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When I was a kid, we didn’t have much money, and we couldn’t afford to get ice cream after church like a lot of the other kids,” recalls Tamara Keefe, an executive–turned–ice cream entrepreneur. “Then, one day after church, we went to a yard sale and my mom bought a hand-crank ice cream machine for $2. We got home and she said, ‘Go do your chores, and then let’s meet in the kitchen.’ That’s when a tradition started that has stayed with me my whole life: homemade ice cream.”
Unhappy with where her life was going in the corporate world, Keefe decided to take the plunge: She quit her job, cashed in her retirement accounts, and opened Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery (1637 S. 18th, 314-858-6100) in Lafayette Square.
It’s a classic French-inspired ice cream parlor lined with white subway tile and dark wood. Framed chalkboards on the walls list the flavors du jour. The ice creams are available scooped into bowls, in fresh-from-the-iron waffle cones, or between cookies in ice-cream sandwiches. But this isn’t your average ice cream. Clementine’s has a creamy linger-on-your-lips kind of deliciousness, thanks to its micro-creamery status.
“Our ice cream is handcrafted in small batches, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients,” Keefe says. “It’s really rich and creamy, with between 16 and 18 percent butterfat, depending on the flavor. That does make it more expensive, but that’s how you do it right.”
Keefe’s childhood memories are swirled with ice-cream moments. The youngest of five children, she says that she and her siblings practically lived in the kitchen with their mom. “We all pitched in,” she says. “That was the fun part of making the ice cream.” It was an island of pure happiness.
Keefe kept the family tradition alive by making ice cream at home for family and friends. “There’s a moment when every person who puts my product in their mouth says to me, ‘I’ve never tasted anything like it.’ Eventually, I realized it wasn’t just my friends and family who love it.”
On any given day, Clementine’s has some three dozen flavors available, including Keefe’s family favorite, toffee butter brickle, an addictive vanilla ice cream that’s chockablock with English toffee.
Keefe serves her strawberry ice cream with balsamic vinaigrette, and her chocolate is of the dark variety. Three different imported African dark chocolates make for a deep, rich flavor called Midnight Pleasures that may remind those of a certain age of Velvet Freeze’s Gold Coast Chocolate. Similarly, Clementine’s seductively creamy Madagascar Vanilla is made with three different kinds of vanilla beans.
The rotating lineup might also include salted caramel, for which Keefe makes the caramel herself. It bursts with the flavor of brassy salty caramel. Chocolate Peanut Butter Dreams is made with organic chocolate and peanut butter. Brown Butter Candied Pecan one-ups the standard butter pecan with sweet and crunchy nuggets of candied nuts. Chocolate molé, starring a house-made Mexican mole sauce, offers a subtle “sweet heat.”
Many of Clementine’s flavors are borne of partnerships with local gourmet food purveyors, such as Patric Chocolate in Columbia, Missouri, and honey sourced from Maplewood’s Woodside Urban Honey. The cookies in her ice-cream sandwiches are baked at Cherokee Street’s Whisk: A Sustainable Bakeshop. The No. 1 seller, though, is gooey butter cake ice cream, made with chunks of St. Louis’ notoriously rich signature cake, baked by Park Avenue Coffee.
Keefe has become a real booster for her neighborhood. Both her home and her ice-cream palace are located amid Lafayette Square’s rehabbed Victorian-style houses. To her, it’s one of those special places that you’ll only find in St. Louis. “Lafayette Square is diverse and supportive and magical,” she says. “I’m originally from Southern California, but within six months of moving here, I found my one true love.”
Inspired by her neighborhood’s welcoming attitude and overall kindness, Keefe has tried to re-create that feeling in her shop. “When I used to travel for work, I would come home to find a Crock-Pot of chili made by the neighbors sitting on my stoop,” she says. “It would have a note attached to it that read, ‘We knew after being away for so long, you would have no food in the house and you’d be tired, so here’s supper.’”
She tries to put that same personal touch on her ice cream. The mint in the Front Porch Mint was originally grown on Keefe’s front porch and is now harvested from the Lafayette Square Community Garden.
Children will love Clementine’s rich flavors, and they’ll also get a kick out of Spokes & Spoons, a three-wheeled pedal cart bearing a freezer full of ice cream. The icicle cycle dispenses ice cream at birthday parties, corporate events, and weddings. “It’s pretty wild to see a bride ride it out to the middle of the dance floor at her wedding and give out ice cream,” says Keefe.
The “Naughty” part of the business’ name comes from the line of ice creams laced with booze. “Alcohol will not freeze, but I have developed a trade secret to get it to freeze,” says Keefe.
Clementine’s is also available at several local restaurants, such as Gringo and Old Standard, as well as the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market and the
St. Louis Swap Meet at the former Lemp Brewery.
Asked what her mother might think if she could see her today, Keefe says, “I think she’d be proud of me. She would love that what I’m doing makes people smile.”
Original post here.