The word “churn” doesn’t always have the best connotation. In contemporary usage, it’s often associated with the rate at which a business loses customers or a workplace sheds employees, with resulting impacts on profitability. There’s a more classic meaning of churn, though, and it’s far more favorable. The classic churn is the device used to agitate milk or cream in creating butter, and a slightly more recent derivative is the process of continuous stirring used to make ice cream. In this spirit, an ice cream shop in Uptown Phoenix proudly bears the name Churn.
Churn is a companion to Windsor, the restaurant next door in a renovated mid-century building three blocks north of the Central / Camelback light rail station. Bike racks are found next to the patio in back. The ice cream shop has its own entrance facing Central, but it’s directly connected to Windsor inside via a corridor lined with old cassettes. The convenience medium of the pre-MP3, pre-streaming era has been given new life as a form of wall tile. That retro touch is one clue that Churn is tinged with nostalgia in both its decor and its approach to ice cream.
Inside the shop itself, the cassettes are replaced with actual tiles, some white and some in argyle patterns, creating a clean, vintage appearance. Wooden shelves opposite the counter are filled with dime-store treats like classic candies and inexpensive toys. For the adults, there are bags of the coffee the shop uses for its espresso beverages. The menu is written on chalkboards displayed over the counter, and the dozen ice cream and sorbet flavors offered at any given time are displayed in a case. Baked goods, mostly cookies, are seen just to the right.
Churn’s flavors always include some perennials and classics such as Madagascar vanilla, butter pecan, and double chocolate. Other flavors rotate, and some like strawberry buttermilk, toasted coconut, and Vietnamese coffee stand out for their blending of modern and traditional tastes with global influences. There are usually one or two non-dairy selections available along the lines of lemon or pineapple sorbet. It’s also not unusual to encounter one flavor choice such as whiskey almond toffee with an alcohol content that renders suitable only for adult customers.
All flavors are served in cups or cones. Cups begin with a charming children’s size in which the smaller amount of frozen dessert augmented with a small cake cone and a little toy, often a plastic “army man.” From that starting point, adult-size single, double, and triple scoop cups are offered. The ice cream can also be served in cake, waffle, and pretzel cones. Toppings are numerous, including both hot and cold choices such as roasted peanuts, sliced banana, fresh strawberries, hot fudge, salted caramel, whipped cream, and, of course, timeless sprinkles.
Any variety of ice cream can be whipped into a shake, with or without the addition of malt. Blended beverages with toppings mixed in are known as “Lil’ Freezies” at Churn. The Peanut Butter Cup involves not only peanut butter ice cream and the popular Reese’s candy, but also actual peanuts resulting in pockets of crunchy texture throughout the otherwise smooth drink. Floats are creative with options like “Oh My Affogato,” which takes the usual blend of espresso and vanilla and coffee ice creams and adds a full bottle of Mexican Coke for fizziness and flavor.
Churn allow customers to build their own customized sundaes simply by specifying ice cream flavor and topping combinations; however, the menu lists a number of creative combinations already devised by staff. The Fat Elvis involves just about everything associated with the entertainer, except perhaps bacon. Peanut butter ice cream is topped with slices of banana, salted caramel, whipped cream, and chocolate pearls. Any combination of ice cream and two cookies, not necessarily two of the same kinds, can be fashioned into an ice cream sandwich.
Because Churn’s indoor space is limited and there is sometimes a line at the counter, all seating is found outside. There are a few seats facing Central, but as with Windsor, the center of outdoor activity is the back patio. A row of tables there is shaded in the summer and heated in the winter, making the environment pleasant in most weather. Churn has now existed for nearly a decade. By restaurant industry standards, that’s not much churn at all. Thankfully, plenty of churn, in the classic and best possible sense of the word, occurs every day at this shop.
5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012
Central / Camelback Station