10 Iconic Ice Cream Parlors Worth a Pilgrimage This Labor Day Weekend
Summer isn't over until it's over.
Whatever the weather might decide to do with its time these next few weeks, the calendar waits for no person, and so: here we are, another summer-proper in the rear view mirror, just one last weekend of sun (here’s hoping); of sand between the toes (best case); one last outing in white, if that’s your thing; one last Summer Friday for those lucky enough to know what they are; one last fling before everyone remembers that they have jobs and lives and school.
And what’s any summer weekend worth, without ice cream? From classic parlors and roadside stands to the most modern of the artisanal $10 a pint purveyors, it’s all good, if we’re honest, and what better time to talk about some of our all-time favorites—typically locally famous, but often underrated on a national scale, we’re betting there are plenty on this list you haven’t tried, at least not yet. All of them are worth at least a short road trip, and you’ve got that one last summer weekend, and you see where this is going—get out there, have fun, and don’t dribble.
Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream
For fully-grown ice cream nerds, Raymond Ford’s Inman Square parlor is about as close as we get to our very own Disney World—there are other classic makers in Boston, and around New England, but perhaps none quite so essential, so suspended in time, that time being the 1990s, as this modest shop with the gently-worn wooden everything, where the Cambridge-educated Ford and his talented makers have been whipping up some of America’s most memorable ice creams, long before ice cream had its big beautiful modern moment. Here, it feels like your choices are endless, because they kind of are, and you can get everything from carrot cake to adzuki bean to rum raisin, any time you like, but if you walk out without at least sampling the Bailey’s Irish Cream, you’ll need to go back for a do-over. Sorry, it’s the rules.
State College, Pennsylvania
Penn State University's historic dairy (home to hundreds of cows!) in State College is also home to the largest instructional program in the sweet, sweet universe of ice cream; many a celebrity in this exclusive world—Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield among them—trained here. The creamery churns out more than 100 flavors, and if they’ve got it, snap yourself up some of the August Pie, a bright and beautiful vanilla ice cream packed with peaches, nectarines and ribbons of red raspberry. Curious about what goes on behind the scenes? Visitors can check out the production facility before adjourning to the scoop shop.
Petit Four. Green Fairy. La Vie en Rosé. Steen’s Molasses. Could this wildly successful Garden District shop (now with two additional locations) be any more New Orleans? From potent cafe au lait to tangy creole cream cheese, the lion’s share of your options here (there are so many, and they are nearly always home runs) will be all 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.
Home to more than a handful of Middle Eastern restaurants and other food-related establishments drawing enthusiastic eaters from all over Metro Detroit, Warren Avenue, one of the busiest commercial strips in this classic industrial suburb is a lot of things, but you’d never confuse it with Las Vegas, and then, out of nowhere, comes this 10,000 square-foot showstopper, a glittering dessert palace, home to one of those things you can’t leave Dearborn without sampling—the house pistachio ice cream, thick like taffy, and packed with flavor. (Don’t sleep on the baklava either, a regional favorite for decades.)
The Original Rainbow Cone
Established in 1926, this South Side institution is famous, as you might imagine, for its namesake, a painstakingly constructed creation made from layers of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (that’s vanilla, with cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and finished off with orange sherbet. Instagram wasn’t around when this cone was invented, of course, but it got here as soon as it could. Pairs well with a visit to one of Chicago’s most important classic burger joints, Top Notch, just around the corner.
If they think about them at all, most people associate the Mississippi River-straddling Quad Cities region with its unique (and road trip-worthy) pizza tradition, but don’t eat too much, because you’ve got dessert coming—specifically, one of the best hot fudge sundaes in the business. With soda fountains in Moline (that’s in Illinois) and Davenport (that’s in Iowa) for your convenience, this century-plus old chocolatier—so good, they won a James Beard Classic award back 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 the house made vanilla ice cream.
Lick Ice Creams
There are ice cream makers that enjoy flirting with the unusual, and then there’s this local institution, where a roasted beet and mint ice cream (extremely purple, as you might imagine) has become a shop classic, landing on the everyday menu, along with the also-memorable dark chocolate and sea salt ice cream, which is made with Texas olive oil, and excuse us while we fly down there right now, because it has been far too long. The beets—local of course—are roasted, in goes plenty of fresh mint from the garden, and the result is, as you might imagine, unforgettable.
La Michoacana Mexican Ice Cream
There’s nothing quite like a mangonada on a sweltering San Fernando Valley day, and everybody within striking distance of this petite neveria doing its bit to brighten up a humdrum stretch of Sherman Way in Reseda knows this. Line up and get one for yourself, a healthy portion of mango sorbet swirled with chamoy and Tajín, a lime-flavored chili powder, and topped with mango chunks. (And that’s just the basics covered—honestly, it’s a whole thing.)
Generations of ice cream eaters in California’s state capital have grown up craving the unusually rich, classic ice creams at this vintage neighborhood parlor, featuring plenty of shaded outdoor seating. On the hottest days, skip the usual scoop in a cone or cup and go for the ever-popular, very refreshing 50-50—that’s fruit freeze in the flavor of your choice, layered with vanilla ice cream, and they’re much larger than you think they’re going to be—start small. Or don’t—it’s really none of our business.
Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream
At a time when every so-hot-right-now ice cream brand seems to be going from zero to collecting ice crystals on supermarket shelves just a tad too quickly, Molly Moon Neitzel’s decision to keep a tight rein on her exceptional, hyper-local brand is truly something to be celebrated, not that she has time for the rest of the country, she’s busy enough keeping up with the demand in Seattle, where after a decade or so in business, Molly Moon's now boasts eight shops scooping up some of America’s most delicious ice cream. (Fight us.) From a lovably bold salted caramel, standing head and shoulders above most of the others, to the seasonal lemon blueberry custard, by now a summer classic in these parts, you really can’t go wrong. Even as the empire has expanded, the commitment to local and sustainable has remained—the care taken in sourcing the ingredients, mostly from right here in the Northwest, comes through in every sweet bite.