Summer is the season for stone fruit, corn on the cob and frozen dairy desserts. Miharu Ice Cream’s grand opening at the end of June has arrived just in time. The owners, Jessica Mertens and Dipen Pattni, met while working at Tin Pot Creamery. It was a match made in an ice cream heaven. In a telephone interview, Pattni said that when they met he was working with customers at the front of the house while Mertens was on the production side helping to create flavors.
When Pattni later transferred to her department, Mertens brought him up to speed on how to run an efficient kitchen. “When we had free time, we’d find random ingredients to see how they’d work in an ice cream base,” he said. The first flavor they came up with was a rose ice cream with black tahini. “It came out pretty good,” Pattni said. But Tin Pot wasn’t ready to move forward with it. After the two left the company, they felt liberated and started to invent a number of bold flavor combinations.
Of all the striking ice cream colors that catch the eye at Miharu’s ice cream counter, Shrikhand looks utterly original—and it’s vegan. Based on an Indian dessert, it’s flavored with saffron and cardamom. Almonds and pistachios add a crunchy element. “Typically, it’s made with yogurt,” Pattni said. “I wanted to make this one non-dairy because I know there’s a lot of people from the South Asian community who’ve stopped eating eggs or have allergies to dairy.”
He and Mertens substituted coconut milk for yogurt and then made sure it tasted like Pattni’s mother’s recipe. It took 34 tries before they got it right. “It tastes just like I had it at home—but in an ice cream,” he said. Shrikhand desserts are eaten during celebrations such as birthdays and during the Diwali season.
Mertens and Pattni started Miharu as a pop-up in a cloud—or “ghost”—kitchen. The business slowly caught on through reviews on social media apps. “Our ice cream machine was tiny,” Pattni said. They were limited to approximately 10 flavors. At the new shop, they can make up to 17 flavors to fill up the display case. “It gives us a lot more room to experiment with more non-dairy and vegan options,” he added.
A customer favorite is the one that stalled at Tin Pot, the rose ice cream with a black sesame brittle. “We make it in February for Valentine’s Day,” Pattni said. “You get a nice, full rose flavor—but it’s not too powerful.” The toasted nutty crunch from the brittle also works to tone the rose flavor down.
Floral flavors can become soapy, but Miharu takes a temperate approach when incorporating them. “In dairy ice cream, we have a philosophy with florals: the flavor should come after the ice cream starts melting on your tongue,” Pattni said. “The creaminess of the milk should be the first flavor, and the floral after it.”
Hop Along Honey is another flavor that represents the couple’s willingness to pair unlikely food products. It was inspired by a white pizza pie made with fresh mozzarella, pecorino and honey. “That combination of sweet and salty is so nice,” Pattni said. He wondered if putting cheese in ice cream with honey would work. “I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of different cheeses,” he said.
Pattni baked them until they turned into something similar to a parmesan crisp. After they mixed the cheese crisps into a honey ice cream, he and Mertens thought the combination worked. They reached out to Cowgirl Creamery, who recommended their Hop Along, a semi-firm cheddar-style cheese that crisped up nicely. “We knew some people would like it and some people wouldn’t, but we wanted to take the risk,” he said.
Miharu does include traditional flavors like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and cookies and cream—which I ordered and ate until every last drop that had melted and dripped down to the bottom of my sugar cone was gone. But Pattni said it’s fun to include “the weirder flavors” that people might not always gravitate toward, even if customers try them as samples rather than as scoops or in sundaes.
Miharu Ice Cream, 1951 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Open Mon–Thu noon to 9pm, Fri–Sun noon to 10pm. 510.922.8385. miharuicecream.com