First Look: Wong’s offers a pan-Asian take on ice cream to east-end neighbourhood


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Toronto’s love for ice cream lives on, from the charcoal variety to the confection-topped kind we just can’t get enough. Cue Wong’s Ice Cream, located at Gerrard and Broadview.

Ed Wong, a “serial entrepreneur” who has only worked for someone else for two years since university, is the man behind the counter and his flavours are anything but conventional.

He owned a successful graphic design firm for 25-plus years and eventually, he knew that it was time for a change. “I guess you could call it somewhat of a mid-life crisis,” says Wong, but a delicious one.  “I just wanted to get out from behind the desk and re-connect with the community.” 

That was three years ago. Between then and now, Wong experimented with various concepts including doughnuts. He picked up the phone and called his friend Karen Burson, a local food advocate and private chef and they began what Wong dubs his “ice cream lab” dishing out some 150+ different flavour combinations at Hamilton farmers’ markets and local food fairs. But the commute for Wong, who lives in east Toronto, began to wear on him.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Wong, whose family is Taishanese, is first generation Canadian. His parents immigrated to Canada in the 1950s and like every immigrant family hoped for a better life.  This began in St. Stephen, New Brunswick where his father ran a chop suey and burger joint. “I suppose that’s where my entrepreneurial spirit comes from,” he says.

Broadview and Gerrard, the main intersection in one of Toronto’s oldest Chinatowns (known as East Chinatown) was where many Taishanese came to start their new life. A large number started Chinese grocery stores and other small businesses. In fact, up until the early 90s, without options like T&T and Foody Mart, many Chinese families would pile into the car and make the trek downtown for their weekly grocery run. For Wong, his business’s location symbolizes a “connection to the past” and while the neighbourhood is going to change, he wants to make a little part of history.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

His whimsical ice cream flavours, such as Black Sesame and Salted Duck Yolk, hit all the nostalgic notes. That one is a play on mooncake that is often made with lotus paste and a salted egg yolk.  “I don’t particularly love lotus paste and so I thought, how can I re-interpret and re-imagine this?” says Wong. 

Indeed, those familiar with the sugar-laden cake consumed during the Moon Festival will recognize the flavours immediately, with the egg yolk making for a fudge-like consistency.

Ice cream is available in single scoops for $4.50 or $7.50 if you want to double down. You can also get it by the quart to take home for $20. For those who are lactose-intolerant, there is a coconut mango sticky rice ice cream made with coconut and soy milk as well as a lemongrass lime sorbet to satisfy your sweet tooth.

When asked what his earliest memory of ice cream is, Wong laughs and says “it wasn’t a very happy one.” 

On his first trip back to the motherland when he was 12 years old, a very westernized Wong took one look at the squatting toilets and immediately wanted to go back to Canada. This was China back in the days of ration coupons. His grandparents, in a hurry to find a solution to appease the upset young boy, sent him to the local corner store and it was a “watery, terrible-tasting thing on a stick,” Wong recalls.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Another Toronto success story, Tito Ron’s is also doing their ube pie ($30) or the non-frozen variety, their ube polvoron pie for $4. You can also grab an ube sundae ($8) with 2 scoops of ice cream in your choice of flavour, topped with a large ube-filled “spring roll,” mango condensed milk sauce and plantain chip crumble.

You will also find a selection of organic, vegan and gluten-free products available on the shelves at Wong’s. His inner entrepreneur couldn’t help but notice a void in any of these specialty food offerings for a good stretch of the east end and he even stocks hard-to-find flavours of Kettle Chips, such as the Korean Barbecue which is “flying off the shelves.” This decision will also no doubt help keep him out of the red when the winter months are upon us.

When it comes to ice cream, expect flavours to rotate every month. Wong is teasing the possibility of a fluffy “White Rabbit” candy ice cream, based on the candy where you eat the wax coating which to non-Chinese may seem odd but it’s a classic. That is still under heavy R&D. 

Of all the things to expect out of Wong’s Ice Cream, don’t expect it to be vanilla.

Wong’s Ice Cream & Store, 617 Gerrard St. E., 416-778-8883.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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