Fleur de Lis Flavors shaves the ice just right

Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 11:45pm
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There’s nothing like a kid in a candy shop or a bull in a china shop.

Or, in this case, an energetic little lady at a snowball shop.

It’s a hot Saturday at the Nashville Farmers Market and a mommy has her tykes in tow as the group eagerly approaches Fleur de Lis Flavors.

“Awesome! Look!” squeals the aforementioned young lass as she points to a display of colorful snowball toppings, the collective nutritional value of which clearly is not to be confused with that of raw broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

Minutes later, the crew is enthusiastically gobbling up snowballs covered in sugary toppings, the goo-ey gunk dripping to the concrete flooring of the market and rendering the entire sight simultaneously delightful and — to those of us who struggle to maintain a healthful diet — stomach-upsetting.

And that’s the beauty of Fleur de Lis (pronounced fler-day-LEE and translating to “flower of the lily” if you are French deficient), the snowball treatery that opened just this year yet already has captured the fancy of locals who dig shaved ice soaked in sugar-laden syrups.

Tanisha Hall is the snow-brains behind FDL, and this vivacious businesswoman has created something distinct for Nashville.

Gael and Robert Armstrong agreed, as they recently relaxed at the market.

“It’s fabulous — perfect on a summer day,” Gael said while happily ice-licking a snowball flavored with mango syrup.

Hall spent time in New Orleans, perhaps the American city best known for boasting a snowball culture. She has studied the art of ice shaving and flavor mixing, can hoist heavy blocks of ice, and is skilled at explaining the machinery used within the trade.

Most important, Hall loves ice.

“When I was younger, I could take an ice cube and crunch it down to nothingness in seconds,” she said as if to suggest a child’s skill not unlike yo-yo-ing or pogo stick-ing.

No doubt, the woman knows snowballery, explaining that a snow cone uses crushed ice while the snowball counters with shaved ice.

To better understand snowballology, this writer took a brief “tour” of Fleur de Lis. Hall pointed to the metal Snow Wizard, a New Orleans-made ice machine that is a key to the process, and to various 12-15-pound blocks of ice that would later be “shaved” for the creations. Bottles with colorful syrups and a large soft-serve ice cream machine give the treat shop added visual allure. Nuts, coffee and popcorn are among the offerings.

After assessing the tiny shop and pondering how I could apply a future reference to my knowledge of the Snow Wizard to impress a prospective romantic interest, I sampled various shaved ice goodness. Wow. Tiger’s Blood, Black Cherry, Tamarind, Spearmint…all outstanding. The flavors burst from the finely shaved ice in such a manner as to make an Icee — that summer favorite of all the kiddies — seem uninspired. If you dig a refreshing treat on a hot day, Hall’s balls of colorful ice deliver the goods.

“The perfect snowball is all about perfect ice,” said Hall, who has a full-time Monday-Friday job and whose family assists in running the business. “We make our own ice using filtered water and shave it so it looks and tastes like fresh fallen snow. The soft, delicate ice shavings make the snowballs more palatable.”

Hall did not stumble into the snowball biz. In fact, she aspired to be an entrepreneur after getting hooked on the cable television show called Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.

“I would watch TiVo-ed episodes late into the night,” Hall recalled. “Donny and his small business owner guests would talk about living the American dream and starting a business doing something you love. It made me think about some of the things I loved and didn’t have in Nashville. My thoughts immediately turned to snowballs because I sought them out year after year and could not find them.”

Wanting to change this, Hall brought some New Orleans to Nashville.

“After Hurricane Katrina, when so many New Orleanians settled in the Nashville area, they really wanted a little taste of home,” said Hall, who is often asked about her New Orleans background. “They want to authenticate the product, which is one of the reasons we offer samples. Once they taste it and know it is the real thing, they are so excited and thank me for being here. It is an extremely gratifying experience.”

Hall was born in Nashville, attended grad school at the University of Iowa and has lived in Atlanta. But her time in New Orleans was special. She said New Orleans transplants in Music City need “authentication,” while Nashvillians need “education on snowballs.”

“The Fleur de Lis Flavors team spends a lot of time discussing snowballs, different flavors, great flavor combinations, and enhancements to help them understand more about the product,” Hall explained.

Hall has expanded Fleur de Lis’ scope by providing catering in what she calls a “mobile version of the store.” If folks fail to frequent the Farmers Market, they can be snowballed in the comfort of their home or office.

“It is great being a part of important events from birthdays to weddings to corporate employee appreciation days,” she said. “People are never unhappy when snowballs are around.”

Surprisingly, Hall avoids making a mess of herself while toiling in the FDL snowball pit.

“I have never ruined a garment after spilling snowball flavoring on it because the flavoring washes out easily,” she said. “I am even bold enough to wear white pants, T-shirts and shorts to events and in the store.”

Make no mistake, Hall is serious about the snowball culture.

“My husband Byron and I adopted a Yorkshire terrier,” she said, “and named him Snowball.”

What: Fleur de Lis Flavors
Where: Nashville Farmers Market (900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.)
Contact: 351-6109, fdlflavors.com