People have always liked eating ice flavored with sugar and fruit and these days, in our mom and pop shops, in our pseudo-diners, home kitchens and culinary studios, we see America reclaiming ice cream identity, experimenting with flavors and processes to create gelato, frozen custard, fro-yo, soft serve, sorbets; giant colorful scoops of ‘em layered between gluten free cookies or held aloft on a sugar waffle cone, in a cup, shoveled with tiny spoons, any way you want it. Don’t fret on a hot day, just hit one of these cities and, by gum, never order the vanilla unless it’s Tahitian and swirled with a layer of caramel.
Chicago is a classic city that does everything with a no-frills elegance, like hot dogs and baseball, and especially ice cream. Margie’s Candies has been dipping cherry cordials and topping sundaes with hot fudge since 1921; they gave the Rolling Stones that "Brown Sugar" they needed and left the Beatles with dreams of Strawberry Fields, and sweetened the days of classic Hollywood icons and even Al Capone. Now, with a fourth-generation proprietor in this chocolatey dynasty, Margie’s is sweeter than ever – there’s no fancy stuff, only all-natural and kosher ingredients in classic flavors like new York Cherry, Chocolate, Coffee, Pistachio and Mint Chocolate with searing hot fudge toppings.
Atlanta, the big city in the South, might be a sweltering place to spend a summer, but there’s no shortage of ways to cool off and chill out. Its young ice cream entrepreneurs all have a dedication towards local ingredients served up in unique ways. Paolo’s Gelato pays homage to the icy delights of the gelaterias of Treviso, Italy. The widely lauded Morelli’s also puts a Southern twist on an American classic by occasionally working with Kevin Gillespie from Woodfire Grill to produce intensely smoky caramel sauce and toasted marshmallow sundaes.
As always, New York wins points for diversity. The culture of their neighborhoods are pervasive, even in the ice cream and gelaterias in the city. Thank goodness, too, because anyone who has been to New York in the summer understands that the sizzling concrete, head-pounding exhaust fumes and drenching humidity is best attacked with an ice cream cone in hand.
The first ice cream shop to ever introduce Mango into the San Francisco ice cream cannon was Mitchell’s in the early ‘60s. In the past half century, Mitchell’s was also undoubtedly the first to serve ice cream flavors in Jackfruit from the Philippines, Lucuma from Peru, Macapuno (Peruvian coconut), Ube purple yam from the Philippines, and even more. Not too shabby for a nearly 60-year-old family-owned and operated ice cream shop. Another shop that hails from local and celebrated beginnings is the Bi-Rite Creamery, a love child of two pastry chefs from the Bi-Rite Market dynasty. Serving small-batch, seasonal and always fresh scoops and ice cream sandwiches in classic but unconventional flavors like honey lavender, coffee toffee, Ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodles) and brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, the Bi-Rite Creamery has proven itself a local hero with ice cream aficionados and environmentalists – their cups and spoons are compostable, the ingredients in their cones and ice cream are organic and sourced as locally as possible, and all their organic milk, cream and eggs are provided by the local Straus Family Creamery.
There’s a lot of buzz about L.A. in general and a lot of reasons why they would have excellent ice cream – the weather being a main one – but some of the best ice cream places in the city are tucked away from the big celebrity hot spots, well designed on the inside but minimal on the outside, packed with huge flavor in an unassuming cone. Scoops is a place that offers daily changing specials and a blackboard for fans to write down their flavor suggestions. This method of experimental ice cream churning has created such flavors as Horchata, Brown Brown Bread (with grape nuts coated in brown sugar and mixed with dulce de leche ice cream), Rosemary Olive Oil and more inventive concoctions. The Sweet Rose Creamery takes this sense of adventure even further, turning the message into the medium – on top of their unique scoops, they offer frozen novelties like Vanilla Bon Bons which look like cake pops but filled with vanilla ice cream dipped in Guittard chocolate as well as seasonal flavored Bonbons.
Portland, the American champion of the small batch, the hero of sustainable and organic, the proliferator of chalkboard block letters (or the customized hand-carved rubber stamps), and the cheerleader of local and seasonal produce resumes its position as a hot contender in this food trend competition. Time and time again, dairy dictators insist that cows need hormones to make milk, and time and time again, Portland calls up their friends in rural Oregon and ask, "How can we prove these guys wrong?… I hear you, but, okay, so, when does the food truck come in?"
Is there any better accompaniment to a sun-soaked carnival than a heaping cone of ice cream? New Orleans, a city with a long history of sugar, has jumped on the ice cream train. Creole Creamery offers refreshing flavors in Cola, Cream Soda, Cucumber, Grapefruit Campari, Green Tea & Apricot, Mimosa, Mojito, Cayenne Lime Butter, Ginger peach and more. For a little taste of the old world in NOLA, Angelo Brocato, whose first eponymous founder once worked at a sugar plantation himself to prepare building his empire, is a century-old institution in the French Quarter that churns out Palermo-style gelato and Sicilian pastries.
With its ideal Mediterranean-like climate all year round, long stretches of pristine beaches and attractions like the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, it’s no surprise that San Diego is a popular coastal escape for families. Throw in a gourmet custom-made Snickerdoodle and cookie dough ice cream sandwich and kids will be positively foaming at the mouth. That’s why parents who take their kids to The Baked Bear in Pacific Beach are the BEST PARENTS EVER – at least for the afternoon. In the eternal battle between cookies and cones, the victor remains the fresh-baked, soft and chewy chocolate-studded cookie every time.
The snow-capped peaks of the Colorado Rockies match the heaping scoops of gourmet ice cream on a sugar cone, and right next to it, sitting at an altitude of 5,280 feet is the Mile High City. There is no physical way to ingest a Mile High ice cream cone, though undoubtedly the term has been used hyperbolically to describe the height of some of the finest frozen gourmet confections the city has to offer. Denver, Colorado, is a major ice cream city. It’s not a gelato city, or a sorbet city, a gluten-free froyo nor a frozen custard city – what the places like Liks Ice Cream, Little Man Ice Cream, Bonnie Brae Ice Cream or the nationally lauded Sweet Action Ice Cream serves looks very much like what an expert hand would carve out of a Breyers box. But the Mile High difference, as always, is what goes into that scoop.
For a city submerged in oppressively cold winters, it’s no surprise that Minneapolis really knows how to cool down when they need to. On top of all of that, its location convenient to all of the dairy farms of the Midwest and producers of other fine foods make the local food culture in Minneapolis a gourmet dream – albeit a lesser known one. One ice cream shop not to be missed is the Pumphouse Creamery, which takes organic milk and cream from the Crystal Ball Farm and organic grains and seeds from the nearby Whole Grain Milling Company to make their waffle cones.