Wild flavors and a steady culinary hand make Bebe Zito’s ice cream offerings precious

Skittles ice cream from Bebe Zito // Photo by Tony Saunders

Ultra-premium. Ultra-exotic. Ultra-delicious. Those three little phrases sum up Bebe Zito Ice Cream. Ice cream chef Ben Spangler and fiancée / business partner Gabriella Grant have staked their fortunes on making frozen desserts that go above, and beyond, and then several more steps beyond that.

In an ice cream landscape that includes everything from the glitter-bombed showpieces of MN Nice Cream to the elegant formulations of Sweet Science to the deeply flavored, stirringly creative stuff at Milkjam (a shop where Spangler spent a few formative months), it’s imperative that an upcoming shop like Bebe Zito swing for the fences. And that’s precisely what Spangler and Grant are doing. 

The duo visited The Growler’s office and shared a handful of their signature flavors, which were defined by their creativity, depth, and balance. A lovely pecan-and-maple syrup ice cream turned out to be made without any maple syrup whatsoever—the mystery sweetness came from a mushroom known as the candy cap. Purple Cane balances earthy notes of black tea and blackberries with the sweet almond grit of marzipan, building a complex, satisfying, subtle sweetness. And Bebe Zito’s pizza ice cream, made with a light, bright, clean tomato water and topped with dehydrated Hello Pizza pizza crumbles, was shockingly delicate and instantly evocative of eating a well-made slice of margherita.

Bebe Zito is scheduled to open in March 2020, in the former Fox Den space on Lyndale (704 West 22nd Street, Minneapolis).

Gabriella Grant, left, and Ben Spangler laugh as they dish out some of Bebe Zito’s ice cream flavors // Photo by Tony Saunders

The Growler: We’ve never tried anything like your pizza flavor—how do you make it?

Ben Spangler: You puree tomatoes and put it through tons of cloths […] what ends up happening […] you take the tomato water and steep it in basil, oregano, black pepper—I use fromage blanc that we make, and emulsified olive oil into it.

The week before [our Hello Pizza pop-up] we got some of Ann [Kim]’s pizzas and put them into the dehydrator and mashed them up. It was funny—we were giving it to her and she said, ‘what is this?’ And we said: ‘It’s pizza! It’s your pizza! If you don’t like it, it’s your fault.’

This is one of the richest, most compelling chocolate ice creams we’ve ever tried—what’s the story behind it?

Gabriella Grant: We call it Brazilian Chocolate. It’s our chocolate base, which is a really thick blend of chocolates, and we bring in these treats that in Brazil they have at every birthday party, every special day. So basically what it is, it’s a regular chocolate mixed with these truffles, which are a sweetened condensed milk–based, fudgey kind of thing. It’s very chocolate.

BS: Normally I don’t like chocolate, but this one I like. I’ve been on the savory side [of the culinary world] for many years, so I’ve learned a lot about holding my sweetness back and checking my salts […] I treat baking a lot more like cooking. 

I always put vinegar in with my chocolates. I know that in fruit ice cream, I’d use a cream cheese base, because the cream cheese with the casein really highlights the fruit. When people ask what kind of base I use, I say we acclimate to every ingredient we use.

A Bebe Zito ice cream cup // Photo by Tony Saunders

You guys are going to be selling a premium product at premium prices in a market choked with commodity ice cream. How do you compete?

BS: Everybody’s price point [for ice cream] comes from a machine that’s pumping out air, and pumping out like a 1,000 [gallons] a second. And they’re using really poorly made ingredients. Every time someone looks at our $10 pint and sees that $6 half-gallon, we can’t compete with that perception of value. But I can make one scoop have more flavor than a whole gallon.

GG: People don’t understand when you’re buying non-premium ice cream, it’s mostly air. That’s going to be part of our mission, putting in little bits of knowledge. So that people who come in, they’ll know they’re talking to an expert in the product. 

You can tell when you go to a dive bar or a high-end bar, the difference in the service you’re given there. There aren’t that many places where you go to get ice cream and get a craft model of service.

We’re excited to finally open, because we feel like a Ferrari in the slow lane right now.

Pins made by Bebe Zito // Photo by Tony Saunders