Walking down North Williamson Avenue on a humid afternoon, the sight of dogs yapping is accompanied by a neon green, pink and orange ice cream sign that draws eyes and business. The illuminated display signifies love, comfort and most importantly, sugar. Naturally, this brings a smile to anyone longing for a cone from Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream.
The moment the doors open, the smell of warm batter hits the thin cast-iron pan. This creates an almost paper-thin waffle with an effortlessly perfect mallard. The effect of carbohydrates converting to sugar, with heat as its catalyst, creates a browning sensation on each side. The pastry eventually rolls, while still hot, into an unflawed cone. This is the textbook vessel for any scoop of ice cream to balance on.
The storefront turned Alamance County hallmark has patrons lined out the door several nights of the week.
Elon University students marvel at Smitty’s seasonal flavors, one being pumpkin spice latte, a fall scented delight with a kick of spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Peppermint stick, a well-loved mint ice cream dream, packs a punch with a creamy yet refreshing flavor.
As extensive as Smitty’s ice cream list is, the establishment finds a way to keep all of the year-round fan favorites along with the addition of seasonal flavors.
“We love coming up with new inventive flavors, but we can’t just take our original strawberry off of the menu,” Smitty’s founder Amy Nakhle said. “So we have a rotating seasonal flavor that enables us to have freedom of creation while maintaining our original flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cookie dough and Oreo.”
Nakhle also pointed out that if a flavor does well enough as a seasonal option, they add it to the year-round lineup. One of the most popular seasonal flavors was brown sugar oatmeal, which became so popular that it is now on the full-time menu and remains an Elon favorite.
At most other ice cream shops, customers would most likely pick vanilla or chocolate as their favorite flavors. At Smitty’s, customers primarily come for the Oreo flavor. This flavor has a delicious blend of vanilla ice cream with, according to Nakhle, “probably way too much Oreo bits in it.”
Freshman Jane Fishleigh said she is a big fan of the flavor.
“I loved the Oreo ice cream because it didn’t taste artificial,” Fishleigh said. “Usually, when I buy ice cream from the store, it tastes processed and fake. But Smitty’s tastes so authentic.”
What’s the secret?
There’s a secret science to Smitty’s authentic taste — molecular gastronomy.
It all starts with the ice cream custard base, usually made from heavy cream, eggs, sugar, sea salt and milk powder. The milk powder is used as a replacement for milk to create a more thick and creamy texture, which defies conventional recipes that use whole milk.
Milk powder gives the ice cream base a richness that doesn’t go unnoticed. Smitty’s ice cream texture also includes more ice particles dispersed into its base. Because of Smitty’s location, the humidity and dryness would make using whole milk in ice cream very heavy and almost too rich. The use of milk powder provides an icy texture that is refreshing and pleasing to the palate.
“I love Smitty’s because when I eat it, I don’t feel like I need to take a nap after because it is too heavy. I feel refreshed,” freshman Kevin Coelho said.
The refreshing taste is one of the things Nakhle is proud of.
“There is no better feeling than walking into an ice cream shop and getting that nostalgic feeling of excitement then leaving with a smile on your face,” Nakle said. “We have customers that use us as their pit stop while driving from Charlotte to Raleigh because our ice cream is that good. Especially in the North Carolina heat, when you eat it, you can’t help but feel refreshed.”
The community’s love for Smitty’s goes far beyond the sweet ice cream and its secret molecular gastronomy.
According to Smitty’s website, the ice cream shop is “proud to play an active role in building community in our corner of the world, and are grateful for our customers who are the reasons why we do what we do.”
Everyone remembers their local ice cream shop that their parents took them when they were little as a special treat. Smitty’s primary goal is to bring that same feeling back to their customers every time they walk in the door. With friendly customer service and a variety of flavors to bring back the happiest of nostalgic memories, Smitty’s continues to put smiles on students and local’s faces everyday.
“The proof is in the ice cream. You have to just go and try it,” Nekhle said.