At this ice cream shop on O‘ahu, flavors divined from local ingredients and Royer’s dreams are practically an art form.
Text by Travis Hancock and Anna Harmon | Images by Jonas Maon
Unless, on a previous island visit, you frequented the less-explored sidewalks of Honolulu’s Chinatown, chances are you’ve never been to Wing Ice Cream. The little flavor lab hides in plain sight between a lei shop and herbal medicine supplier near the corner of Pauahi and Maunakea streets. When people walk in, the most common facial expression is one that seems to say, “So it’s true! There is an ice cream shop here.” More surprise follows as they turn to the blackboard menu listing the wildly inventive flavor combinations concocted by owner and operator Miller Wing Royer. Unexpected ingredients leap off the board: lemongrass, garlic, rose, pandan, chrysanthemum, matcha. (Sorry boys and girls, he’s taken by a lady with equally colorful hair.) You’ll want to sample these, but fair warning, he won’t always let you: He prefers guests to commit full heartedly to his labor-intensive creations.
Royer’s flavor combinations heighten the intrigue. For example, “Pretz-ident” seems a simple enough name for a combo featuring pretzels. But no: It used to be called “Pretz-ident Bush,” in remembrance of the 2002 incident when President Bush nearly choked to death on a pretzel in front of his do-nothing dogs. Having forgotten this story, Wing’s patrons mistakenly took Royer for a bleeding-heart conservative, so he eventually dropped the “Bush.” This creative humor pervades Wing’s menu and complements its other main feature: a warm sense of local nostalgia.
Also served at this shop outfitted with eclectic art, a leather couch, and three bar seats are shave ice and, dear to Royer’s heart, li hing ice cakes, which highlight the tart flavor of that Chinese pickled plum. “That sort of died out and you couldn’t find it anywhere, so I brought it back,” he says. He prices his li hing ice cakes the same as he paid in his childhood days.
Most recently, Royer collaborated with local company Kaloman Products (kalo, also known as taro, has long been a staple of the Hawaiian diet) to create an instantly popular treat: a vegan kulolo ice cream (a Hawaiian dessert made with taro and coconut) served over a bed of pa’i’ai, which is taro pounded to a firm, sticky, delightful texture. Tuesday through Sunday, stop by Wing Ice Cream for such a treat and you will find Royer in his bright red ice-cream-man apron and bowtie churning out flavors with fruits, vegetables, and herbs often sourced from nearby farms and customers or foraged on hikes. He plays vinyl records all day and keeps the lights on late into the night. There’s a homemade waffle cone and comfy leather couch waiting for you just steps off the sidewalk. Enter with an open mind, and you will leave with a smile.
Follow Wing Ice Cream on Instagram @wingicecream.
A slightly different version of this story appeared earlier in FLUX Hawaii.