3301 E. Main St., #2592
(Pacific View Mall)
$2.50 – $5.50
They dress in funky black T-shirts and sassy fedoras, perfectly accented by big smiles and some serious enthusiasm for fair food. They are the Brain family, the, um, brains behind Ventura’s newest whimsical eatery: Brain Freeze.
Having heard about this new addition to the Pacific View Mall food court, I couldn’t resist stopping by with my kids a few times for a summer afternoon treat. Anytime you stop in, you’re likely to find owners Taya Belgin and Dan Brain, and any combination of their four kids (ranging in age from 11 to 16), whipping up a selection of coffee drinks, deep-frying Twinkies, spinning cotton candy, or helping customers with the self-serve flavor buffet for the shave ice.
“As a family, we always had this dream of having a shave ice place,” says Taya. The shave ice is most definitely the shining star, but they also offer other food typically found at fairs and amusement parks, allowing people access to the fun, summery treats any day of the year.
Though they started with only two sizes of shave ice, in response to customer feedback they now offer an even smaller size, perfect for little ones. In contrast to the rough, often scratchy ice found in your typical snow cone, their shave ice is pillowy soft, akin to the texture of fresh, powdery snow. They shave the ice to order, painstakingly packing it so that the syrup stays suspended, rather than gathering at the bottom of the cup in a sad pool.
When it comes to syrup, Brain Freeze offers 42 regular flavors, and 20 others made with Splenda. Pink lemonade, cookie dough, bubble gum, watermelon, wedding cake, horchata and tamarind are amongst the most popular. And before you start stressing about which flavor you’re going to choose, no need to worry. While some places limit customers to a single flavor, the folks at Brain Freeze “think that’s stupid.” So sidle on up to the bar and start squirting. Just be sure to point the nozzle away from your shirt.
The texture of the shave ice is so soft it is almost creamy, and it melts in the mouth much faster than ice cream, making it really fun to eat. Some of our favorites include the tiger’s blood (flavors of berry and coconut), the bright green margarita (intense lime flavor) and the creamsicle (that familiar blend of vanilla and orange sherbet).
They also offer a selection of fried goodies. The Oreos are dipped into funnel-cake batter, flash-fried, and served with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. The batter is chewy, while the cookies melt into a gooey treat inside. Served five to an order, they are so sweet and rich that the whipped cream is almost overkill.
The fried Twinkie is simple and sweet and almost molten inside, like a sweet lick of yellow cake batter. The funnel cakes are fried to a crispy golden brown, and if you’re feeling really indulgent, topped with whipped cream, strawberries and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Another big seller is cotton candy. They offer the standard pink vanilla flavor, but also unusual flavors like sassy apple and sour lemon. We tasted the sour lemon, which offers an unexpectedly tart flavor and a refreshing spin on traditional cotton candy.
Fun is the name of the game at Brain Freeze, so it’s no surprise that they have fun with their drinks as well. They offer a selection of espresso drinks, but things get really interesting when you start mixing some of the flavor syrups with the coffee drinks. Taya loves to mix a little bit of the sugar-free Red Hot syrup into her coffee, or suggests ordering a cappuccino with sugar-free wedding cake syrup. “It’s like having cake and coffee but without the crumbs,” she says.
They’ll even mix any of their syrups into a custom soda. We tried the sugar-free green apple flavor, a bright, refreshing drink reminiscent of the flavor of a green apple Jolly Rancher.
As for pricing,Taya says, “We wanted to make our prices family-friendly.” Consequently, the most expensive item on their menu comes in at $5.50 (the large funnel cake). Now, with all this attention to detail and everything made to order, service isn’t superspeedy, but they do offer table service, and the food is worth the wait.
So for those of you who usually count the days until the county fair begins in August to indulge in cotton candy and funnel cakes, you can now pop on over to the mall and have them anytime.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com where you’ll find information on our Eating Ojai Tour, gift certificates, and on upcoming special events.