I first came into contact with Makini Howell, a woman of color and the owner of Plum Bistro and its associated operations, via a colleague, who asked if she could give Makini my email sometime late last year. Makini had some frustrations to vent about what she felt was an unfair lack of coverage of her vegan ice cream shop, Sugar Plum, as compared to Frankie and Jo's, the latest and hippest entrant into the burgeoning vegan ice cream space.
Based on a quick analysis, it's hard to deny her claim.
Frankie and Jo's has been hailed as the vegan messiah. Indeed, if you read some of the coverage, it sounds like plant-based ice cream is a sacred, recently unearthed discovery, not a thing Makini had been making a few blocks away for two years already. This, from Seattle Magazine, is particularly uncomfortable to read in that light:
"Next month (if all goes right), you’ll finally be able to get yourself a gluten-free, maple-sweetened waffle cone filled with fresh juice sorbet and plant-based ice cream. Frankie & Jo’s is, quite simply, not your average creamery.
The Capitol Hill scoop shop is the passion project of Autumn Martin (she of Hot Cakes fame) and Kari Brunson (local juice goddess at Juicebox)—perhaps the only two people in town I would trust when it comes to vegan, gluten-free ice cream. Years ago, Martin developed a dairy allergy, so she’s blazing this trail out of necessity." (Emphasis mine.)
To be fair, I've tried Frankie and Jo's, and their ice cream is really, really good. But this was written before they were even open, and as if Sugar Plum simply doesn't exist.
I didn't hear from Makini again until we ended up talking for an unrelated story. Part of that conversation involved a deeper discussion of how Seattle's food media handles people of color, and how she thinks we can do better. She also extended an invitation to come try her ice cream and see for myself if it was buzzworthy. Not exactly a chore, right?
I stopped by Sugar Plum earlier this week and, knowing I was a white dude planning to write about such a fraught subject as racial bias in the media, asked Makini if we could do another interview, so as to base my column on her perspective and her lived experience.
She agreed, and she had a lot of insightful things to say about why we food writers gravitate towards white-owned businesses, often despite our own progressive political views. The writer of that Seattle Magazine preview, for example, is a woman of color. But successful marketing requires money, connections, or both, and we know who has the lion's share of those.
"I'm frustrated to even be having this conversation in 2017," Makini said. "I would just like to be reviewed in the same light as Frankie and Jo's."
Fair enough. Here, then, is my impression of Sugar Plum.
Even though it's been around for about three years now, Sugar Plum still has that third-wave, LA coffee shop look that's all the rage these days. It also has one of those super cool streateries, where the city lets a business take over a parking space and make it into outdoor seating. Imagining the look on Kennedy "Good Job, Commies!" Montgomery's face when she finds out that we replaced parking for cars with places to hold socialist ice cream socials—with vegan ice cream no less!—is truly a joy.
.@KennedyNation: "Seattle used to be one of the most beautiful & livable cities in the world, but it has devolved into a Socialist hellhole" pic.twitter.com/B9nbwNKvfp
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) July 12, 2017
Sugar Plum's streatery is all slat benches, with extra backing on top of two sides, so you can sit really high up with your feet on the bench below. I don't know why, but sitting on top of a bench like that is insanely satisfying. The shop's outdoor windowsill is similarly equipped.
I've never really thought of 15th as a great place for outdoor dining, with its relatively narrow sidewalks, but the streatery upends that. I found myself quite torn between taking my little cone of golden ginger milk up to one of the high benches, or walking down to Volunteer Park to sit by the donut sculpture. Given the beautiful weather we've been having, the donut won the day.
The idea of a life without dairy—a life without ever tasting another ounce of Delice de Bourgogne—fills me with dread, so I was not exactly going into this tasting with high hopes. As expected, Sugar Plum's vegan ice cream is not nearly as viscous and rich as real, dairy-based ice cream. You can tell it's vegan from the first bite. That said, it's really damn good in it's own ethereal, fluffy way.
The golden ginger milk flavor sent pleasant notes of spice dancing across my palate. This effect was greatly enhanced by the liberal dusting of fresh ground pepper. Indeed, my only complaint was that there weren't big ol' chunks of just-cracked black pepper throughout, but I also can see why that would be logistically impossible. Pre-ground pepper is no good, so the dusting on top will have to do. Anyway, the overall effect was refreshing, zesty, and light. Savory, almost, if you can even say that about ice cream. Its texture was also slightly more crystalline, although it definitely didn't fall in the realm of sorbet. It was a perfect thing for a sunny summer day.
Later, I walked down to Frankie and Jo's to try their gingered golden milk, just to be thorough. Despite the similar names, the two ice creams were nothing alike. Their gingered golden milk is also really good, but it's way thicker, sweeter, and studded with chunks of candied ginger. I can't say which one was better, and I don't really have to. We're lucky to live in a the type of "socialist hellhole" that has two vegan ice cream shops, and we should enjoy the hell out of both.
Oh and, before I forget, Makini emphasized in about five follow-up emails that she is way, way more interested in talking about the enormous Sugar Plum mural on 10th and Pike than anything else. The artist did an enormous rendition of Makini's hand holding up a soft serve cone like the Statue of Liberty's torch. It is very cool.
The soft serve also reminds me of one of her other follow-up emails (she's prolific), that I think sums up her desires from the media nicely: "Growing up vegan, I never got to have soft serve, so I wanted to provide that for little vegan kiddies or even for your inner vegan child so we could have the same experience as everyone else. I am super passionate about creating spaces where everyone is welcome and comfortable and can create fun memories, a place where we can have shared inclusive experiences. Ice cream is an awesome, sweet way to do that."
On that note, her brand new salad bar, Chop't, is softly open on 12th Ave, right next to the original Plum Bistro. I haven't been yet, but from what I hear, "awesome" would be an apt description.