Back in May, I wrote a feature about independent ice cream shops in DFW (rough assignment, I know). As tends to happen, people pointed out a few things that we missed, including Mad Mike’s Ice Cream, a Pantego shop that opened in May, right around the time the story was approaching its deadline.
So a visit was due — overdue, really — and I dropped in recently, to find that not only is Mike Stephens not mad in any sense of the word, he is actually a very nice guy, who runs the shop along with his also-nice wife, Carol.
They do rich, creamy flavors in a modest location in a Pantego srip mall off of Park Row — the shop faces west, and if you’re westbound on Park Row, it’s pretty easy to drive by it on first attempt. It’s a little more noticeable if you’re eastbound, thanks to the large neon ice cream cone in the front window.
On separate visits, I’ve had the Mighty Malt — a malt ice cream with malted milk balls mixed in — and the Nutty Cherry, a chocolate-cherry ice cream with peanut butter. Both had good flavor and velvety texture, and if they’re any evidence, they’re worth the trip to Pantego even if you don’t live nearby. The Stephenses’ friendliness is a bonus. I recently talked with Mike (who also runs a small business manufacturing paperboard cartons) about the store.
The scoop: The Stephenses have run concessions at Arlington’s Levitt Pavilion (which will launch its fall season Aug. 29 with the traditional opening show by Brave Combo) for six years. About three years ago, Mike Stephens decided to start selling ice cream there. “It turned out to be very well accepted,” he says. “It started blossoming from there, and we started thinking about doing a retail store.”
They found a spot — not too far from UT-Arlington, and located there.
Sweet inspiration: “I enjoy ice cream a lot,” Stephens says. “I guess the entrepreneur spirit in me came out when I was a lot younger. I was in the food-service industry, but I didn’t really like the cooking part of it [laughs]. So I wanted to make something that wasn’t what everybody else makes. I wanted something that was special, that tasted good, that people enjoyed.”
Stephens says he also likes the one-on-one with customers. “You make friends out of ’em,” he says. “Usually ice cream is very casual. You’re not in a big hurry unless you just want to grab it and go. A lot of time, there’s time to visit, to get to know one another.”
The rocky road to perfection: Stephens researched ice cream on the Internet, and talked with Steve Thompson, the president of Emery Thompson, which manufactures the ice-cream making equipment that Stephens uses in his store. The Emery Thompson website also has some recipe suggestions.
“I sort of picked up some of that, and then worked out the recipes to what I liked, and to what I hoped people would like,” Stephens says. “It went from there, and I’m working on different recipes as we speak.” Because the equipment is small, Stephens can experiment until he gets the proper balance of ingredients in a batch.
Favor faves: Lemon crunch, coconut and strawberry (which includes pieces of the fruit)
Most offbeat flavor: Nutty Cherry — “It has maraschino cherries, peanut butter and Ghirardelli chocolate.”