There’s a cool, sweet spot on the global culinary crossroads that is the Green Springs Highway, which ties together portions of Birmingham and Homewood. But there’s much more than homemade ice cream and other frozen sweet treats at La Nueva Michoacana.
There’s ice cream, of course. Lots of it – scooped into cups, waffle cones, waffle cups and packed in larger containers to go. There’s a rainbow of homemade popsicles, too. But you’ll also find fresh fruit in a cup, spicy snacks in a bag, elote (Mexican street corn) on a stick as well as ice-cold juices, fresh chicharrones and homemade potato chips.
And the flavors! Sweet, spicy, salty, sour, savory. Sometimes even all in a single treat! And, if you want more heat, there are bottles of Valentina hot sauce on the tables.
Juan Sanchez, the owner of La Nueva Michoacana and the person who makes the ice creams, popsicles and just about everything else here, says this combination of ice cream and snacks is typical of what you would find in a similar shop in Michoacán, a state in west-central Mexico where his family is from originally.
With Ady Lopez translating, Sanchez tells us that this kind of ice cream shop is very popular in Mexico but, of course, it’s not what you’d usually find in Alabama, so that makes his place different from other ice cream shops here. Also, he enjoys providing variety for his customers.
It should be noted, and Sanchez says, there are thousands of Michoacanas all over Mexico and throughout the United States. (It has become a generic term, although there are lawsuits pending about this.) Like the hot dog stands owned by the first Greeks who came to Birmingham, a “Michoacana” can be a path to economic mobility, a foothold in a local food community, a way to build an independent (usually family-owned) business without a lot of capital.
La Nueva Michoacana brings a sweet taste of Mexico to Green Springs from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.
With a 4.5 rating on Google reviews and a line out the door on the weekends, the bright, colorful La Nueva Michoacana in Homewood, with its shiny silver tables, family-friendly booths and Mexican music, enjoys a loyal following. Sanchez, who has been in business for five years this month, says his “customers are a variety of people. Every culture. The main audience is Hispanics, but we have a variety.”
They seem to enjoy everything, but a quick glance at a Sunday afternoon crowd shows ice cream is the main draw – especially for families.
There are 28 flavors of ice cream right now, but Sanchez says he’s planning to add 14 more in the next month or so. These flavors range from creamy white coconut with fresh coconut flakes to a vibrantly blue “cookie monster” ice cream filled with broken bits of cookies. There’s much more including mango, pistachio, chocolate and an amazing caramel ice cream with cajeta, a goat’s milk caramel imported from Mexico.
The treats are made in-house from natural ingredients (“es natural” is part of the store’s logo). Most of the recipes, Sanchez says, are family recipes. He learned some from his sister, and he also has friends in Mexico in the food industry who have shared their recipes with him.
Gallons of icy fruit juices (aguas frescas) include mango, coconut, mixed fruit, cantaloupe, hibiscus and more. The lime-and-cucumber version is especially refreshing.
A colorful variety of paletas (popsicles) offers familiar and exotic options. Some are made with cream; others are fruit based. There are a few versions of strawberries and cream; there are straight-up fruit paletas made with mango, coconut, lemon, avocado, strawberries and more. Many of the popsicles are loaded with big pieces of ripe fruit – as pretty as they are tasty.
Sanchez says, “How they look brings the attention of the audience, and then the audience wants to buy the product.” He adds that when he makes them, he puts “a lot of thought and effort into it. It takes a lot of patience to do the small details.”
You’ll find popsicles here you’ll not find elsewhere. There’s a creamy fruit-studded, not-too-sweet paleta reminiscent of a traditional Mexican fruit salad. We loved the delightfully sweet-fiery mango-and-chamoy combination that is a popsicle version of “fruit in a cup.”
Then there’s actual fruit in a cup – big chunks of fresh, mixed tropical fruits topped with chamoy sauce and chile powder. The mangonada is one of the most popular items here. Another fruit concoction is called gazpacho and features mixed fruit with cheese (and onions if you want). Also in a cup but savory: Mexican street corn salad (esquites) topped with chile powder and lime.
A large rack holds dozens of flavors of chips offering countless options for easy, to-go snacks in colorful bags. You see Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos and Fritos in flavors you might not have seen before. There are bags of Sabritas, Rancheritos, Crujitos and more. Pick a bag, and they will fill it with toppings like melted cheese, jalapenos, salsa and corn sticks or cucumber, jicama, peanuts and chamoy or corn, mayonnaise, jalapenos and chile powder. Or any combination you’d like.
La Nueva Michoacana is only one of many Green Springs businesses offering global flavors. Sabor Latino serves up Peruvian dishes just steps away. There’s a small tienda (with imported Hispanic goods) in this shopping center, too. And the popular La Perla Nayarita Mexican Seafood & Grill is in an outparcel here. All along Green Springs, you’ll find a world of diverse dishes – Ethiopian, Korean, more Mexican, Salvadorian, Middle Eastern, Chinese and more – in restaurants and in a number of food trucks that come and go.
Just down the street, Mi Pueblo Supermarket draws regional customers with its bounty of fresh produce and dried chiles; homemade tortillas and scores of pastries; meats and seafoods; Mexican soft drinks, snacks, and candies; and specialty housewares. There’s a daily buffet in the back, a snack station up front and mariachi music storewide. Mediterranean Food Market, known for its helpful, friendly service, is a popular place for halal meats, Middle Eastern foods and specialty cheeses, breads, candies and spices. The new Halal Supermarket International is a short drive away. Hometown Supermarket is one of the state’s largest Asian markets, and it also has impressive African, Indian and South American sections. Really, the place is huge, and Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Restaurant is inside the store.
Green Springs Highway is one of the busiest business roadways in Homewood, and the city of Homewood sees it as an important gateway between Lakeshore Boulevard and Oxmoor Road. Also recognizing the increasing regional draw of the diverse businesses there – and Birmingham’s growing appetite for global flavors – the city is making access to these stores and restaurants easier with a $2.25 million revitalization project that includes beautiful green medians with trees. New infrastructure will make Green Springs more bike and pedestrian friendly while better regulating traffic. Eventually a bike lane will travel all the way to UAB on Birmingham’s Southside.
It’s an investment in the city, its residents, its businesses, its many visitors and in good taste. From a food standpoint, there is no other place quite like this in the area.
The changes will most certainly draw even more new customers to the businesses here, and places like La Nueva Michoacana will welcome them.
Sanchez says he feels proud of what he’s built here in Alabama; he’s proud to own La Nueva Michoacana. “We’re bringing a part of Mexico here,” he says.
La Nueva Michoacana
104 Green Springs Highway
Homewood, Alabama 35209
Connect with @LaNuevaMichoacanaBhm
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)
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