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La Feria de la Nieve Ice Cream brings Mexico to Clearwater

John Sullivan, left, of Clearwater plays chess last week with La Feria de la Nieve owner Victor Calva Vega at his ice cream shop in Clearwater. In the background, customers, from left, Isabel Hernandez, Jose Cabanas and Juanita Hernandez, all of Clearwater, enjoy a variety of cool treats.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

John Sullivan, left, of Clearwater plays chess last week with La Feria de la Nieve owner Victor Calva Vega at his ice cream shop in Clearwater. In the background, customers, from left, Isabel Hernandez, Jose Cabanas and Juanita Hernandez, all of Clearwater, enjoy a variety of cool treats.

CLEARWATER — When he was 14 and living in Mexico City, Victor Calva Vega churned ice cream made with rose petals, avocado and tequila.

Now, at 26, five years after immigrating to the United States, he owns his own ice cream shop in Clearwater, selling some of the same exotic, homemade concoctions of his heritage.

It's called La Feria de la Nieve Ice Cream, which, translated, means fairy of ice cream. It is one of a few Hispanic ice cream parlors in the area. Another is La Reyna de Michoacan at 1915 Drew St.

La Feria de la Nieve opened in November, which, it turns out, is a bad time of year for ice cream shops, even in Florida.

Business was slow.

But with summer coming, "I think now it's getting better,'' Vega said.

One recent afternoon, a steady stream of customers came to the former surf shop at 1390 Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in search of frozen treats.

It has attracted a diverse crowd, from day laborers to politicians.

Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard often brings his family after eating dinner at local restaurants.

"It's a real cultural event,'' he said. He likes the strawberry and coffee ice cream, while his wife enjoys the flavored waters.

He said the prices are so reasonable that a party of six can grab a treat for $9.

Hibbard said he hopes the shop succeeds in the crime-plagued East Gateway area of the city — home to drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless, among others — and plugs it as often as he can.

Herb Brown, founder of Checkers, has eaten dessert twice at La Feria de la Nieve. He gave it the thumbs up.

"I got chocolate with nuts,'' he said. "I don't think it's quite as sweet as some ice creams, which (may mean) it's healthier.''

Last Thursday was a typical day at the shop. A cop walked in and bought a strawberry ice cream cone. A woman bought a couple of fruit salads made with jalapeno and chili spices for her family. A girl purchased an esquite, a concoction made of spices, mayonnaise, cheese, corn and lemon.

At any given time, young people hang out and speak Spanish with each other.

Vega makes 15 flavors of ice cream from scratch. Patrons can select cheese, butter pecan, pine nut or pistachio, among others.

His handmade fruit bars come in 34 flavors, including mango with chili, pineapple with chili, chamoy, coconut, papaya, apple and cantaloupe.

He also sells flavored waters made of watermelon, tamarind (made from the juice from the fruit of a tropical tree), pina colada, lemon, and milk and rice.

Patrons can find iced coffee, malts, shakes, smoothies and nachos on the menu board.

Vega uses all-natural ingredients and imports some of them from Mexico.

One of his best-selling delights is tres marias, a fruit salad with granola, cookies, whipped cream and honey.

"They have all different (Hispanic ice cream shops) around here, but this is the coolest place to chill,'' said Ricardo Delrey, 27, of Largo.

He likes the pecan ice cream.

Staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

If you go

La Feria de la Nieve Ice Cream is at 1390 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater (near Hillcrest Avenue). It serves homemade ice cream, fruit bars, flavored water, iced coffee, malts, shakes, smoothies, nachos, spicy fruit salads and more. It's open seven days a week. The hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends. Prices range from $1 to $3.

La Feria de la Nieve Ice Cream brings Mexico to Clearwater 04/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 7:28pm]
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