experienced his ice cream and paletas. We had so many questions, and he patiently answered them all. Our fascination with his food, but even moreso with his story, made his grin go even wider, if that’s possible.
With every flavor, there was a common theme: light, sweet but not too sweet, and absolutely outstanding.
I loved all the flavors, but I have to say, the fruit flavors were particularly amazing. Eloy told us that he uses fresh fruit, never frozen, that he gets at local farmers markets and shops. Here are three of our favorites. Peach: the ice cream batter tastes like milky peaches, and contains chunks of the fresh fruit. Coconut: creamy coconutty flavor with plenty of coconut shavings throughout. Mango: tasted just like the mango paleta-dense with mangos.
Here’s a pretty shot of strawberry atop mango. Again, the strawberry was not overly sweet, but tasted of delicious fresh creamy fruit.
Here’s an example of a more exotic flavor: mame, from southern Mexico, kind of like a mild mango. Outstanding.
And here’s an example of a not so exotic flavor: cookies and cream, pictured here next to another coconut (we could not get enough coconut). I felt silly ordering such an ordinary flavor in the face of all of these unusual options. Everyone assured me they wouldn’t judge. This was the best cookies and cream I’ve ever had in my life. It was light and fluffy, almost aerated, with cookie dust on top. Incredible.
A few more paletas for your viewing pleasure: that mango again, shown with lemon-lime (very tarte and lime-y) and a red popsicle (sorry, I forget the name) that contained chili powder, lemon, cucumber, watermelon, and salt. “Tasted like a Bloody Mary!” my friend exclaimed. We all agreed:
While we are on the topic of paletas, I have to include this:
And finally, a cone. The waffle cone with coconut shavings was irresistible, but let’s face it, we also knew it would make for an amazing photo that captures why we love this place so much. Here goes:
As you can see, we chose pistachio, which was atop burnt sugar. Pistachio is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and this one did not disappoint. My favorite pistachio ice cream in town. The burnt sugar tastes slightly of cinnamon, and is sweet and creamy. A perfect combination. Loved the coconut shavings on the cone.
As much fun as it was to sample all of these flavors, the best part about this whole experience was getting to know Eloy and his story. Eloy is from southern Mexico. When he first moved to the U.S., he lived in Chicago and worked in a popsicle factory. He carefully watched the ladies who made the popsicles. Eventually, he moved to Florida and decided to open his own business. At first, he was selling commercially made ice cream novelties. But eventually, he decided to make his own. It was a process of trial and error – the first batch he ever made was awful. “Too much sugar, not enough milk,” he laughs, remembering. But Eloy does not seem the type to be discouraged-just the opposite. He kept at it until he had a product he could sell, and to this day, is always making adjustments and improvements. He opened his first paleteria in Nashville, which he handed over to his son when he moved here. The ice creams and paletas he makes are modeled after those he experienced in Mexico. My friend and her parents agreed-this place is authentic. Eloy sells his popsicles throughout Alabama, and sells them in bulk out of his store. (Planning an event soon? Just a suggestion….)
We asked him about the name of his place – Lichita. “Lichita is my daughter,” he said, his grin again growing wider. We looked at the wrapper of our paleta, proudly displaying her name along with a hand-drawn little girl eating a popsicle. “She’s 18 now.”
So Birminghmsters, foodies of Birmingham, Lichita’s is the ice cream shop we have all been searching for. Homemade ice cream and popsicles, lower in sugar and fat than the American store-bought variety, using fresh, local farmer’s market fruit. The perfect end to any summer evening. Go for the dessert, but stay to talk to Eloy. Food and entertainment, all rolled into one.
Special thanks to my friend Emely, her parents Carlos and Veronica, Stephen, Sara, and Lyndt, for helping us eat all that ice cream. It was a terrible sacrifice, we know, but you were completely selfless as you inhaled that giant scoop of [insert flavor here].