By Kelly Moffitt
Missouri and Hawaii—just call us twins. We may not have fresh leis and they may not have pork steaks but we have both nailed something very crucial in summers with high humidity: shaved ice.
Shaved ice is a specific kind of art—a snootier varietal of its cousin, the snow cone. Vastly more refined, shaved ice is not ground ice, but tiny ice chips shaved off of a block of ice. This guarantees that flavoring placed on top of the ice will be absorbed throughout the cup rather than filtered to the bottom, leaving a flavorful mouthful with every bite.
Hawaii was the first American state to lay claim to this traditional Japanese dish in the 1920s. I’m not sure when Missouri first employed the shaved ice technique, but somewhere in there, they got the translation right.
While you can find many shaved ice stands that pop up during the summer in Missouri, finding a reliable favorite can be tough. Tropical Moose, fondly called Tro Mo by its many customers, happens to be mine. Located in Webster Groves and Kirkwood, the shops are friendly jaunt from my hometown on summers’ afternoons.
Here they ace shaved ice basic and advance to pure brilliance. The ice is shaved finely and the syrup portions are always on the syrupy side (who really wants it any other way?). Where many other shaved ice stands deploy cheap/fake syrup, Tropical Moose uses a zingy, slightly tangier syrup to achieve maximum refreshment—cherry, a home base flavor for comparison, is good evidence of that.
In addition to traditional flavors like grape, blue raspberry, and lemon lime, Tro Mo also supplies intriguing other flavors like Fruity Pebbles, Red Hot, Wedding Cake, and the dubiously-named Monkey Snot and Motor Oil. They also have specialty flavors on a week-by-week basis. When I visited last, the delicate Sweet Nectar was making the rounds. Sprinkles and nerds are free toppings and there are several sugar-free options too.
The Webster Groves location is a pleasant spot to stop by, with accessible outdoor seating and a good view of the train tracks and surrounding neighborhood. Kitschy-fun elements of the store add to its happy-day allure like a Harry Potter vs. Katniss tip cup, neon-markered windows, and customer photo contest. “Canine coolers”—meat-flavored ice just for dogs—ensure there is no shortage of puppy eye-candy to fawn over.
The best part of Tropical Moose is their taste-bud-tingling combinations. They offer shaved ice with ice cream on the bottom and shaved ice with a slice of cheesecake in the middle, which harkens back to the traditional Japanese way of doing shaved ice with a little cream. The best of the best, however, lies in their “volcano” which consists of a shave ice with pop rocks in it—both pleasing and explosive for shaved ice enthusiasts looking for some intrigue.
Even in 100+ temperatures, Tropical Moose helps me beat the heat right here in Missouri. Do you have any favorite shaved ice or snow cone joints you frequent to cool down?
Shaved ice season at Tropical Moose starts May 10 and ends September 30. Cash-only.