We All Scream For Ice Cream Recommendations

June 13, 2012 10:22 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Ice cream.
Chill, man. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Like most Americans in this economy, I'm pinching every penny so hard that Lincoln is starting to complain. That means that even though Summer 2012 came in like a lion last January, I still haven't turned on my air conditioner. Sure, it would get the job done, but it would also send my electric bill soaring through the roof-- and living in a converted factory, I have very high ceilings that would crumble instantly. Instead of flipping the switch on the ole watt-guzzling window-unit, I'm taking cold showers, wearing shorts that I fashioned out of last winter's under-worn corduroys, and wandering America in search of the absolute best ice cream. Here's local wisdom on keeping it cool and sweet from all across the country.

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1. Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream - Ben & Jerry's - Supermarkets Everywhere

Maybe you don't live close to any of our favorite spots, but that doesn't mean you can't have a terrific scoop of ice cream. Ben & Jerry's does it better than any other supermarket distributor-- their fabulous "a pint is a pint" marketing campaign comes as a breath of fresh air in an environment where larger companies were justifying asking average consumers to pay more for less food. Our favorite flavor is Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream-- which has bits of fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a salty caramel swirl mixed into good vanilla ice cream. It is by no means a stunning culinary achievement, but it hits just about every spot when that craving kicks in.

If you want something with more chocolate, get Phish Food. If you want something fruitier, get Cherry Garcia over Chunky Monkey. Turn on Mad Men and enjoy a simpler time when children didn't know what "sub-prime mortage" was.

2. Sweet Corn with Powdered Cinnamon - Cones - New York, NY

When I lived in Greenwich Village, I was inundated with choices for gelato. Everyone had a favorite, and most chose Grom, located on the corner of Bleecker St. and Carmine St. Given the impossibly long line jutting out of it on summer nights, I had to give it a shot. And it's underwhelming and overpriced-- another pseudo-Bohemian tourist trap that snags the occasional local.

Across the street and down the block sits Cones, New York City's answer to the question "How do I get the taste of Grom out of my mouth?" Located on Bleecker St between the ephemeral Morton St and Jones St, one minute perusing the flavor sections is enough to get your heart racing. Though it's less expensive than Grom, it still isn't cheap-- five bucks for a scoop is enough to raise anyone's eyebrows. But the robustness of the taste and the smoothness of the texture guarantee you'll feel like Anton Ego when he eats the ratatouille circa the end of the movie.

There are tons of choices here, all of them stunning and wildly inventive. They always have one premium flavor (at time of tasting, Johnny Walker Black Label with Kumquat), but it costs double to get it. That particular flavor had a bold taste, and it marries the odd couple of base ingredients remarkably well, but it isn't as satisfying as their Sweet Corn with Powdered Cinnamon, which is the favorite of the owner of the store. 

Holy. Moly. You've never tasted summer like that. The fresh corn sings against the sweetness of the cream, and the powdered cinnamon pops the earthier side of combining your vegetables with your dessert. No matter how many transcendent scoops I've had in my entire life, whenever I think of ice cream-- really good ice cream-- I think of this scoop at Cones and plan my return.

3. Burnt Sugar and Butter - Herrell's Ice Cream - Northampton, MA

My sister went to college at Hampshire, and it found my family going back and forth between western Massachusetts to do little more than pick her up and drop her off. It was only when I made friends with some of the locals that I was pointed to some of the best spots that the area has to offer. Though I could do a whole piece of the best eats of Northampton (and that actually isn't a bad idea), I would be bereft if I didn't linger for a good, long while on all the merits of Herrell's Ice Cream.

It's traditional American ice cream done perfectly. Those of you who've read my profile of "Egg" know how much fondness I have for the simple and perfect. And the locals here agree-- the line here is longer than the one at Grom, but unlike that gilded little cream boutique, this one deserves its reputation. They keep their menu fairly ordinary, opting instead to wow with the execution. The Burnt Sugar and Butter flavor is their emblematic best-- the playfulness of a very warm taste at very cold temperatures is utterly brilliant, to say nothing of its deliciousness. It has that in spades.

A very close runner up in the area is Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley, MA. You get to meet and pet the cows that give you your treat there, which is about as down-home as a city boy like me gets. And while flavor choices like Asparagus can have some of you scratching your head or fleeing for the local Baskin Robbins, we promise you'll live to tell the tale of that strange and tasty scoop. 

4.  Prosecco and Raspberry - The Bent Spoon - Princeton, NJ

It's pretty irrelevant to talk about the best flavor at The Bent Spoon, an ice cream parlor and bakery hidden in Princeton, NJ-- a town that capably handles the double act of catering to moneyed yuppies and hip-esque college students. For New Yorkers, it's perfect for a day trip. For anyone else, encourage your children to do well in high school so you can make excuses to visit them too often just for the ice cream.

The Bent Spoon swaps flavors in and out on a rapid-fire rotation which I esteem for its dynamism. Every flavor's a real winner-- some just win harder than others. It's often disappointing to go there and see that the thing that drawed you into the store isn't being offered that day. However, that complaint gets swept under the rug in the face of whatever awesome choices they have for you on any given day.

If they don't have the Prosecco and Raspberry flavor when you go to visit, try anything made with alcohol-- especially if it's their Beer ice cream built up with dark stout from Triumph, the local brewery that's popular with students and their dads. And don't forget to bring your ice-cold cup on over to the Princeton Record Exchange, where you can stroll through the overflowing aisles of one of the last great music stores in the country.

5. Honey Lavender - Bi-Rite Creamery - San Francisco, CA

Oh man. Bi-Rite's Ice Cream is amazing-- my second favorite in the country to the stuff from Cones-- and all the locals know it. And when you talk about locals in a city like San Francisco, where everyone's mobilized, you can only imagine how long the line standing between you and the perfect scoop is going to be. That's why special mention has to be made for the team of servers and scoopers and cashiers at Bi-Rite, who keep the line moving at lightning pace while still providing exceptional service. I hope you all get raises.

A lot of people in front of me ordered the Ricanelas (a cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle pieces) or the currently-trending-on-our-taste-buds #Salted Caramel, but my tastes that day were running anglophilic. I bought the combo cup of Earl Grey, Balsamic Strawberry, and Honey Lavender ice creams. These are three of my favorite tastes on the planet, and Bi-Rite does them exceptionally well. However, since I can only really tip my hat at one, I'm going to give the gold medal to the Honey Lavender flavor. It held its own against two very, very strong flavors without sacrificing any of the floral delicacy in lieu of a clumsy, cloying herbal sweetness that you get from most flower-based ice creams.


That's all you need to give yourself a little treat to beat the heat instead of cranking up that A.C. Of course, a cup of ice cream every day gets pricy, so reserve it for when you really need a reward for breaking a sweat without breaking your bank.

And of course, if I missed your favorite place, please feel free to share in the comments section!


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