Blank Slate Creamery
Summer from an earlier era
by Sally Mitani
From the August, 2014 issue
Millennial-generation readers will recall the old house at the corner of W. Liberty and First as the backdrop for a fiery car crash in the 2009 movie Youth in Revolt. To many baby boomers, however, it remains best known as Applerose. Julian Moody's natural food grocery replaced what had been a derelict gas station in 1973, in the advance guard of a new generation of businesses that included the Fleetwood Diner, the Blind Pig, and a revived Hertler Bros. Though Moody left in 1980, Applerose anchored the western edge of downtown until 1994.
It's hard to pin a decade on the new Blank Slate Creamery. Owner Janice Sigler's commitment to artisanal processes and ingredient provenance and purity is contemporary: she makes her ice cream from Northville's hormone-free Guernsey Farms milk and other local ingredients. The simple two-toned graphic logo, chalkboard menu, and sparkling chrome fixtures point back to an earlier era--Fifties malt shop, maybe? Depression-era drugstore? Or are we going back a whole 100 years to a turn-of-the-century small-town ice cream parlor and soda fountain where everything would have been made on site?
Not only are Sigler's twenty-some flavors of ice cream and sorbet made in-house, so are the fruit and fudge toppings, the waffle cones, the cookies, and the brownies. "Well," says Sigler modestly of her efforts, "a hundred years ago, they didn't have the machines I have."
A day before opening Sigler was coaxing a batch of freshly churned butter pecan ice cream into a five-gallon bucket. At that stage it looked like soft serve and was headed for the deep freeze. "I use brown sugar in the butter pecan," she says, for "a little bit of a burnt molasses taste." For weeks she had been working around the clock to make all the ice cream for her July 6 opening. "We use eggs for an emulsifier, instead of carrageenan or guar gum," but the eggs mean each batch must go through an exacting, time-consuming pasteurization
Sigler, forty-four, used to be VP for innovation and technology at the U-M Alumni Association, but she's always loved ice cream. Growing up in Dexter, "my parents used to take us to Disney World to an ice cream shop called Beaches & Cream. My brother and I always wanted an ice cream store just like it." That brother, Chris Munson, now a carpenter, did the build-out: "He just realized the other day he hasn't even tasted the ice cream yet, but he has free ice cream for life." Her father, an electrician, wired the light fixtures made from her mother's collection of antique Mason jars. Her son Nate Nuttle, nineteen, is chief of staff, and her husband Jerry Sigler is around a lot, though he's not giving up his day job as VP and CFO of the alumni association. "Needless to say, he's my accountant."
Janice Sigler's childhood friend Tanya Leonello, now a graphic designer and biomedical illustrator, came up with that black, white, and chalk-pink logo. Sigler used chalkboard laminate and chalkboard paint on a lot of the surfaces, and cups of colored chalk lie about, encouraging doodling and autographs. "I wanted it to be a place where people would hang out, not just grab a cone and go," she says, so she also has a lot of old-fashioned children's games like Hangman started on a pile of slates in the window, hoping to introduce kids to the kind of rainy-day entertainment available before cell phones and handheld video games took over.
Opening day was well chosen: Sunday, July 6, was one of this summer's rare warm, cloudless days, and for most of it the line snaked out the parking lot. She sold out of several flavors: wolverine tracks, chocolate peanut butter, bananas foster, chocolate-covered pretzel, and salty caramel coffee. Even the rather daring malted chocolate stout, which even Sigler describes as something that "grows on you," had a substantial dent in it.
In the fall, when the ice cream season winds down, she'll start making ice cream cakes for tailgate parties. "I've thought about soups--I'm not sure yet. Maybe cobblers--a warm cobbler with a scoop of ice cream on it?
"We're trying not to outprice ourselves," she adds, keeping everything in the $4-$7 range. Seven dollars buys a large sundae: fifteen ounces of ice cream, three ladles of topping, whipped cream, and a cherry--not to sound like the food police, but probably more than one person should be eating.
Blank Slate Creamery, 300 W. Liberty, 218-3242. Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. blankslatecreamery.com
[Originally published in August, 2014.]