The yearly local weather shift that takes temperatures from invitingly warm to forbiddingly scorching is in full effect, and as I recently discovered, there are few better ways to cool down on a blazing summer afternoon in downtown Vallarta than a stop at Sabores Helados, almost equally well-known as “Blah Blah Blah.”
The shop on Calle Constitución, just a few steps past an often-visited brewery in town, represents the culmination of owner Miguel’s experience as something of a prodigal son of the family business.
You see, young Miguel was less than enamored with being the ice cream boy in his small Nayarit village. In his youth, he had a low regard for the labor of his father and his grandfather before him, considering their work uninteresting and inconsequential. “Growing up,” as the ice cream man now puts it, was learning to find the depth and meaning in everyday delights.
Eventually, he matured enough to leave his psychology degree and teaching job behind to study the art and science of ice creamery for the benefit of all mankind, and it is into this happy ending I strolled on a sweltering PV afternoon.
The Vibes: Miguel has developed the rare gift of drawing uncommon inspiration from everyday minutiae, and so it turns out there’s a story behind the famous pink-and-black babble that adorns the walls of this inventive ice cream parlor.
Inspired by a coffee cup bearing the same color scheme, the entrepreneur envisioned his ice cream shop as a space for conversation, that unrestrained exchange of ideas that binds minds and stirs souls. Highlighting the notion that the words themselves matter less than the intent, “blah blah blah” symbolizes the freeform flow of information and the transformative power contained within.
A certain mad scientist sensibility–an aura of power and passion–was as evident as the paint scheme in the place as Miguel discussed his love for experimenting to create new combinations. “A lot of people ask about my process, how I design the flavors…I say there is no process, no mystical light to guide me. Some things work, some do not.” Beaming with pride, the magic maker entrusted me with his greatest trade secret: “I just know what I like.”
It was sort of like meeting Willy Wonka, except without all the negligent manslaughter.
The Vices: All right, let’s get to what you came here for.
As well as offering up robust dialogue on his fascinating trek through life, Miguel also treated me to a guided tour of his most popular flavors. Watching him dispense samples to curious passerby who were captured by the eye-catching decor and intriguing list of flavors was a joy in itself, watching for that expectant glint in his eyes as a new customer got their first taste of his work.
He was a total show-off in his area of confidence, which this writer can appreciate.
Miguel’s vanilla was anything but, with a stunningly complex flavor profile that fundamentally challenged my perceptions of what has become a synonym for the boring and basic. He attributed the incredible difference between this ice cream and any other vanilla ice cream I have ever known to the quality of the vanilla involved, which can cost upwards of $100 USD per kilo.
“If you want to make something authentic, you must use the best ingredients,” he explained.
A similar level of meticulous care went into a similarly classic flavor, a cinnamon and brown sugar-backed vanilla variant dubbed “Viejo Vallarta” for the recipe’s roots on the old wooden carts chased down by local children before the days of the electric freezer. He smiled at the positive reception that was visible on my face: “People of this area always tell me this brings them back to their childhood. I love keeping those memories alive this way.”
Miguel’s chest of wonders was filled to the brim with crowd-pleasing choices including a rich Belgian chocolate along with a flavorful and refreshing red wine and berry sorbet. There were unexpected winners like a balsamic vinaigrette flavor–I know, right?–with notes of caramel and fresh dates. There was even a turtle cheesecake flavor that physically made my knees buckle with its overwhelming decadence.
As I walked out of the shop and into the streets that seemed like seven inches from the midday sun, I took a bite of my mezcal x orange juice x cricket salt paleta and thought of a story Miguel told me, one from his time as a psychology student. One of his professors had studied under the actual Robert Oppenheimer, you know, that one guy who became death, the destroyer of worlds.
One of the lessons the father of the atomic bomb (and one of its most vocal opponents for obvious reasons) had imparted upon his students was that when he found a problem to exist beyond the immediate capabilities of his vast intellect, he would consult a child on the matter.
When asked how a child could see things a legendary atomic physicist could not, Oppenheimer remarked that their minds had been unspoiled by limitation, a similar concept to that which allowed Bugs Bunny to defy the laws of gravity because “he never studied law.” Miguel, through his experimental approach to ice cream making and life itself, has applied this belief to his own journey: pure science for its own sake often yields the most delicious results of all.
The Verdict: Sabores Helados combines some of the finest ice cream I have ever tasted in my 30-year childhood with one of the most interesting individuals I’ve encountered in the same time frame. The frozen treats are the stars of the show, but the compellingly charismatic Miguel is a master director that takes the entire scene to a new level. Maybe I’ll catch you there.
Calle Constitución 279