Salvatore Caruso didn't have to wait until that fateful week in March to figure out that 2020 was going to be a difficult year. The recovering addict had already found himself battling a host of challenges when the virus began sweeping through New Orleans. Not only was Caruso recovering from a car accident, but he'd just found out he was being laid off from his job.
And then he found himself doing what so many people did when they found themselves up against a wall at the start of the pandemic—he imagined an entirely different future for himself.
Having already taken culinary classes at Delgado Community College, Caruso began experimenting with French-style ice cream, or frozen custard, in his home kitchen, sneaking samples to people he trusted to give him the straight scoop. From inventive spicy watermelon, made with smoked chipotle pepper, to impeccable classic butter pecan, the product was so perfect that by the time Caruso began selling in small batches online, everything would disappear within the first hour. Hand-packing and hand-labeling every single quart, Caruso's business, Laozi Ice Cream, has grown in leaps and bounds—in less than a year, he was able to upgrade to a more serious Carpagiani machine and a workspace in the back of a local donut shop.
Turns out, Caruso is one of countless Americans who handled things a little differently than the rest of us in 2020—they stared back at the pandemic and said, You know what? I think I'll make ice cream. Nobody will be surprised to learn that for the last year and change, ice cream has been one of the hottest sellers. Scoop shops may have found themselves on a rocky road at the start, but pretty much anybody packing pints and half-gallons was doing a brisk business, according to the people whose job it is to keep track of such things. The industry ended up growing significantly.
In New Orleans alone, more than half a dozen new ice cream makers cropped up around and during the pandemic, and Caruso's success inspired more than a few underemployed makers to jump into the game. That scenario seemed to play out over and over again, all across the country. From orders-by-text at popular restaurants like Lovely's Fifty-Fifty in Portland, Oregon, where pizza whiz Sarah Minnick began selling ice cream by the pint and posting flavors to Instagram, to Milk Jawn in Philadelphia, where an ambitious group of three began selling pints of Earl Grey with honeycomb candy and lemon curd blueberry basil through their website and at coffee shops around town. There was so much new ice cream to try in 2020—you just had to know where to look. And then you had to make room in your freezer.
Roughly twenty years have passed since the last great ice cream revolution kicked off, with the likes of Jeni's Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio (launched in 2002) and Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco (2006) and so many others. There have been more than a few of these disruptive periods in America's long ice cream history—so why not once again, and why not right now? In some cities, the change is coming so fast that when we talk about the best ice creams in town, we're often talking about places that may not have existed even a year ago.
All this sudden shifting around in the hierarchy presented something of a challenge to our survey, the result of many years of tasting ice cream (and frozen custard, and gelato) in each of the fifty states. To keep things simple, in order to qualify, it seemed fair to ask for at least a year or two of uninterrupted production, hopefully, longer, allowing each maker to settle in and find its groove. Chances are, however, the next time this list gets updated, the landscape will be rather dramatically altered.
Even with this kind of guidance in place, the decisions in some places ended up being almost too difficult. Hopefully, this list, which didn't necessarily favor old or new, but rather asked the question, fifty times, what feels the most essential, depicts as well as it can, the diversity and depth of our national ice cream culture. At the very least, let's hope it inspires you to get out there and try something new. It's summertime, after all.
Geri-Martha O'Hara was a pastry chef working at Bottega, one of Birmingham's finest restaurants, when she met her now-husband, Ryan O'Hara. In 2014, with just $500 to spend, the couple gambled on their dream business, Big Spoon Creamery, initially selling from a trike in their neighborhood, eventually shifting over to an ice cream truck, and then, finally, a storefront. (And then, another.) Partnerships with local farms and their favorite makers inform the fresh, often seasonal flavors you'll find here. Ice cream sandwiches, as one might imagine with a highly-skilled pastry chef in the house, are very good.
Who eats the most ice cream per capita, of any state? Alaskans, that's who. Unfortunately, too much of the stuff is shipped in from other states, something that had been bothering Elissa Brown and Chris Pike, who founded Wild Scoops in Anchorage back in 2015, with the goal of being the most Alaskan ice cream company of all time. This means sourcing as much as they can from right here at home, from birch syrup to spruce tips to wild berries, even root beer from the Moose's Tooth, one of the city's most popular restaurants. They might not have converted everybody to buying local just yet, but with two scoop shops in town, they've certainly got Anchorage (where the majority of Alaskans live) on the hook.
Back in 2008 when Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung pivoted from careers in finance to careers in ice cream at Scottsdale's Sweet Republic, the field was considerably less packed than it is today. The duo could have sold just about any ice cream in their attractive shop and probably done well, but not being the sort that goes in for half-measures, they came out of the gate swinging with some absolutely wild flavors, many of them becoming firm favorites. To this day, one of their most requested is the coconut cashew curry—crunchy, nutty brittle folded into creamy coconut (and curry!) ice cream.
You can learn a lot about what's good in Little Rock just by stopping by Loblolly Creamery in the city's quietly cool Quapaw Quarter, one of the oldest neighborhoods in town. Beans for their Coffee & Cream flavor come from Fidel & Co., an up-and-coming local roaster with a café nearby, and booze for the excellent Bourbon Pecan comes from Rock Town Distillery, just down Main Street. Sally Mengel got into ice cream by accident, she insists—there was no local product available to sell at the soda fountain where she worked, so she decided to solve the problem herself. Today, her shop is located directly next door.
There are two types of Californians: those who imagine there is some sort of debate to be had surrounding where one might find the best ice cream in the Golden State, and those who grew up in and around Sacramento, the capital, for whom there is typically no debate. As they will tell you, like you should have known all along, the answer to your question is Gunther's, which goes back more than 75 years. Like moths to flame on a warm summer's evening, this bright, classic shop with the unmistakable neon sign draws locals young and old to a relatively quiet corner in the Curtis Park neighborhood for scoops of house-made black walnut and lemon custard, or one of their exceedingly popular fruit freezes, a fitting treat in a town surrounded by many an orchard and grove.
For late nights until the weather sends everybody indoors, one of the most popular gathering places in town is the 28-foot-high milk can on 16th Street in Denver's Lower Highlands neighborhood. It's been the home of Little Man Ice Cream since 2008 when real estate guy and man about town Paul Tamburello opened up shop because he thought it might be fun. There have been other ice cream shops since, some of them extremely capable, and there will likely be more still to come. When a flavor more iconically Denver than Little Man's Salted Oreo, which is exactly what it sounds like, comes around, do get in touch—we'll happily revisit the decision.
From small-town mom-and-pop operations to destination-worthy farmstead creameries, Connecticut has to be one of the luckiest states when it comes to classic ice cream, making this one of the toughest calls on the list. But if you're only going to sample one ice cream while you're here, it's going to have to be Arethusa Farm in Bantam, which began as a land preservation effort, way back in the 1990s, by two Manolo Blahnik executives who lived across the street from an old dairy farm and wanted to protect their view. One thing lead to another, and now we have Arethusa, the mini-empire, which includes scoop shops as far away as New Haven and West Hartford, serving plush, high-butterfat ice creams in pleasingly classic New England flavors like rum raisin and coffee, made with some of the best milk and cream in the state.
One of the longest-running family farms in the state (going back to the late 1700s) is also the state's favorite ice cream stop. Just north of Wilmington in the green and pleasant part of the Brandywine Valley, the Woodside Farm Creamery (backed, rather importantly, by their herd of Jersey cows) turns out some exceptionally rich ice cream in classic and seasonal flavors, along with some fun detours. Their Motor Oil, a coffee base with swirls of fudge and green caramel, is both intense and essential. A clever drive-through operation on the farm last year was a pandemic times highlight—all the ice cream you wanted, none of the standing in line.
With well over 400 flavors under their belt since opening up shop in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood back in 2018, Dasher & Crank has learned how to be all things to all people, and while they're very handy with milk and cream (it's the Strawberry Cream Cheese and Guava Jelly for us), some of the ultra-fashionable shop's most popular flavors have been vegan. Their number one all-time seller is the Ube Macapuno, a deeply colorful coconut ice cream made with Filipino purple yams. Sure, it looks good on Instagram, but it tastes terrific, too.
Meredith Ford has spent her career looking at food from all sides, as a pastry chef, an instructor at Johnson & Wales, a food critic in two cities, and a gelato maker for hire. For the Atlanta native, it was the last one that inspired her to embark on her latest adventure—owning her own gelateria, Cremalosa. The shop opened in Decatur in the fall of 2019, just before a tough business got even more difficult; fortunately, there was something of an appetite for very fine gelato—in flavors ranging from classic Italian (like stracciatella) to extremely American (banana pudding!)—and the fledgling business was mostly able to power through the past year-plus with minimal interruptions.
For Tasi Reid, the dream of owning her own business began early on, which explains why, in her mid-20s, her Black Sheep Cream Co. is not only shaking up the somewhat static O'ahu scene but has done so with four shops and likely more to come. The branding is youthful, the names of the flavors jokey and fun, but the ice cream is mostly deadly serious—excellent pistachio, a beautiful rocky road served with roasted marshmallows on top and great affogatos for keeping caffeinated on hot days.
Some people just open an ice cream shop. In 2017, when Kasey Allen and Dan Sell opened The STIL (full name: The Sweetest Things In Life) in Boise, they essentially opened three of them under one roof. For the traditionalists, there's rich and creamy ice cream made with Idaho milk; for those looking to live beyond dairy, there is an array of vegan options; for those of us who tend to live like there's no tomorrow, the shop is known for their very adult (read: boozed up) ice creams, like the Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch—scotch ale, butterscotch, and butterscotch cookies. There are now two stores selling all three things. By our weird math, that means there are six stores.
Most people associate the Mississippi River-straddling Quad Cities region with its unique (and road trip-worthy) pizza tradition. Don't eat too much of it, though, because you've got dessert coming—specifically, one of the country's finest hot fudge sundaes at Lagomarcino's in Moline. The century-plus old chocolatier—so good, they won a James Beard Classic Award in 2006—knows its sweet stuff, or make that not-so-sweet: the hot fudge (they give you a whole little pitcher) is beautifully balanced and rich in flavor, pairing well with housemade vanilla ice cream.
For co-founders Meredith Kong and Kelly Ryan, Lick Ice Creams started out as a fun hobby, something they could work on when they had the time, but Indianapolis had other ideas. After more than a decade of measured growth, the sister duo appears to have made themselves rather invaluable to a state that's not exactly short on ice cream (Zaharakos, one of the country's oldest surviving parlors, is still going strong in Columbus). During the darkest days of last winter, the sisters managed to get their new scoop shop up and running in the new Garage Food Hall, where you can sample curious and wonderful flavor combinations like Earl Grey peppermint and salted caramel with sage (it really, really works).
When two young Greek immigrants seeking a new start outside of Chicago landed in the tiny town of Wilton back in 1910, the Wilton Candy Kitchen, which we know today as one of the finest old soda fountains in Iowa, had already been around for roughly half a century. In fact, the reason Gus Nopoulos and Nick Parros bought the store was the presence of a working, ready-to-go soda fountain. Today, the classic sign—Candy, Soda, Lunch—beckons locals, politicians on the stump, and long-distance travelers, who happily make the short detour from I-80 for this wonderful little museum piece, operated by the Nopoulos family until just a couple of years ago, when new ownership stepped in. The exterior has been scrubbed up nicely, but inside, it mostly feels like a trip back in time, which, if you have ever been to Wilton, Iowa, you know isn't a very long trip at all. Homemade ice cream, a vast selection of sodas, and sundaes are on offer—so is all the local gossip you can handle, which is always free of charge.
Minnesota expats Cindy and Jim England couldn't find the sort of mom-and-pop shops they had back home in abundance when they moved to the college town of Lawrence back in the 1990s, so they opened up their own. Ever since, Sylas and Maddy's Homemade Ice Cream has been a fixture on the local landscape, eventually expanding to the Kansas City suburb of Olathe in recent years. Named for two of the couple's favorite furry pals, the original shop has become a staple of KU life, luring in students with a rotation of more than 150 flavors, from the classic (butter brickle) to the more modern (green tea).
Back when he was trying to get Louisville Cream off the ground, nearly a decade ago now, co-owner Darryl Goodner was working twelve-hour shifts at a local chemical plant to make ends meet, in between stints in the kitchen making ice cream. Long before the latter became profitable, he had to make a decision—was he going to continue to run himself ragged, or risk it all for the job he'd rather be doing full-time? Happily, he made the right decision; today, Louisville's favorite small-batch operation turns out some of the most immediately likable flavors of any Southern producer, from sweet potato pie to honey cornbread bourbon. An absolutely bonkers collaboration with a local bakery resulted in one of the most astonishing flavors of 2020—a Kouign Amann ice cream made with pieces of the rustic Breton pastry, rich with butter and caramel, folded into a pastry cream ice cream studded with burnt sugar.
Petit Four. Magnolia Flower. Champagne Violette. La Vie en Rosé. Steen's Molasses. Could Creole Creamery be any more New Orleans? From bracing café au lait to tongue-curling creole cream cheese, a great deal of options at this Garden District staple are about celebrating local flavor, and any ice cream lover visiting the city owes it to themselves to seek this place out. Just look for the line out the door on Prytania Street most evenings. In recent years, three more locations have been added—one in the Lakeview section of New Orleans, as well as suburban Metairie, and just over the state line in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
You might not expect it given the lengthy winters, but Maine is one of those magnificent states where the best ice cream is whichever one is closest—many of the state's most popular operations (and farmstead creameries) boast generations of experience. Every now and then, you encounter somebody operating on the next level. Currently, one of the most exciting ice creams in the state just happens to be the gelato from Gelato Fiasco. Appearing on the scene back in 2007, co-founders Joshua Davis and Bruno Tropeano—both fresh out of college when they started—are more passionate than most North American makers about accurately representing the Italian style here in the United States. Their insistence on adhering to a high standard has resulted in something of a minor miracle—wholly authentic gelato, albeit in an array of exuberantly New World flavors, scooped up in shops in Brunswick and Portland and sold in grocery stores around the region.
Back in the late 1930s, summertime in Ocean City wasn't quite as high-energy as they are today. Enter vacationing Pennsylvania mom Gladys Dumser, who couldn't help but spot an opportunity. Why not, she thought, spend summers down the ocean (hon), selling ice cream? In 1939, she opened her first shop on the boardwalk, featuring just four flavors, selling them for a nickel per scoop; today, Dumser's Dairyland boasts seven locations, all of them right here in Ocean City. During high season, the ice cream often sells within hours of being made at the in-town production facility. Flavors are crowd-pleasing but well-executed. Go for the ever-popular and nicely creamy soft-serve, or pretend you're in the tropics with a scoop of Hawaiian Delight—cherries, pineapple, and bananas folded into the house vanilla.
When considering the way the national ice cream landscape has recently been reshaped, one might be tempted to think of Toscanini's in Cambridge—dating back to the early 1980s—as a classic. Around here, Gus Rancatore's legendary scoop shop is practically a youngster, coming around roughly a full decade after the pioneering Steve Herrell began laying the groundwork for modern American ice cream culture. All these years later, and with everything that's changed, Tosci's feels just as fresh and relevant as ever, scooping up two of the most essential flavors in the country: the punch-in-the-schnoz burnt caramel, and nostalgic cocoa pudding. Don't leave Cambridge without a scoop or two from Christina's Homemade Ice Cream, another essential piece of American ice cream history going back to the early 1980s. To this day, very few shops are quite as good on flavors as Raymond Ford and his talented crew. (Don't miss the Bailey's Irish Cream.)
Going to the source for the best ice cream in the state has been a tradition for visitors to the Traverse City region since the late 1990s when the Plummer family opened Moomers Ice Cream on their idyllic dairy farm. As you might expect in a town that calls itself the Cherry Capital of the World, you'll find the ice cream makers here doing some great work with Michigan's most iconic summer crop. For many, their time up north isn't complete without at least a scoop of the bright purple Cherries Moobilee, made with chunks of black sweet cherries, freshly-baked brownies, and chocolate fudge swirl. Kick back on the deck and nod your thanks to the hard-working cows grazing in the nearby pasture.
For the longest time, ice cream whiz Ben Spangler has been working for other people, helping to develop flavors for ice cream shops and working with various Twin Cities chefs; he's even competed on the Food Network. Finally, with his wife, Gabriella, he has opened his own shop, Bebe Zito, in Minneapolis. Spangler's expertise in the flavor department is on full display here, a joyful, jangly blend of the expected and the experimental, from buttermilk yuzu (with blueberry ripple and caramelized butter streusel) to chocolate studded with red velvet cheesecake cookie dough. On weekends, they're currently doing equally delicious smash burgers—talk about one-stop shopping.
For flavor inspiration at the new Oxford Creamery, which opened in 2019 and became a local favorite quite quickly, owners Hudson and Lo Magee didn't have to look very far. Much of their ice cream has a distinct sense of place, that place being the South. Think lemon cake, banana pudding—which you can also turn into a terrific milkshake, topped with duck fat caramel—and, of course, ice creams rammed full of freshly-baked seasonal fruit cobbler. (For us, it's the peach, which should be out soon enough.)
There are so many things that are gone now, here in St. Louis, which holds less than half its peak population, a precipitous decline that began in the 1960s and continues today. But there is so much else that is still here, digging in its heels and saying, no thank you, we'll stay. The Crown Candy Kitchen, a century-old soda fountain in Old North St. Louis, is most certainly one of those treasures, a Norman Rockwell-level bit of Americana and a quick trip away from modern-day life to some kind of fantasy land where they're still mixing batches of ice cream in the antique copper kettle, where people come for chocolate malts and BLTs, where couples on big dates share banana splits. Best of all, the place is owned and operated by the third generation of the Karandzieff family—with, they'll tell you, a little bit of help from the fourth.
Missoula's attractive downtown is never short of people on a temperate summer evening, but one of the biggest crowds just might be down at the southern end of the Hip Strip at Big Dipper Ice Cream. The modern parlor housed in a classic drive-in has been serving up scoops of bright purple huckleberry ice cream (made with local berries) and lots of local charm since the mid-1990s when University of Montana grad Charlie Beaton got into the game and never got out. One of the state's most iconic shops now not only has an additional shop in suburban Missoula but has branched out to Helena and Billings as well.
Brian Langbehn and Katie Arent, the dynamic chef duo behind Coneflower Creamery, Omaha's most advanced ice cream operation, are bringing their wealth of combined experience to places like California's Napa Valley and Chicago, creating what they like to call farm-to-cone ice cream, where ingredients matter as much everything else. This commitment comes through in every scoop, from a coffee collaboration with local roaster Archetype to butter brickle, first created right here in the neighborhood back in the 1920s. After a few short years in operation, the Blackstone District shop has become something of a local institution.
Improbably tucked back behind a gas station on a corner of Las Vegas Boulevard that has seen better days, Luv-It Frozen Custard almost transports you back to the Midwest, perhaps somewhere near a lake on a hot summer night, where fresh-faced youngsters take your order, and everyone has the monthly flavor calendar—posted dutifully on the walk-up window—memorized by the end of week one. A treasured fixture since 1973, anybody with a few nickels to rub together can order a 4 oz. cup of vanilla or chocolate or the day's specials for $1.95, sit down on the curb, and momentarily forget their troubles with some of the nicest classic custard being churned out for many miles. (Big spenders should pony up for The Western, a popular sundae with hot fudge, caramel, and pecans.)
Back in the early 1980s, when Boston was churning out some of the finest ice creams in North America, nearby Portsmouth had a little revolution of its own. Annabelle's Natural Ice Cream opened up shop in 1982 and has been a local favorite ever since, with local optometrist Lewis Palosky and his wife Linda taking over in 1992. (Palosky eventually retired to focus on the shop full-time.) Rich and creamy ice creams—high butterfat content, low overrun—come in an array of crave-able flavors, but the essential is maple walnut, made with one of New Hampshire's most treasured exports.
From custard stands down the shore to the nearly fossilized drugstores in Bergen County, you're never far from an iconic ice cream experience in the Garden State. Gabrielle Carbone and Matt Errico had their work cut out for them when they launched The Bent Spoon in Princeton over a decade ago. The ace up their sleeve—flavors, lots of them, and very unique ones, the kind you don't find at your average soft-serve window (not that there's anything average about a good New Jersey soft-serve ice cream). Garam masala, cardamom ginger, avocado lemon—the shop rotates through a list of hundreds of flavors, every single one worth a try.
With three locations in Las Cruces, each one dripping with neon and looking like the perfect setting for a remake of American Graffiti, Caliche's Frozen Custard is a local icon serving up one of the country's most special frozen confections—a Green Chile sundae. Called The New Mexican, it begins with Caliche's creamy vanilla custard, topped generously with a sauce of roasted, locally grown chiles, and salted pecans. Don't be surprised to find the parking lot filled with Texas plates— the custard here (and that sundae) has a considerable fan base in the nearby, much larger city of El Paso. We'd drive a lot further than that for one more Green Chile sundae.
The Hudson Valley has long lured talented New York City makers looking for space to breathe and create, but in recent years—even before the pandemic—things had approached an amazing tipping point. Shortly before everything shut down, Bard College grads Brian Ackley and Lisa Farjam made the decision to leave Brooklyn and head north to tiny Tivoli, where they opened the extremely promising Fortunes Ice Cream, a lovely shop on an increasingly zhuzhed-up main drag, making some of the most exacting ice creams in the Northeast right now, in bold and beautifully executed flavors like labneh sour cherry (pucker up!), rosewater pistachio, and a best-in-class vegan chocolate. The city should be so lucky.
For Jared Plummer, ice cream began as a hobby—he'd sit at home in his apartment experimenting with methods and flavors and try them out on his friends. The response was overwhelmingly positive, leading him to launch Two Roosters Ice Cream as a mobile operation back in 2014, followed by a stall at the minor-league ballpark in Durham—go Bulls!—and finally two shops in Raleigh. Plummer's innovative collaborations are of special note—the current Local Musicians Series spotlights local artists by enlisting them to create their own (often quite unique) flavor. Not that there's anything boring about the everyday flavors. Year-round, look for the memorable Roasted Strawberry and Honey, made with North Carolina berries and local honey.
Making it up to the tiny town of Bottineau, just fifteen minutes or so from the Canadian border isn't in the cards for most ice cream eaters, which is okay, because Pride Dairies, one of the last ice cream-producing, small-town creameries in the area ships to grocery stores all around the state. Expect lots of comforting classics, alongside more unexpected flavors like black licorice and a well-balanced strawberry rhubarb.
The timeline of Jeni Britton Bauer's ice cream career reminds us that "if at first, you don't succeed, try, try, again" isn't just something teachers used to tell you in school. The reigning queen of modern American ice cream founded her first ice cream company way back in the mid-1990s, and it didn't succeed. But then she went back to the drawing board, learned some things, made some experiments, and in 2002, Britton Bauer launched Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at the North Market in Columbus (where she'd made her first try). Quickly, her flavors—both classic and wildly experimental—became her calling card. Pair that skill with a commitment to using only the finest milk available in the region and you had some of the best ice creams in the country at the time, no small feat in a state that was already spoiled with classic producers like Graeter's in Cincinnati and Handel's in Youngstown. Jeni's has grown far beyond most of the shops on this list, but the experience has become even more consistent over time, and we can think of at least a couple of cities where Jeni's has easily surpassed the existing available offerings. Not bad for what's essentially now a national chain.
Shane and Raena Mutz got into ice cream a little bit differently than most. The proprietors of Roxy's Ice Cream Social in Oklahoma City started out retrofitting food trucks for other people when Raena thought to herself, Why don't we have one of these for ourselves? Their mobile operation slowly found its niche. A decade later, the couple is successfully managing four shops in the area, serving up a roster of comforting, classic flavors, accompanied by some unique surprises. Their lemon poppyseed, one of a wide selection of deceptively rich vegan offerings, is a hot afternoon must.
From an experimental Portland ice cream shop to a national favorite in just a decade, it's been quite the journey for Salt & Straw, one of the most consistent (and most consistently exciting) artisanal makers out there right now. The shop helped mainstream everything from olive oil ice cream—now one of their classic flavors—to collaborations with top local producers. Many ice cream shops that have opened since 2011 owe a debt to cousins Kim and Tyler Malek, who started out with a bunch of rinky-dink machines in Kim's basement and grew—in leaps and bounds—from there. There are now scoop shops as far away as Los Angeles and Miami.
Any study of American ice cream history will bring you rather immediately to Philadelphia, where the family-owned Bassett's—the country's longest-running operation—has been serving up the city's favorite ice cream since the mid-1800s. A staple of the historic Reading Terminal Market since the market's earliest days, this is still some of the country's finest ice cream, boasting a luxurious 16.5% butterfat content (about as high as you can go before it starts to taste like frozen butter) and a wildly creamy, dense texture that has ruined many Philadelphians for ice cream in other cities. The market's sole remaining original tenant, Bassetts stays popular all year long, and certainly during the warmer months. If you happen to walk in and see either a short line or no line at all, postpone whatever else and head straight over.
From humble custard pies to elaborate wedding cakes to cones piled high with ice creams in all kinds of classic New England flavors, there are all sorts of reasons to pay a visit to Wright's Dairy Farm in North Smithfield, a Rhode Island fixture for roughly a century now. Being a bakery as well as the state's best scoop shop, you tend to get crossover ideas—one of the finest flavors here is the Compost Cream, a vanilla ice cream ribboned with chocolate ganache and stuffed with cookies, from pecan diamonds to coconutty magic bars.
Marc and Alissa Zera had barely come up for air after opening Off Track ice Cream in 2019 when the pandemic hit Charleston and everywhere else. The hobbyists turned legit makers had the challenge of a lifetime on their hands, but no shutdowns were going to keep ice creams this phenomenally good—both regular and vegan, sometimes you can't even tell which is which—down for long. Ingredients tend toward the obsessively local, starting with the milk of course, alongside orange blossom honey from Charleston's favorite Apis Mercantile, flaky sea salt harvested just minutes from town at Bulls Bay, and much more.
The Declaration of Independence wasn't the only important document authored by Thomas Jefferson. America's third president (and noted gourmand) is also said to have put the country's first ice cream recipe down on paper, back in 1780. Today, visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills can sample Jefferson's own vanilla ice cream, made from the original recipe—rich, sweet, with pods sourced from France, just like back in the day, made by Pride Dairy, a Dakotas favorite.
A burning desire to protect and preserve Knoxville's Cruze Farm—in the family since the early 1980s—forced Colleen Cruze Bhatti to get creative; along with husband Manjit, Cruze Bhatti has expanded the operation to include what appears to be a growing number of shops selling creatively-flavored soft serve made from high-quality Jersey milk to happy customers everywhere from Knoxville's Market Square to Pigeon Forge-adjacent Sevierville, on the road into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Served up by a small army of gingham-clad, cheerful young women, flavors range from kid-pleasing Fruity Pebbles to summery lavender honey.
On sweltering afternoons, of which there are more than a few around here, the six appealing shops comprising Lick Honest Ice Creams—three in Austin, three in San Antonio, each one cool, calm, and collected—provide the most civilized kind of relief from the Central Texas heat. Founded a decade ago by Chad Palmatier and Anthony Sobotik, Lick is so much more than a pretty face—the seasonally-inspired ice creams here are some of the finest in the time zone, made with high-quality milk and cream from Austin's Mill-King Dairy. A pairing of locally harvested beets and beautiful fresh mint results in a gorgeously flavored, bright purple ice cream you won't soon forget.
There's always room for one more in a state that consistently ranks among the top ten most ice-cream-loving, but anyone looking to throw their hat in the ring had better be prepared. Like opening a bagel shop in New York, or a pizza joint in Chicago, the field is crowded and everybody seems to already have a favorite. In just over five years, Justin and Summer Williams have managed to win over a considerable number of Utahns to Rockwell Old Fashioned, a Provo shop (with a branch in Daybreak) that has become widely known and very much appreciated for their classic, high butterfat, low overrun ice creams. The couple began making ice cream at home in their free time, sharing their experiments around the neighborhood—since 2015, they've been stealing hearts with flavors like honeycomb and carrot cake.
Nobody seems to be able to say for certain how the sugar shacks of the Green Mountain State remain so popular all summer long, or how the maple creemee came to be, but the main thing is the job got done. Now you're never far from a farm or a roadside stand or a sugaring operation selling simple cones of quality soft-serve ice cream flavored with one of Vermont's most prized exports— maple syrup. Some credit goes to an enterprising inspector at the state's department of agriculture, who suggested the idea to maple producers going back forty years ago, but however we got where we are today, things are going great. Start your exploring at the Little Gordo Creemee Stand in Burlington, where they make their mixes from scratch and experiment with some very unusual flavors.
On a steamy summer afternoon in sleepy Chincoteague, the only thing more popular than hanging out in line at Island Creamery is a trip down to the beach. Since 1975, the family-owned institution has been a peak-season staple on the Delmarva Peninsula. It's always worth a trip (and an inevitable wait) for rich and creamy ice creams from local cows in an array of creative, pronounced flavors that work wonders with the area fruit crop in season—cantaloupes, peaches, apples, you name it. These days, there are two additional scoop shops on the peninsula, a development worth celebrating. Perhaps with an ice cream cone.
With nine locations in and around Seattle, you're never far, thank goodness, from a fresh waffle cone stuffed with one of America's most flavorful salted caramel ice creams at Molly Moon's. Launched in 2008 and today sometimes breezed past by those (foolishly) in search of the next big thing, Molly Moon Neitzel's progressive operation sources nearly all ingredients locally and offers employees an impressive range of benefits. What's most remarkable is the quality of the rich, dense ice cream, not to mention just how good the flavors can be—the salted caramel is one of the best entries into the now nearly passé genre, with a bracing, nearly burnt flavor, supercharged with kosher sea salt. Don't miss fudgy, super-rich Melted Chocolate, made with 70% dark from local maker Theo's. On hot days, which are definitely a thing in Seattle at this time of year, Honey Lavender is a bright and beautiful showcase for still more locally harvested products.
Rain, shine, snow, sleet, hail—nothing stops West Virginians from pilgrimages to the relatively modest Austin's Ice Cream, which has been an essential part of life in little Ceredo since the 1940s. If you know, you know that there are few days that can't be turned around by a cone piled high with too many scoops of the shop's pleasingly purple grape pineapple ice cream, a tart-sweet dream that has managed to become one of the state's most beloved flavors. That's no small feat, considering your many choices here, from black walnut to banana pudding. The family-owned operation has recently branched out into nearby downtown Huntington's noteworthy Market food hall.
The first thing to know about Leon's in Milwaukee is that it is not here to impress you, so don't even start. Don't come looking for charming or cute, or for a place to sit down, or for cheerful scoopers with positive attitudes—for all that, give this 1940s relic, with its extremely abbreviated menu, a wealth of neon signage, and almost exaggerated lack of niceties, a very wide berth. Suppose you are looking for some of the country's finest frozen custard—well, get in line with everybody else who knows that for one of the richest, smoothest, most perfect examples of Wisconsin's favorite frozen dessert, you come straight here. Leon's doesn't need to be anything more than one of the most no-nonsense operations in all of dessert-dom, and if that's unclear on arrival, take one lick of their vanilla or chocolate or butter pecan, and you'll be hooked. Hang out in the grubby parking lot, like a bad seed, enjoy, then come back and do it all over again.
Just over half an hour south of the world-class skiing at Jackson Hole (and the world-class resort scene in the surrounding area), Wyoming's agriculture Star Valley moves at a decidedly slower pace and, in recent years, has offered a lower-cost alternative to life just to the north. Dairy farming is a big deal here and has been for a very long time, and Shumway Farms in Afton, well-known for high-quality raw milk, is already on its sixth generation of family ownership. Visitors will find a scoop shop tucked into the farm store—get a huckleberry cone and pay a visit to the resident bovines. Want to spend the night? There's a modest but charming vacation rental right on premises.