There are people in the world who need to try vanilla at whichever ice cream shop they’re visiting, and those people are not me. Even as a child (when I thought vanilla ice cream was more “sophisticated” than chocolate), when I went out for ice cream, I always wanted to get what was different—or, in those days, what my mom didn’t buy at the grocery store. Bubblegum, Andes mint, peanut butter Oreo, cake batter: my childhood tastes were saccharine but varied.
These days, the right kind of vanilla will give me pause (vanilla malt, anyone?), but more often than not, I still go for the exotic. Or, I should say, the unorthodox yet still recognizable, the unusual but delicious. Maybe I should give cicada-flavored ice cream a try—but I’m just not there yet.
At these shops, you can get both familiar and far-flung flavors, all of which will still satisfy your taste for a treat.
Outside the St. Paul location, Izzy’s Ice Cream patrons all seem to be smiling as they enjoy their homemade waffle cones, the generous portions topped with robin’s-egg-sized samples or “Izzy Scoops.” The shop is one of those ice cream places that just seems to induce joy. On a recent visit, I was blown away by three flavors: Sugar Cookie, Marshmallow, and Banana Macadamia Nut. If you’re feeling indulgent, order the Izzabella: a homemade waffle cone dipped in dark chocolate and Marcona almonds, topped with whipped cream and garnished with a vanilla wafer, this is the sort of cone you eat with a spoon.
Nestled between college towns, Hadley, Massachusetts is a town filled with farms and big box stores; it also happens to be famous for its asparagus. Every summer, there’s an asparagus festival; and at Flayvors of Cook Farm, you can order asparagus ice cream. It is, unassumingly, delicious, grassy and mellow. But what makes this shop worth a drive is the setting: located on a 100-year-old dairy farm, the scoop shop is a two-minute walk from the pasture where sweet-eyed bovines graze.
If you’re interested in doing an ice cream tour of Western Massachusetts, Herrell’s is a fifteen-minute drive from Flayvor’s of Cook Farm. The two shops couldn’t be more different: where Flayvor’s is folksy and idyllic, Herrell’s is bright and crowded. Located in the lower-level of Thorne’s marketplace, the line winds out the door at Herrell’s, which claims to be “home of the mix-in.” The flavor list is staggering, but recent exotics have included Jalapeno, Cloud Cake (i.e., Twinkie), Chocolate Pudding, and Cayenne. For your more conservative friends, the Burnt Sugar and Butter is a must.
In college, I frequented Whitey’s and I could never get beyond Graham Central Station. The graham cracker ice cream is buttery and light on the cinnamon; the graham cracker swirl therein perfectly soft and gooey. Consider gilding the lily: this flavor makes a killer extra-thick shake.
Technically a gelateria, since 1968, Freddy’s Pizza has been serving homey Italian fare. Both bodega and café, this is the perfect place to bring your friends who don’t like sweets: they can stock up on Chicago favorites like housemade salumi and giardinera while you enjoy the cucumber gelato.
Photo by jpellgen CC BY-NC-ND