Cool Off with These Best Ice Cream Shops in America

Ample Hills Creamery, in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Courtesy: Ample Hills Creamery)

By Carol Reed

Over the past couple of decades, there has been an ice cream renaissance in the United States. In a country where 90 percent of the population consumes this frozen confection, impassioned ice cream lovers and chefs have opened shops, equipped small production facilities, or kitted out trucks to make the stuff of memories – artisanal ice cream bursting with flavor these aficionados feasted on as kids that was a joy to eat and free of chemical additives.

Much of the best ice cream is made only in small batches from the milk and cream of regional farms. A lot is made with organic dairy and ripe, seasonal fruit. Many flavors are brand new. Most producers make their own custard-style base with eggs, which helps avoid large ice crystals and keeps the texture smooth and creamy, the taste rich and delicious.

We found notable producers committed to high-quality, small-batch ice cream all over the United States. But Brooklyn, N.Y., emerged as a kind of modern ice cream mecca, with a clutch of new, imaginative, and skilled ice cream producers. Everywhere, demand for premium ice cream is growing – and with it, new shops that are worth a visit. Here is a sampling of what we found.

Ample Hills Creamery (Brooklyn, New York)

Named for a line of poetry by Brooklyn denizen Walt Whitman, the Ample Hills retail store has been called Brooklyn’s “most beloved ice cream shop” by the New York Times T Magazine. The company handcrafts small-batch ice cream from fresh, natural ingredients brought down from upstate farms. There’s a rotating roster of 16 incredibly delicious flavors such as Salted Crack Caramel, Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, and, of course, Leaves of Grass – a mojito sorbet with organic lime juice, fresh mint, and a splash or two of rum.

(Courtesy: Amy’s Ice Creams)

Amy’s Ice Creams (Austin, Texas)

Established in 1984, Amy’s is this capital city’s favorite excuse to indulge in super premium, handmade ice cream, fruit ices, and frozen yogurt. There are seven standard flavors that are always available, including Mexican Vanilla, which in Austin is even served fried, tempura style. The more adventurous look forward to Ancho Chocolate and Guinness, along with about 350 other rotating flavors.

(Courtesy: Ben & Jerry’s)

Ben & Jerry’s (Waterbury, Vermont)

Established in 1978, this once-small Vermont producer of homemade ice cream (with a cultish following) hit the big time when Unilever bought it in 2000. But it retains the kind of rock-culture flavors that made it famous. And it remains phenomenally popular: Of all the big-name ice cream outfits in the U.S., Ben & Jerry’s is the social media favorite, raking in by far the most “likes,” followers, and video views on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In 2013, the flavor Half Baked (chocolate and vanilla ice creams with chocolate chip cookie dough and fudge brownies), unseated iconic Cherry Garcia (cherry ice cream with cherries and fudge flakes) as the No. 1 Ben & Jerry’s bestseller in the U.S. The company may have gone industrial with a daily ice cream production of 35,000 gallons processed in 1,000-gallon blenders and stored in 5,000-gallon mix tanks, but it still reflects small-batch values by refusing genetically modified ingredients and dairy from cows fed artificial growth hormone.

Bi-Rite Creamery (San Francisco)

A family-owned organic creamery in Marin County just north of San Francisco has supplied Bi-Rite Creamery since it opened in 2006 with organic dairy and eggs. Five yolks go into the rich Bi-Rite base and then other local, handmade, and organic ingredients are used to make luscious flavors like Honey Lavender with Sonoma Honey, Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle and Milk Chocolate Pieces, and Balsamic Strawberry. In the adjacent Bi-Rite Bakeshop, the two owners, who started as bakers, make whatever tidbits goes into their ice cream, whether it’s brownies, marshmallows, or snickerdoodles for cinnamon-flavored Ricanelas ice cream.

(Courtesy: Blue Marble)

Blue Marble (Brooklyn, New York)

From the time Blue Marble launched in 2007, it made a commitment to use only organic dairy from grass-fed cows. This means, say the owners, they produce “real food” without flourishes and gimmicks. The flavors, made with minimal sugar, are classic and elemental, such as the custardy Sweet Cream and the often-praised Strawberry.

(Courtesy: Bubbie’s Homemade Ice Cream)

Bubbie’s Homemade Ice Cream (Honolulu)

Next to the flavored shaved ice that President Obama loves, ice cream is king in Hawaii and Bubbie’s is Honolulu’s premier ice cream maker. The company has been making super premium ice cream for more than 27 years. Both locals and tourists know it for its delectable bite-size mochi – rounds of ice cream enrobed in a sweetened rice confection, most in pretty pastel colors. Of 20 available flavors, Azuki Bean, Green Tea, and tropical fruit flavors such as Guava are must-tries. They’re small and reasonably priced, so sample a few.

(Courtesy: Capogiro Gelato)

Capogiro Gelato (Philadelphia)

This artisanal producer uses exquisite local ingredients such as dairy from Amish grass-fed cows and goats, and fine Italian imports such as Sicilian pistachios and Piedmont hazelnut paste to handcraft small-batch gelato and vegan sorbets every morning. Offbeat flavors such as Stracciatella (Italian chocolate chip), Apple Mascarpone, and Rosemary Honey Goat’s Milk are enough to entice any adventurous sweets lover.

(Courtesy: The Creole Creamery)

The Creole Creamery (New Orleans)

In 2004, this 1950s-style ice cream parlor opened in an historic former bakery space within a burgeoning foodie zone of uptown New Orleans. There are standards like Vanilla and Mint Chocolate Chip. But customers love pondering the extensive, rotating menu of especially creamy ice creams and refreshing sorbets, as well as the separate freezer set aside just for chocolate flavors – the most outrageous may be I Scream Fudge!. Other favorites include Bananas Foster, Plum Walnut, and Creole

(Courtesy: Crescent Ridge Dairy)

Crescent Ridge Dairy (Sharon, Massachusetts)

The Crescent Ridge Dairy in rural Massachusetts has been delivering creamy small-batch milk from small, family-owned farms, along with ice cream and other high-quality provisions to the customer’s door since 1932. The ice cream, also available at the associated dairy bar, comes in vintage flavors like Maple Walnut and newfangled marvels like Black Bear – raspberry ice cream with chocolate chips and chocolate-covered raspberry truffles.

(Courtesy: Graeter’s)

Graeter’s (Cincinnati)

This ode to handmade ice cream starts with hand-picked fruit, and fresh dairy and eggs from Ohio farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormone. The ice cream is frozen in 2-gallon French pots, the hundred-year-old technology of choice before big producers nixed such small batches. The contents of each pot is continually stirred to squeeze out air and slowly frozen to produce a supremely rich and creamy texture. The all-time bestselling flavor is luscious Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip, with chunks of artisanal chocolate. Belgian Milk Chocolate, made with some of the finest cocoas in the world, can’t be far behind.

See more of America’s Best Ice Cream Shops

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