Brooklyn to Houston connection

Brooklyn-based ice cream shop’s new location boasts Houston star chef collaboration

NYC ice cream shop’s new location boasts Houston star chef collab

Van Leeuwen ice cream scoop
Van Leeuwen's new location opens August 7. Courtesy of Van Leeuwen
Van Leeuwen ice cream Caracol crepas con cajeta dessert
Try the horchata ice cream at Caracol until August 7. Courtesy of Van Leeuwen
Van Leeuwen ice cream scoop
Van Leeuwen ice cream Caracol crepas con cajeta dessert

To celebrate the opening of their second Houston location in Uptown Park, Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has partnered with one of the city’s James Beard Award-winning chefs to create a special, limited-edition flavor. It might not go viral like the company’s Kraft Macaroni & Cheese flavor did recently (more on that below), but Houstonians should find it pretty pleasing.

For those who missed Van Leeuwen’s first Houston location opening in May, the company makes ice cream with rigorously sourced, high-quality ingredients from around the world. Regulations require its packaging to be labeled “French ice cream,” because it uses too much egg yolk to be “regular” ice cream. Van Leeuwen also offers an extensive lineup of vegan flavors.

When the Uptown Park store opens in August, customers will be able to try a special horchata flavor created in collaboration with chef Hugo Ortega. While the chef’s new street food restaurant Urbe will be Van Leeuwen’s neighbor in Uptown Park, Van Leeuwen co-founder and CEO Ben Van Leeuwen explains other factors influenced the decision, too.

“A big part of it was partnering with someone who makes really, really good food,” Van Leeuwen tells CultureMap. “Every one of his restaurants I’ve been to is awesome, and the desserts are also awesome. Sometimes I go to very good restaurants, and the desserts aren’t as good as the savory. Every one of his places the desserts hit that mark.”

To create the flavor, Van Leeuwen modified one of its existing ice cream bases by replacing a portion of the milk solids with toasted rice flour. Working with an independent spice purveyor in New York, it sourced cassia cinnamon from Vietnam. A dulce de leche swirl gives the horchata a proper caramel sweetness.

“It has been wonderful to work with Van Leeuwen as they open stores in Houston, and I am honored that they asked me to work with them on a signature flavor,” chef Ortega said through a representative. “My brother, pastry chef Ruben Ortega, and I thought horchata would be a good choice because it is something we both love, is a very distinctive taste of Mexico and translates well to a frozen dessert.  We look forward to being neighbors with the Van Leeuwen store in Uptown Park!”

Until the Van Leeuwen store opens, diners can get a first taste of the horchata ice cream at Caracol, Ortega’s Galleria-area seafood restaurant, where the flavor is paired with dulce de leche crepes.

As for the Rice Village location that opened in May, Van Leeuwen says it is performing beyond the company’s expectations. “I can genuinely say I couldn’t imagine being happier. Not just from the sales, but also the continued excitement of the customers,” he says.

The company will open a third location in the Montrose Collective mixed-use development near the corner of Westheimer and Montrose in September. It will also feature a collaboration flavor, but the company hasn’t settled on a partner to create it.

The CEO acknowledges Van Leeuwen will “probably” make more mac and cheese ice cream. He shares that he was surprised to discover Kraft’s mac and cheese powder met all of the company’s standards for ingredients and didn’t contain any artificial components.

“What surprised me is [the mac and cheese ice cream is] very eatable,” Van Leeuwen. “For me, I want to eat it. When I take a bite, I can’t stop in the same way our pistachio or Earl Gray is.”