Issue 20.3: June/July 2017
Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Winging It

Story by Maria Kanai. Photos by James Anshutz.

A visit to Wing Ice Cream Parlor is not for the unadventurous. Unusual flavors such as Roasted Garlic (made with real garlic), Cheese Pizza (with tomato paste and mozzarella) and Guabanero Sorbet (where guava meets habanero chili) fill a chalkboard menu that is as unpredictable and unapologetic as the ice cream maker himself, Miller Royer. A Honolulu punk rock musician and the self-proclaimed “Willy Wonka of Chinatown,” Royer is constantly concocting flavors that delight and sometimes disturb his open-minded customers. And in the case of a flavor he calls Dirty Diaper (basic vanilla packed with brownie, fudge and caramel), he manages to do both at once.

Royer gets ideas for new flavors wherever he can find them. Fond memories of climbing a mango tree as a boy inspired his fresh mango ice cream. A bag of turmeric root given to him by a friend led him to create Golden Milk ice cream (filled with turmeric and black pepper). Once a month he picks a suggestion from the whiteboard where customers jot down requests. That’s how flavors like Cocomonkey (coconut, chocolate and banana) and Hurricane Popcorn (kakimochi, popcorn and furikake) came about. Sometimes an idea just gets stuck in his head and he can’t shake it until he can taste it, which is how his Cream of Mushroom ice cream was born (with real mushrooms, of course).

Other than acknowledging that he haunts Chinatown’s markets and produce vendors for ingredients, Royer doesn’t like to talk about his ice cream making process. “I don’t want to tell too much,” he says. “It’s kind of a secret.” He does admit that not all of his crazy ideas work out. He learned the hard way that lemon or ginger, for instance, can curdle milk, and that just a little too much of a strong flavor like licorice or orange blossom can ruin a whole batch. But he doesn’t dwell on the misfires, focusing instead on his weirdly popular successes, such as Mayan Xacoltāl (chocolate, cinnamon and cayenne pepper) and Maui Onion and Sour Cream (yes, like the potato chips).

If you’re intrigued by something on Royer’s menu, he encourages you to commit to a scoop. Just don’t ask for samples. “I only make small batches,” he says. “If I gave out free samples, there would be no ice cream left to sell.”