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Off the Sprinkle Trail

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Photo by Stephanie Burt
Photo by Stephanie Burt

She hated making sandwiches. He’s lactose intolerant. But together, Erin and Rick Mardian make magic at HITS Frozen Treats in Roanoke, Virginia.

Located off the “Sprinkle Trail” on the Roanoke Greenway at the foot of Mill Mountain, HITS has been in business since 1981 (originally under the name Parlor Days). The Mardians make housemade ice cream the simplest way they know how: they make what they like, and they listen to their customers, using local foodstuffs when they can. Through the years, Erin has amassed an entire manila envelope of names, which she brings out when I ask about the flavors. We sit down at a little café table and spread out signs that say “Biscoff Coffee” and “Nutella,” along with seasonals \such as “Ginger Peach” and “Eggnog.”

During the peak summer and fall seasons, HITS cranks out approximately 125 gallons of the creamy goodness a week, and they usually have a sorbet on the menu in addition to that. They no longer make sandwiches (they wanted to simplify), so they are really focusing on flavor-creation creativity.

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources. Rick likes to research craft cocktails and loves the flavor combinations he finds there. Erin plans off-season ice cream research trips for the two of them. And then there are the customer suggestions.

Photo by Stephanie Burt
Photo by Stephanie Burt

“For instance, Cookie Monster, one of our current flavors, is a Customer Creation,” Erin explains. “The man who suggested it was very specific that it be blue after the Sesame Street character.” They obliged.

But I like a little heat with my sweet, so I had my eye on something chocolate-colored, not blue. I opted for the Mexican Chocolate, and then they suggested a pairing with the Strawberry Serrano, all in a hand-decorated waffle cone. I was all set to refuse, but then intelligently reconsidered. The strawberry was a seasonal flavor and would be gone soon. I was rewarded, of course, with the ice cream fix I was looking for. The two flavors played off each other beautifully, and the heat was real, and cumulative, the perfect twist on the classic treat.

Rick and Erin are there every day it’s open, and now, since it’s after Labor Day, you might be thinking, “But Steph, ice cream season is over.” Ice Cream season is never over. The Mardians are planning to make Stout Mocha soon. I’ll take a double scoop.