On the Menu: Pacific Beach’s cool new spot to chill — Stella Jean’s Ice Cream on Garnet
Attention ice cream fanatics! Don’t wait for a sweltering summer day to check out Stella Jean’s Ice Cream scoop shops sprinkled throughout San Diego County and beyond.
The quaint, white picket-fenced storefront at 829 Garnet Ave. is just a Frisbee toss from the famed boardwalk is the new kid in Pacific Beach that opened its doors in February.
The kitschy black and white Lauren Asta mural on the patio wall depicting kids having a blast eating ice cream pulls you inside to a crisp, clean, bright, light, minimalist and modern shop. The polished white counters and parlor chairs are warm and welcoming, but it’s the eye-popping colors behind the glass display case that make your jaw drop and enzymes crank up, while the aromas of freshly baked, buttery pies both sweet and savory from the adjacent sister business, Pop Pie Co., trickle in.
The two distinct brands nicely complement each other in terms of flavors and seasonality, and transform the humble pie a la mode into a high-brow dessert that completed an elite French finishing school.
Co-founders, life partners and self-proclaimed “ice cream junkies,” Steven Torres, a former small business banker, and Gan Suebsarakham, a trained pastry chef who started experimenting at home with flavor profiles influenced by his Indochinese roots, launched their flagship Pop Pie Co. store in University Heights in 2016, then tag teamed with Stella Jean’s two years later when the adjacent space became available.
Locations in Costa Mesa, Point Loma, and most recently Kensington and Pacific Beach have been added to the collection with South Park and Carlsbad coming down the pike soon.
Stella Jean’s, named after a dear friend’s recently-departed dog rescued by the Pit Bull Project, became so beloved by both Torres and Suebsarakham that they wanted to immortalize her in ice cream treats. The icy delights are all small batch, locally-crafted premium ice creams containing 16 percent butterfat with milk sourced from Scott Brothers Dairy out of Chino. According to Torres, the dairy raises happy, pampered, drug-free cows without the use of growth hormones. They are indulged in home-grown feed and a stress-free, grazing paradise.
“We believe the dairy we use and the creativity behind our flavors set us apart,” Torres said.
This creativity taps into nostalgia and positive memories to create unforgettable flavors.
“Gan being Thai and me being Cuban/ Mexican reflect in our menu, as you will see flavors inspired by Southeast Asian and Latino cultures,” Torres said. “We do, of course, also make classic flavors very well and always with a bit of a twist.”
Chef Gan and his ice cream gurus painstakingly concoct original, knock-your-socks-off flavors in their local commissary production facility.
Stella Jean’s offers “always” flavors that are year-round delights, as well as “for now” seasonal flavors that change up every few months.
Let’s start with the vibrant purple Ube + Pandesal Toffee, the shop’s best-seller, blending the exotic essence of the jewel-toned Japanese ube yam with a buttery Filipino sweet bread that’s made into a toffee crumble layered throughout the ice cream.
For a sweet, campfire smokiness, S’mores transports us back to childhood. It incorporates crushed dark chocolate covered graham crackers folded into a torched marshmallow ice cream base, and a handful of mini marshmallows thrown in the mix for an extra oomph.
For those who don’t do moo, there are some scrumptious vegan choices like Strawberry Oat Crumble, and Chef Gan’s signature Mango Sticky Rice, a labor-intensive creation that features a luscious mango sorbet marbled through a vegan pandan ice cream,
“That’s refreshing, delicious and will take you to a beach in Thailand,” said Torres. Both are “always” flavors on the menu.
The spring and summer line-up includes Thai Tea + Brown Sugar and Calamansi Creamsicle, both vegan and gluten-free, Tahini + Miso Caramel (gluten free) and tropical Guava Cream Cheese.
While hard to choose, like which child is your favorite, Torres said he relishes the Brown Butter Pecan because “it’s rich, buttery, nutty, simple yet complex and full of flavor. Call me old school, but this one has everything I need.
“Gan absolutely loves our Madagascar Vanilla base, which we make with a high-grade Madagascar vanilla bean paste,” Torres said. “He believes that making a good vanilla flavor sets the tone for everything else we create.”
And if you’re looking for old-timey sprinkles or toppings, you’ve come to the wrong place.
“Our team of ice cream magicians do a ton of research, development and testing, and their creations are the end product with no toppings necessary,” Torres said.
Now if you can’t decide between cup or cone, here’s the scoop on Stella Jean’s signature waffle cones made lovingly in-house with a blend of gluten free flour and flax meal from Bob’s Red Mill, brown sugar, cinnamon, pure maple syrup, coconut milk, Earth Balance vegan butter and a pinch of sea salt that pairs well with all ice cream flavors.
Or double your dessert pleasure by adding a heap of Madagascar Vanilla or your ice cream flavor of choice to a slice of heaven from Pop Pie Co.
Torres gives a shout out to the Salted Caramel Apple Crumble loaded with fresh diced Fuji, Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples, a hint of orange zest and sprinkle of house spices nestled in the signature all-butter crust and blanketed with a classic, wholesome oat crumble.
Or for a lip-puckering zing try the Key Lime Pie, a smooth and creamy light textured pie with the tangy Floridian flavors of fresh Key limes, topped with a cloud of whipped cream and zest.
In 2019, Stella Jean’s snagged a coveted spot on USA Today’s list of “Top Ten Ice Cream Parlors across America.” Most recently it was chosen as the “Critic’s Choice” and “Reader’s Choice” in San Diego Magazine’s “Best Restaurant 2023” poll.
“Getting both distinctions was a true honor,” Torres said.
If you really want to impress (and please) your ice cream loving friends, you can rent the mobile ice cream pushcart that Torres features as part of the shop’s catering service for weddings, baby showers, birthday parties and other memorable events. Customers can purchase 1.5- and 3-gallon sizes, since the catering arm is able to control important variables, such as storage temperatures, handling and the presentation of products.
Otherwise, Stella Jean’s doesn’t sell its ice cream in bulk (pints are the biggest size available at the scoop shops) since it does not align with its business model and quality standards.
“That’s how much we care,” Torres said. “We’re a small-batch ice cream shop utilizing real ingredients to produce the best ice cream flavors and experiences we possibly can. We also strongly believe in being responsible neighbors in the communities we serve.”
For a side of salty ocean breezes, hang out on the dog-friendly patio and share some creamy vanilla licks with your sweet-toothed pooch. In the heart of Pacific Beach between Bayard and Mission on Garnet, customers come streaming in from morning until night — teens to get their java jolts, kids for their ice cream fixes, elders for their comforting pies, families for entire meals and seasonal tourists throughout the lands indulge in the entirety of offerings. The customer base is basically “anyone and everyone,” Torres said. After all, “who doesn’t like ice cream?”
You’ve got me stumped!
Recipe from Stella Jean’s
Salted Caramel Apple Piescream
(serves 1 to 2)
Assemble in a deep bowl:
Two scoops of Madagascar Vanilla ice cream atop of one slice of warm Salted Caramel Apple Crumble pie.
Top with whipped cream, caramel sauce drizzle and a dollop of old-fashioned oat crumble.
Courtesy of Stella Jean’s Ice Cream