Treat to eat now: Paletas at Diamonds Ice Cream

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Carlos Torres wasn't sure Columbus was the best market to open an ice cream and paleta shop. "Columbus' weather is crazy," laughs the Guadalajara, Mexico-native, whose family owns ice cream shops throughout his hometown. "You never know what's going to happen."

But Torres and his cousin Jose Torres, decided to give it a try. They opened Diamonds Ice Cream off Bethel Road in January, knowing winter would be the litmus test-if they could drum up business in subzero temperatures, they just might make it.

"It worked," says Carlos, smiling as he sits in the corner of his eatery with a subtle old-school ice cream parlor vibe with reflective silver tables and vibrant bright pink and purple walls.

What Carlos and Jose couldn't predict at the start of the year is that paletas-fresh fruit filled ice pops-would be the summer's hot frozen treat. The idea of paletas isn't necessarily new to Columbus as Mexican markets all over the city have served some form of the frozen treat for years. But what Diamonds has that other spots don't is a hard-to-miss corner storefront in a high-traffic area of town paired with more than 70 flavors of fresh and creative paletas, from papaya to cactus pear with chili, bubblegum to pico de gallo.

"With ice cream and paletas, it's like being a cook or a chef, you just have to play with flavors," Carlos says. "It's like a game." He crafts flavors based on whim, a fruit he might be craving that day, or suggestions from customers (like one who mentioned a blueberry corn ice cream he had 10 years ago-so Carlos recreated it). This is how he's ended up with uncommon concoctions like avocado and jalapeno.

While unusual flavors are eye-catching, it's the taste that has customers flocking in. Fruit paletas contain very little sugar, relying on the natural sweetness of the base ingredient, Carlos says. To keep offerings fresh, he makes small batches of 52 at a time.

"I don't keep 100 in a cool just waiting. We make a lot of fresh every week," he says.

Take the mango chili-one of the more popular flavors. It's filled with bite-size chunks of fresh mango frozen on the outside, but still soft on the inside when you bite it. Lime juice added to the base gives it little punch, and dried chili peppers make the tongue tingle without setting it on fire.

Other popular flavors include blackberry and cheese, coconut, butter pecan and the bright pink pine nut (Carlos' personal favorite that's spiked with coconut). When asked how he makes a paleta out of pine nuts, he shares the secret: an added dose of pine nut extract for an aromatic boost. Their ice pops don't just taste fresh, he says, they're designed to smell fresh, too.

"It's like when you buy expensive perfume. The scents make the difference," Carlos says. "You buy a chocolate cone at Dairy Queen and you never smell the flavor. We add a lot of scents so you can smell it."

As for the name of the shop, Diamonds is an ode to the corner eatery's former jewelry store tenant. "We wanted a different name," Carlos explains, "and it's got the diamond already [on the awning], so I don't have to change the cover." The name Diamonds was available, so it stuck.

Bonus: all the flavors found in the freezer case are also available in house-made ice cream form, too. And if diners are feeling an even lighter snack, Carlos can whip up a fresh fruit cocktail cup.

At a Glance

5461 Bethel Sawmill Center, Columbus, 614-718-2980

Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.