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America's Top Ice Cream Shops

America's Top Ice Cream Shops
Richardson's Ice Cream, Boston

Ball & Albanese

Every area of the country has its own legendary ice cream parlor or two, welcoming refuges that provide a cooling escape from the heat of a summer’s day—along with some serious culinary pleasure.


Richardson’s Ice Cream

Things have changed a bit since the original stand opened in this town north of Boston in 1952; it’s now a well-oiled machine with 11 service windows out front. But customers are still served old-fashioned frappes (Yankee for “milkshake”), and ice cream sodas come with a lump of ice cream topping the rim of the glass.

Flavor to Try: Richardson’s has absolutely celestial strawberry ice cream, the taste of summer in America.

Berkeley, Calif

Ici Ice Cream

Ici is run by a former pastry chef from Chez Panisse, Mary Canales, and is balanced between the past — hearty root-beer floats and all that — and the gourmet future, with such flavors as brandied cherry and burnt caramel. Each day, 11 flavors — drawn from whatever might be fresh, creative, and generally happening that day — are offered, made with organic Soul Food eggs and milk from Clover Organic Dairy.

Flavor to Try: Rose is as light, thoughtful, and refreshing as a summer’s day in San Francisco.

Tiverton, R.I.

Gray’s Ice Cream

Gray’s has been an institution in Tiverton, across the river from Newport, since 1923, when Annie Gray turned her house into a casual ice cream parlor in the historic Four Corners section of town. Current owner Marilyn Dennis keeps the standards on the menu for the old-timers, while adding such newer hybrids as strawberry cheesecake.

Flavor to Try: Frozen pudding, a rum-based ice cream loaded with apricots and raisins, is a Gray’s tradition and not something even die-hard ice cream fanatics encounter every day.

Wilmette, Ill.

Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream

The Chicago area has plenty of couture ice cream operations — like Ruth and Phils Gourmet Ice Cream, with such arcane flavors as sour cream cinnamon — but a big, hearty city demands the kind of hearty ice cream that Al Capone used to enjoy. In 1935, Gus Poulos made up his first batch of ice cream at this very location in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, and it’s an obligatory pit stop for visitors and Chicagoans alike. Capone might have been a bad guy, but he knew good ice cream.

Flavor to Try: Chi-town is the American heartland, so dig in to the Americana-fest with a heaping bowl of Rocky Road, chocolate ice cream combined with almonds and marshmallows, a staple of parlors across the country.

Portsmouth, N.H.

Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream

On a narrow street along the Portsmouth harbor is Annabelle’s, where the owner, retired doctor Lewis Palosky, thinks of himself as “an artist, not a businessman.” His credo is evident in the thick (difficult to pierce with a spoon) and intensely flavorful ice cream. Black raspberry, a New England staple, is rich with flavor.

Flavor to Try: Black raspberry is one thing, but the French vanilla is a revelation, a symbol of ordinariness that has been made, through some magical culinary alchemy, extraordinary.

New Orleans

Angelo Brocato Ice Cream & Confectionary

In New Orleans, ice cream is taken as seriously as any other sensual pleasure, and since 1905, Angelo Brocato has been serving up Italian delights in an Old Palermo–inspired parlor. The selection includes lemon ice, gelato, Sicilian flavors like amaretto, cannolis, almond biscotti, and nods to New Orleans, with peach ice being particularly popular in the summer.

Flavor to Try: Spumoni is molto Italiano, a wedge of tutti-frutti, lemon, and pistachio ice cream, topped off with homemade whipped cream.

Sanford, Maine

Shain’s of Maine Ice Cream

Shain’s, in the otherwise nondescript town of Sanford, south of Portland, strives for the appropriate throwback atmosphere: red-and-white old-time soda shop banquettes; vintage newspaper ads underneath glass tabletops.

Flavor to Try: Maine Survivor — vanilla with hard fudge swirl, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Spanish peanuts, and chocolate-chip cookies — is a sugar rush beyond compare.

Haleiwa, Hawaii

Matsumoto Shave Ice

For more than 50 years, Matsumoto has been the place to go on Oahu’s famed North Shore. Ice cream is adept at adapting to regional influences, and Matsumoto accordingly features such shaved-ice flavors as passion fruit, lychee, guava, and, of course, pineapple. The classic cone begins with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and adzuki beans (sweetened red beans). The combination is then topped with flavored shaved ice. Year after year, it never changes, and it’s always delicious.

Flavor to Try: Lychee-flavored shaved ice, paired with ice cream and adzuki beans, is the ultimate Hawaiian pleasure.

Burlington, Vt.

Ben & Jerry’s

The factory of the Ben & Jerry’s empire is hardly undiscovered, but it makes for a great afternoon, especially with ice cream–bedazzled children. This is ground zero of all things ice cream, with real cows and cow imagery heralding the Cow Over the Moon theater and the Flavoroom. The Flavor Graveyard, with such offerings as Rainforest Crunch, is particularly interesting: it might be time to bring back Economic Crunch.

Flavor to Try: Command central is forever offering daily samplings of new flavors, such as 2009’s fair trade Chocolate Macadamia and Mission to Marzipan.


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