American ice cream shop menus are reflections of their owners. Some – like the list at the brand new Odd Fellows in Brooklyn – change daily based on the whims of the creative geniuses in the kitchen. Others, like the tried-and-true flavors at Wilton Candy Kitchen in Iowa, haven’t changed a lot in the century and a half they’ve been serving scoops.
We’ve rounded up the best spots to buy a cone or a cup this year. Some are old; some are new. Some own their own milk cows and others are pouring beer in the batter. Really want your taste buds blown? Amble up to a Coolhaus truck and partake in a Chicken & Waffles-flavored ice cream sandwich before summer’s over. Yes, you read that right.
Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop
Serving the vibrant and varied Mission neighborhood in San Francisco, Bi-Rite focuses on ripe organic fruit, local cream and milk from a nearby organic dairy, and sustainable practices like compostable cups and spoons. Unlike other chilly, white-tile-decorated parlors, this one features warm, rough wood accents, sourced from Marin.
The flavors trend creative, like their Balsamic Strawberry, made from fresh berries roasted in organic balsamic vinegar. They are then pureed and mixed with the cream base and hit with a second, healthy dose of vinegar for a tart and sweet taste that’s put Bi-Rite on the map. If strawberries aren’t your thing, we suggest their peanut-brittle-filled Coffee Toffee ice cream, with java sourced from Ritual Roasters just down the road.
“This all started when my husband bought me a Jersey cow for Christmas one year,” muses owner Karen Deconna. “I got this cow, and I didn’t realize that they gave five gallons of milk a day.
When the gorgeous corner space went up for rent at the old train depot in town, it seemed destiny to bring her ice cream to the masses. Grab a scoop of her frozen custard ice cream seasonals – like the fresh blueberry or the mid-summer mango – and rest assured you are getting ultra fresh. “I wake up and milk our six cows every day, and that’s where the ice cream starts,” she says.
There’s a wide porch beyond the sunny shop windows, rocking chairs and a view of a pasture beyond. Jersey Creamery is a bucolic testament to the way ice cream was meant to be experienced.
Salt & Straw
Named a “favorite” recently by Saveur magazine, this quirky shop is run by cousins Kim and Tyler Malek. At Salt & Straw, they will put anything in their ice cream, including olive oil. Arbequina olive oil, to be exact.
You could also opt for their Smoked Hefeweizen, their Fermented Pear & Fudge, or a double scoop of their Pear & Blue Cheese. Rest assured, they’ve got a Pacific Northwest attitude when it comes to sourcing ingredients. Everything is local, organic when it can be, sustainable if possible and farm-to-cone fresh at all times. A recent collaboration with Portland-based breweries means you can ship your buddies (or yourself) a great six-pack of beer-laced ice creams.
Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co.
The youngest spot on the list, Odd Fellows is a collaboration by culinary icon Sam Mason, and husband-and-wife team Mohan and Holiday Kumar. They opened their spot in June, but despite the tender age, it’s a bit of warfare to get inside on a sunny day. “We usually have a line, and we sell out of some flavors in a few hours,” says Mohan Kumar.
Sam Mason whipped up a Chorizo Caramel Swirl one morning, with chorizo flavor infused into the cream and the caramel. Then there was the Manchego Cheese with caramelized pineapple and thyme flavor. Think what you want about the Ice Cream Jesus picture inside, but you have to agree the smell is heavenly.
Launched from a lone ice cream truck in Los Angeles in 2009, Coolhaus is now prepared to dominate. Let’s put it this way: if the Zombie Apocalypse ever happens and the zombies are somehow deathly allergic to really delicious ice cream, Coolhaus has you covered.
They have 10 trucks spanning America, from New York City to Austin and Dallas, and an L.A. storefront shop with another on the way. Their menu takes classic flavors and adds fun twists, like Brown Butter Candied Bacon ice cream, Peking Duck ice cream, Chicken & Waffles, and Dirty Mint Julep. They’re also sold in natural markets such as Whole Foods throughout the country.
What started in 1929 as a full-service dairy just an hour past Fresno now focuses on pleasing customers with simple, delicious, no-nonsense ice cream in a handful of flavors and massive presentations.
While the business is trimmed down, the sundaes keep growing in size. Their “S.O.S.” comes with nine scoops of ice cream, bananas, strawberries, hot fudge, whipped cream and cherries – all served in a massive beer goblet. The building is virtually untouched, with a beautiful pressed tin ceiling and the charms of small-town life. “Most kids in the town get their first jobs here,” says co-owner Susan Bowden-Wing.
Wilton Candy Kitchen
Chatting with owners Thelma and George Nopoulos is a delightful experience, no matter what flavor you choose to sample. She’s 81. He’s 93. They’ve owned this joint since 1951, when they put in a new floor, a ice cream machine and soda fountain. Nothing else has changed. The place actually opened back in 1860 – the year Abe Lincoln was elected president – making it one of the oldest in America.
Thelma got her first job at age 10 inside of the Wilton Candy Kitchen, and she’s seen her fair share of celebrities over the decades. If you ask her what Gregory Peck ordered, she will tell you with absolute clarity that it was a grilled cheese sandwich with hot mustard and a chocolate soda with homemade ice cream.
La Divina Gelateria
In the Crescent City, imbibing plays an all-important part in daily life. Given the chemistry required to make frozen gelato creamy, it’s not a simple science to toss booze in the batter. These guys do it with finesse at three locations in town, and the result is flavors you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.
In summer, fresh fruit comes forward in their Peach Amaretto and Peach Prosecco options, and in fall, definitely request the Turbo Dog Chocolate Sorbetto, which marries locally brewed Abita Turbo Dog beer with dark Valrhona chocolate. They also serve Panini sandwiches here, which are maybe a wise idea if you choose their alcohol-based options.