As an archipelago of over 7,500 islands, the Philippines is no stranger to diversity in its plants, people, and languages. Add the impacts of migrations from other Pacific Rim nations and the influences of Spanish and American colonialism, and it’s no surprise that Filipino food has levels of variety and nuance beyond what first impressions might suggest. There are a few local restaurants where main dishes and snacks from the island nation can be found, but in Uptown Phoenix, Scooptopia fills a niche as a purveyor of Filipino frozen desserts.
Situated in a hidden storefront in the same shopping center as Fame Caffe, Persephen, and JL Patisserie, Scooptopia adds to the culinary variety at Central and Highland, halfway between the Central/Camelback and Campbell/Central light rail stations. Look for the shop in the back of the plaza, near the south end and a driveway that connects to Highland Avenue. The interior is defined by a long counter with ice cream on display, a small dining room, and another room in back stocked with toys and functioning as a children’s play area.
The dining room is currently operating at reduced capacity, and the playroom is closed due to public health concerns; however, Scooptopia’s full menu remains available on a to-go basis. Anyone who wishes to enjoy their frozen treat before it melts on the way home might want to take a break on one of the benches along the newly improved Grand Canal bicycle and pedestrian path, especially those located where the canal intersects Third Avenue in the nearby Yaple Park neighborhood. For customers who bike to the shop, there are racks outside Fame’s entrance.
Scooptopia’s approach to ice cream can be summarized in one word: colorful. Expect a rainbow of fanciful flavors incorporating tropical influences as well as standbys like chocolate, strawberry, and butter pecan. To appreciate the whimsy in the locally produced ice cream, start with the flavor named “Unicorn Poop,” a vanilla base with a pink-purple hue dappled with sprinkles and cupcake bites. Taro is even more purple, deriving its bold color from the root vegetable used in many east Asian cuisines. The honey turmeric flavor has a rich golden color.
Dairy-based flavors are complemented by a few vegan choices, including a chocolate product made with coconut milk and a mango sorbet. The latter can be topped with tangy, spicy chamoy sauce, bits of fresh or dried mango depending on availability, and a tamarind stick for a treat that combines sweet, salty, spicy, and sour tastes into one package. The finished dish, known as a mangonada, is more Mexican than Filipino, but somehow seems entirely at home among Scooptopia’s many other cross-cultural menu choices.
All ice cream or sorbet flavors can be served in cups, multiple types of cones, and even an edible waffle bowl perfect for two or more scoops of different flavors to be consumed simultaneously. Additional frozen treats include Hawaiian-style shave iced, available in two dozen combinations of flavors created with sweet syrups. Cold drink offerings include a refrigerated case full of juices and sodas, as well as boba drinks with add-one such as popping pearls and Thai tea made to the customer’s preferred level of sweetness.
So far, Scooptopia sounds like a fairly typical ice cream shop with some subtle Filipino influences. There are, however, some specialties that may be new to some customers. The most prominent is halo-halo, a multi-layered mix of purple yam (ube) ice cream, ice, beans, green jelly, and more. The exact combination depends on both ingredient availability and the size ordered. Two tips for those new to halo-halo: First, the junior size at Scooptopia is more than adequate for an initial appreciation of the dish. Second, stir the ingredients in the cup for best results.
Another indulgence from the Philippines is taho, a concoction made with tofu custard, starchy pearls, and brown sugar syrup. With its location near Central, Brophy, and Xavier high schools, Scooptopia draws a large number of students in the afternoon, but its evening hours make it well suited for a dessert run after dinner somewhere else. While it has sometimes been a struggle for Filipino food to find widespread acceptance in the United States, Scooptopia’s array of ice creams and frozen treats offers a gentle introduction to an underappreciated cuisine.
4700 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012