Summer’s ultimate treat is served with old-world panache at these gourmet parlors. Read on to discover America's best ice cream shops.
Image Credit: Ici Ice Cream
Gray’s Ice Cream, Rhode Island
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. graysicecream.com
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.
Image Credit: Ball & Albanese
Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream, Illinois
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. homersicecream.com
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.
Image Credit: camera is broken
Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream, New Hampshire
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. annabellesicecream.com
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.
Image Credit: Ball & Albanese
Ici Ice Cream, California
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. ici-icecream.com
Flavor to Try: Rose is as light, thoughtful, and refreshing as a summer’s day in San Francisco.
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. angelobrocatoicecream.com
Flavor to Try: Spumoni is molto Italiano, a wedge of tutti-frutti, lemon, and pistachio ice cream, topped off with homemade whipped cream.
On any given blissful summer's day in Portsmouth, NH, strollers along the charming narrow streets by the harbor are likely to come upon the welcome respite of an ice cream parlor. And better yet, no ordinary ice cream parlor. This is Annabelle's, whose owner, Lewis Palosky, likes to think of himself as "an artist, not a businessman." The flavors here are indeed sheer artistry. Black raspberry, a New England tradition, pops on the palate like a Day-Glo billboard. Even the French vanilla, a symbol of ordinariness, has been made extraordinary, far beyond the clichés of "bland vanilla."
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.
The influence of New England's gourmet groundbreakers can be felt across the country at spots that value high-quality ingredients, freshness, and guilt-free indulgence. These ice cream parlors, America's best, are all about keeping it real and, of course, homemade.
Check out the slideshow above to discover the best ice cream shops in America.