Lately, the object of our seasonally inappropriate desire has been the soft-serve ice cream at Magpies Softserve, a little storefront in a strip mall on Hyperion Boulevard in Silver Lake, that opened last summer. Owners Warren and Rose Schwartz are both chefs — Warren has a background in fine dining and is the former executive chef at Saddle Peak Lodge in Malibu, and Rose is a pastry chef. They bring the creativity and skills developed in their culinary training to soft serve ice cream.
Rose also has a degree in chemistry, and Warren refers to her as the "mad scientist" who drives their flavor inventions. Recipes for a soft serve base are few and far between (most places use a mix), so the pair did laps around iconic soft serve joints, sampling Dairy Queen, McDonald's and Foster's Freeze, analyzing ingredients and trying to reverse engineer their own base. The first year, Warren says, was a little rough — they had more failures than successes coming out of their little soft serve machine at home, and they may have the first children in recorded history to get sick of eating ice cream. Their kids, he says, ended up using failures for snowball fights as often as they ate them.
Eventually, though, they found a rhythm and started cranking out successes. Now their flavors change frequently and are usually twists on classic styles — the kind of flavors that poke at nostalgia but still feel fresh, like a particularly far-out case of déjà vu.
Instead of the iconic fast food vanilla, they have sweetened cream; instead of that weird and distinctly fake chocolate, they've got malted milk chocolate. They typically have at least one fruited style such as strawberry rhubarb or passion fruit mango, a couple of direct riffs on classics such as cortadito coffee or peppermint, and then there's always some fun stuff such as the Thai tea coconut or toasted marshmallow too. They also have an extensive set of nondairy and vegan options, which rotate right along with the standard flavors, except for their corn almond. It is heavier on the corn than the almond, earthy, subtle and just a little sweet.
The corn almond is also a shining example of the couple's scientific approach to creating flavors. It was a happy accident, the result of a flavor-independent test to keep their vegan soft serve from getting icy and hard. The corn, Rose thought, could help replace some of the fat and binding agents in dairy milk that give regular soft serve its texture. They made a batch, persuaded their hesitant son to try it, and were pleasantly surprised when he loved it. So it stuck, a unique combination with the minimum amount of sugar required to keep the ice cream smooth. Against the odds, it's their bestselling flavor.
Then, there are the toppings. Like the ice cream, the add-ons are creative and made in-house, things such as butterscotch Rice Krispies and hazelnut wafers. They rotate in and out a bit too, but keep your eyes peeled for the chocolate-covered honeycombs. They are delicate and a little sweet, a good pair for almost any flavor, and they add a satisfying, gentle crunch to your silky cup of ice cream.
Magpies is a pretty simple shop inside with just a couple of benches — the focus is on the menu, the counter and the soft serve machines themselves. It is a friendly place, equally suited to a carpool treat on the way home from school or an after-dinner stop on an early date.
The couple just signed a lease for a second location and are planning to open a Magpies on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana. But this time, there should be a little less trial and error, and fewer snowball fights. 2660 Griffith Park Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 486-7094, magpiessoftserve.com.