The go-go yogurt craze (thankfully not the Go-Gurt craze) of the mid-’00s still hangs on, but like a double scoop of freedom with a patriotism swirl, ice cream is back on top. It’s hard to find a more satisfying sweet treat in so simple a package, and once mix-ins get involved, a single scoop is often a better choice than some fully plated desserts. If barbecue is summer’s savory calling, then ice cream is surely its sweet. Here are the 10 best in NYC.
10. Phin & Phebe’s, available at Whole Foods and other local markets
Brooklyn DIY at its finest, this homemade experiment turned passionate hobby received such emphatic encouragement from friends, family, and an adoring public–including crowds at the Brooklyn Lyceum and Hester Street fairs–that owners Jess Eddy and Crista Freeman were all but forced into expanding. For now, you’ll only find their charming flavors in the freezer aisle, but each of their seven varieties deliver focused expressions of what’s on the label. Cinnamon props up a bright, smooth vanilla and vibrant banana ice cream turns chunks of Nilla wafers into pools of molten cookie. Best of all may be the Vietnamese coffee, which gets a boost of spice from chicory and cardamom. Diet be damned, the ice cream’s lack of stabilizers to preserve integrity gives this treat a shorter window than its competitors, so it’s best to indulge quickly.
9. Melt Bakery, 132 Orchard Street
Another Hester Street Fair success story, Melt has made it its mission to take ice cream sandwiches to new heights, and so far it has yet to let us down. With each menu change comes the reliable promise of inventive flavor combinations with a knack for nailing textures; for proof, see cream cheese ice cream stuffed into whoopee pies and oatmeal cookies paired with frosty buttercream. For the Zen, pliant ginger cookies brimming with the spicy rhizome bookend a gentle green tea ice cream, and the creaminess of the frozen puck tempers an otherwise aggressive ginger flavor. It achieves a balance worthy of its name. Still, our favorite would have to be the Morticia, which flirts with adult flavors like malted rum and dark chocolate cookies and results in something akin to an Ovaltine sandwich.
8. Malu, 12-09 Jackson Avenue, Queens
Born out of the still-smoldering ashes of the financial crisis, this new wave mom-and-pop shop takes customer suggestions and teams up with local restaurants for some of its many rotating flavors, resulting in cheeky combinations like shiraz rocky road and “Stoned Fruit”, featuring an orchard’s-worth of balsamic roasted peaches, plums, and apricots. Owners Jennifer Dudek and Sergio Garcia are so affable, it’s that much more endearing to learn that they don’t shy away from a challenge. See, for example, tomato basil sorbet and garlic ice cream, which were options for a time. Should you see it listed, the Cookie Monster is a must-try with its chunks of chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate wafers nestled like gems in a creamy vanilla bedrock and a hefty vein of soft fudge.
7. Emack & Bolio’s, 73 West Houston Street; 1564 First Avenue; 389 Amsterdam Avenue
A 38-year-old Boston-born chain named after two homeless gentlemen, these visually busy shops are a hit with kids and kids-at-heart, showcasing their gigantic signature chocolate-dipped waffle cones, rolled in everything from rice krispies to candy bars and cookie crumbs. Fudgy and rich, the nearly Shopsin’s-sized menu of flavors includes standouts like rum raisin–made with Myers rum–and Chunk O’Funk, which submerges Oreo cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels in nicely salty caramel ice cream. New for 2013, the peanut butter cookie dough flake uses a base of silky peanut butter ice cream to highlight chunks of cookie dough and delicate chocolate flakes.
6. Blue Marble, 102 Franklin Street; 186 Underhill Avenue; 196 Court Street, Brooklyn
In a world where ice cream truck drivers launch into violent turf wars, it’s nice to know that there are altruistic ice cream makers like Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, who, in addition to running their Brooklyn-based ice cream company, took time to open Rwanda’s first ice cream shop. This globally conscious philosophy translates to careful sourcing and seasonal menus, which results in superior renditions of sainted flavors like strawberry that bears a fruity ripeness as well as offbeat victories like a creamy and herbal root beer. Have a wild and icy idea of your own? Let them do the dirty work for an agreed-upon price.
5. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, 1 Water Street; 97 Commercial Street, Brooklyn
Even after over a decade in business, the dramatic setting of this straightforward scoop joint still impresses: It’s housed in a landmark building on the Fulton Ferry Landing pier. And when the weather’s nice, there’s not much sweeter than chomping on a vanilla chocolate chunk cone while gazing at the East River in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. The menu sticks to simple flavors (peaches and cream is as wild as it gets), and the eggless ice creams are light in a way that accentuates their purity. For a special nightcap, waddle over here after sharing some pizza at Grimaldi’s (or Juliana’s) nearby.
4. Ample Hills Creamery, 623 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn
So popular was this Prospect Heights ice cream shop when it first opened that it was forced to close after just four days in business because it ran out of raw materials. It’s still plenty busy, but the two-year-old shop has long been in a groove. Flavors change daily thanks to a high turnover, but the salted crack caramel takes top honors with a heavy, almost chewy base of buttery caramel dotted with chocolate-dipped crackers. New for Summer 2013 is Beneath, a flavor inspired by owner Brian Smith’s background as a sci-fi screenwriter rooted in a horror film in the vein of Jaws. Channeling the movie’s teenage protagonists, the custom batch features beer ice cream made from Magic Hat Circus Boy with “bloody” honeycomb and crunchy nuggets of Ritz crackers, pretzels, and potato chips fused together.
3. Fernet Branca Ice Cream Sandwich at Pearl and Ash, 220 Bowery
This restaurant celebrates the diner’s drinking experience and carries that ethos all the way through to the end of the meal. But rather than pair a dessert with an after-dinner drink, chef Richard Kuo and his team meld the two into an herbal ice cream supported by chewy chocolate cookies. Soothing the medicinal burn of Fernet (the Italian amaro that’s a favorite of bartenders everywhere) with dairy’s pervasive mellowness, the cream maintains a pleasant undercurrent of mint and anise. One of the most affordable items on the menu, it’s worth grabbing a seat at the bar and downing a couple of these before heading home to contemplate what you’ve done.
2. Egger’s Ice Cream Parlor, 7437 Amboy Road; 1194 Forest Avenue, Staten Island
Ice cream experiences this authentic are increasingly rare in a time where fast and loose crooners stab at mounds of frozen dessert with paddles. Frozen in time like the numerous tubs that fill its freezer, not much has changed since the doors opened at this place nearly 75 years ago, including most of its ice cream recipes. We’re particularly into the fudgy cookies and cream and generously loaded vanilla peanut butter swirl. This is dense stuff, rich on the palate with a smooth finish and best enjoyed in classic soda fountain fashion as part of a massive banana split or in a thick, frothy milkshake with an extra scoop on the side.
1. OddFellows Ice Cream Company, 175 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn
This homage to the ice cream parlors of yesterday is somewhat of a homecoming for chef Sam Mason, whose post-wd~50 career saw the former pastry chef delving into savory territory at Tailor before decamping to Brooklyn to own a bar, start a badass mayonnaise company, and now, dole out uninhibited ice cream flavors to the masses. Mason’s sugar game is back in a major way, with a mix of scoop shop-standards as well as the daring flavor profiles that those who’ve followed his career have come to expect. To wit: butterscotch hit with the earthy, fermented funk of miso wherein chunks of sweet cherries stand up to the soy condiment’s saltiness. In a nod to their forebears, employees wear crisp aprons and soda jerk caps, but we doubt any of the old-school parlors in town could have foreseen flavors like chorizo caramel.