It's fitting that the hottest month of the year is National Ice Cream Month. Officially kicked off by Ronald Reagan in 1984, this July celebration provides the perfect excuse for indulging in a few scoops. If a whole month of desserts is too much for your waistline, you can enjoy National Ice Cream Day on the third Sunday in July.
There are a number of ways to celebrate ice cream. Some people choose to make their own. Others try a few licks of some funky flavors — foie gras ice cream, anyone? And then there are special events like the Austin Ice Cream Festival or Farrell's Ice Cream Eating Challenge.
One of the best ways to celebrate is simply to head to a classic ice cream parlor to indulge in this sweet cold treat. Here are some of the best ice cream parlors in the United States to consider.
The Aglamesis Bro's ice cream parlor front window in Oakley Square. (Photo: 5chw4r7z/flickr)
This Cincinnati establishment has been dishing out confectioneries and ice cream for more than a century. There are currently two locations in Cincinnati. Both shops are still owned by the descendants of the Aglamesis brothers who founded the brand. The shops are known for their classic decor, which is inspired by the early 1900s style that was popular when the brothers sold their first scoop.
The difference between Aglamesis and many other "destination" ice cream parlors is the quality of the product. The specialty ice creams and Italian ices here are made in small batches using classic recipes. The shop's popular line of candies are produced in the same way. Many still come to experience the classic ice cream parlor vibe. This atmosphere is especially evident at the older of the two current Aglamesis locations in Cincinnati's Oakley Square.
Original Häagen-Dazs Parlor, Brooklyn
The first Häagen-Dazs location in Brooklyn. A plaque commemorates the opening of the store in 1976. (Photo: Fuhghettaboutit/Wikimedia Commons)
Häagen-Dazs does not have its roots in Europe, as its name might suggest. The name was invented by the ice cream's co-creator, Reuben Mattus. You may be surprised to know the name doesn't mean anything in any language. Mattus wanted to have a Danish-sounding name to pay tribute to Denmark, a country that accepted many Polish Jewish refugees during World War II. Both Reuben and his wife and business partner, Rose, were of Polish descent. Häagen-Dazs was originally produced in the 1960s. The first shop opened in Brooklyn in 1976.
The quality of this ice cream brand is well known. To this day, Häagen-Dazs does not use additives (such as guar gum or xanthan gum) like most other mass-produced ice creams. Though the company is now owned by General Mills, the original recipes remain mostly intact, as does the first shop on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. You can’t miss this classic parlor because there's a small plaque outside tagging it as the original location from which the Häagen-Dazs empire grew.
Grand Ole Creamery, St. Paul
Located along Grand Avenue in St. Paul, the Grand Ole Creamery claims to have more than 300 recipes, several dozen of which are served on any given day. These flavors range from classic (chocolate and sweet cream) to unique trademark offerings like "Cookie Monster" and "Black Hills Gold."
The Creamery is located in a classic part of this Minnesota city. The home of famed Gilded Age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald is not far away, and the Creamery embraces the neighborhood's classic vibe. This is not purely an ice cream parlor, however; the Grand Ole Creamery has a full food menu as well. But the homemade-style cream, created using local ingredients, is the star of the show.
Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco
Bi-Rite is one of the most popular ice cream shops on the West Coast. Even after a second location was opened to meet demand, the lines at the original Mission District spot still stretched out the door on most evenings. Creative flavors and a fun atmosphere are part of the reason for this shop's success. The quality of the product probably has a lot to do with the popularity as well.
Bi-Rite makes its ice cream in small batches. The dairy products used to create the desserts are all organic. Other ingredients are either made on site or sourced from nearby farms. Treats like brownies, cookies and peanut brittle, all of which can be used as toppings or mixed into the ice cream, are created at the adjacent bakery. Bi-Rite covers the favorites with options like chocolate, vanilla, and cookies and cream. They also have more creative options like honey lavender, brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, and cheesecake with blueberry swirl. Customers are encouraged to mix flavors and to try specialty sundaes.
Molly Moon's, Seattle
The sign for Molly Moon's downtown Seattle location. (Photo: Michael Allen Smith/flickr)
Molly Moon's doesn't dominate Seattle's dessert scene, but with half-a-dozen shops around the city and a faithful following of patrons, this brand has certainly become a Seattle institution. Unlike some of the other shops on our list, Molly's doesn't have a huge line-up of flavors. Their website lists 10 "full-time" offerings and a few seasonal options. Still, there is a good mix of classic (strawberry, vanilla, coffee, chocolate) and creative (honey lavender, earl grey, balsamic strawberry).
The ingredients are what makes Molly's parlors stand out. "Fresh" and "local" are important keywords when it comes to Molly's dairy and mix-ins. The company claims that more than 90 percent of all its ingredients are local, and most are also organic. Another good thing about Molly's: the recipes aren't guarded like state secrets. In fact, there is a "cookbook" that shows people how to make Molly's ice creams at home.
The Creole Creamery, New Orleans
New Orleans is a great food town. After your shrimp gumbo or po' boy, you'll have a craving for something sweet, and that's where the Creole Creamery comes in. Other ice cream parlors have creative flavors, but few execute these unusual concoctions as well as this Uptown Nola spot. (A second location can be found in the Lakeview area).
Everyone from the Food Network to travel portal Thrillist calls the Creole Creamery one of America's best. With offerings like honey lavender and sweet potato sassafras praline, the flavors are not only interesting, they're also reflective of Louisiana’s famous flavors and ingredients. An exhaustive list of every flavor ever concocted by the Creamery has more than 400 entries.
Black Dog Gelato Chicago
Like New Orleans, Chicago is an unpretentious food town that takes its eating seriously. Black Dog Gelato owner Jessica Oloroso, a former pastry chef, named the shop after her favorite pet. The shops — there are two locations — embrace the Windy City's obsession with skillfully made food.
Small batches of ice cream and gelato are made daily using time-tested methods. The small details are what make Black Dog stand out. For example, they serve gelato (a lighter, creamier version of ice cream) at a higher temperature than ice cream so that the flavors are at their best. One of this brand's most popular menu options is the Sundae Station Package, which is a classic sundae with six to eight artisan toppings.
Cocolini, the Venetian Las Vegas
At the Las Vegas version of Saint Mark's Square, in the famous Venetian Resort and Casino, you will often run into a long line of people. Chances are that these folks are waiting for ice cream at one of the venues in the Grand Canal Shoppes area. Some of the best sweet treats on the Strip are scooped at a storefront called Cocolini Gelato.
The first thing you will notice as you get to the front of the line at Cocolini is the presentation. The choices inside the glass cooler are artfully heaped in their trays, with toppings decorating each flavor. Of course looks aren't everything. The long lines are evidence that there is quality here. Some of the flavors wouldn’t be out of place in the real Venice. The choices include stracciatella and tiramisu.
Amy's Ice Cream, Austin
An Amy's Ice Cream shop in Austin. (Photo: Paul Joseph/flickr)
Amy's Ice Cream, named after founder Amy Miller, has become an institution in Austin. The quality desserts caught on quickly in the Texas capital after the first shop opened in 1984. By the end of the company's first decade in business, it had expanded to new locations in Austin and in Houston. There is also currently a franchise in San Antonio.
Austin is the Lone Star State's ice cream heartland. One of the country's most anticipated ice cream themed celebrations, the Austin Ice Cream Festival, is held here each summer. More than a dozen Amy's shops are scattered around the city. It is worthwhile to travel the Amy's circuit. In addition to seven staple flavors, each location has a rotating menu of additional offerings. This means you will have a different set of choices if you travel to a different Amy's.
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Creole Creamery inset photo: Andrea Wright/flickr