Eating ice cream once meant choosing among vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and maybe, if you were lucky, coffee, flavors. How archaic! Today, artisan ice cream shops across America tilt toward unusual flavors, with organic ingredients, eco-conscious practices and homemade flavors and toppings added to the mix. Whether you're traveling north, south, east or west, chill out with a homemade frozen delight at one of these cool artisan ice cream shops.
Style-conscious Los Angeles is, natch, home to one of the country's trendiest new ice cream shops. LA Creamery rocks the hip Los Angeles vibe with unique artisan ice cream flavors, such as goat cheese and currant, honey lavender and saffron vanilla. The creamery sources its organic dairy products from California-based Straus Family Creamery, which ensures its cows are fed organically grown feed and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Choose from a waffle cone or a cup, get a scoop of candied ginger and hit the streets for ice cream-fueled celebrity spotting. This is LA, after all.
NYC's Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream combines 2 of the foodie world's hottest, er, coolest, trends: food trucks and artisan ice cream. Van Leeuwen made its debut on Manhattan's streets in 2008 as a roaming ice cream truck and soon expanded to a fleet of 3 trucks. It now sells its products in 3 stores between Manhattan’s East Village and Brooklyn. Calories aside, Van Leeuwen's aims to take the guilt out of the treat, with biodegradable cups, napkins and spoons as well as locally-sourced ingredients, such as antibiotic- and hormone-free dairy products. Then, there are the accompanying ingredients: Peppermint and chip is made from organic peppermint from Oregon, Even the nuts in the pistachio ice cream come from a Sicilian farm certified organic by the International Slow Food Institute, an international grassroots organization that promotes small-scale, sustainable food production. This ice cream may be a small-batch production but it promises to be big in flavor.
There's hot weather. And then there's hot Arizona weather. Escape the desert heat at Sweet Republic, an artisan ice cream shop in Scottsdale, AZ, which takes “homemade” seriously. Besides using dairy products from independent Arizona farms, Sweet Republic makes nearly all its ice cream toppings by hand. Hot fudge, cookies and marshmallows, even the waffle cones are made in-house. Try standard flavors such as Belgian chocolate, made with chocolate straight from Belgium or test your taste buds with avant-garde flavors, such as honey blue cheese. Have to watch your lactose intake? Cool off with a basil lime or coconut sorbet instead.
A Boston landmark since 1983, Christina's Homemade Ice Cream pushes the limits of unusual flavors with flavors such as “burnt sugar” ice cream. Christina's staff makes all flavors in-house, with more than 50 available at any given time. Other temptations include ginger molasses, coconut Butterfinger and seasonal flavors, such as pumpkin and eggnog ice creams. Christina's also experiments with unique sorbets, such as mandarin orange chocolate, apple cider and blood orange. First-time visitors should note the shop is a 15-minute walk from Harvard Square, the nearest subway stop. Consider it your pre-feast workout.
Morelli's Ice Cream in Atlanta pushes the boundaries of creativity with homemade ice creams such as maple bacon brittle, feta cheese and basil and coconut jalapeno. If those sound a little too over-the-top, turn it down a notch with slightly less adventurous, but no less creative choices, such as banana cheesecake, peach Champagne and strawberry black pepper. Morelli's doesn't offer inside seating; patrons belly up to an outside window to order and sit at sidewalk tables. Best to lick your scoops quickly; Atlanta didn’t earn its nickname “Hot-lanta” for nothing.
On your next vacation, indulge like a true foodie and chill out with an artisan ice cream treat. As you travel across America, you’ll find plenty of cool options.
Valerie Conners is a freelance writer and editor and has worked for media outlets such as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Frommer's Travel Guides. She's happiest when eating spicy massaman curries on the beach in Koh Mook, Thailand, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets.