15 Unique U.S. Ice Cream Shops

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15 Unique U.S. Ice Cream Shops
See you later, boring old vanilla. These ice cream shops around the United States are giving the frozen treat a whole new look.

Do yourself a favor: Skip the grocery store ice cream this spring. No, not because of #summerbodygoals—it’s because you can do so much better. Drive past that Safeway or Albertsons until you end up at one of these 15 incredible ice cream shops, where pastry chefs and self-taught artisans alike are giving America’s favorite treat an irresistible makeover.
By Alina Polishuk, AFAR Contributor
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    1. Humphry Slocombe
    A pint of the stuff might cost you an arm and a leg (or like, $10), but the occasional scoop of Humphry Slocombe is easily worth the indulgence. Flavors range from dressed-up classics like Tahitian V*n!ll@ and Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, to innovative newcomers, like Peanut Butter Curry and Hibiscus Beet Sorbet.

    Plan your trip: San Francisco
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    2. Fifty Licks
    Portland is no stranger to serving up unique treats to its “hip” residents, so why would the city’s ice cream be any different? At Fifty Licks, ultra-rich custards are scooped up in flavors like Thai Rice (jasmine-rice-infused cream with a hint of pandan) and Blackberry Chevre (goat cheese custard with a local berry swirl). There are funky options for vegans too, our favorite being the molasses, toasted banana, and rum infused Pirate. 

    Plan your trip: Portland
    Courtesy of @fiftylicks
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    3. Cloud City Ice Cream
    Sure, the ingredients are all sourced locally and more than one flavor on the menu includes the word “salted.” But despite its Portland-like attributes, Cloud City is a true standout in the city’s artisanal ice cream scene. Its vibe is unpretentious, its treats made with love (we’re not just saying that), and each of its 30 daily flavors has a twist. Seasonal favorites include the Unicorn (mascarpone ice cream swirled with red velvet cake chunks and strawberry jam) and the Roasted Balsamic Cherry Mascarpone, but tasty scoops like Chocolate Stout and Earl Grey Blueberry are available year round.

    Plan your trip: Portland
    Courtesy of Cloud City Ice Cream
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    4. Peddler’s Creamery
    Although it’s not a mandate, some customers at Peddler’s Creamery have to work for their ice cream. Because rather than leave the churning up to a machine, every gallon that is served at this downtown L.A. shop is churned by a stationary bike. Peddler’s offers a free scoop in exchange for a 15-20 minute pedal, but those who aren’t looking to invest any sweat equity are free to use actual money. The flavors at Peddler’s lean slightly more toward the traditional, but Candied Kumquat, Black Sesame Caramel, and Raspberry Pop Tart are the unusual favorites.

    Plan your trip: Los Angeles
    Courtesy of Peddler’s Creamery
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    5. Browndog Creamery and Dessert Bar
    Bar plus ice cream parlor equals barlor, right? At least, it does at Browndog Creamery near Detroit, where scoops of small-batch ice cream are mixed with booze, served flight-style, or dunked into pints of beer. There are kid-friendly treats too, of course, but for the over-21 set, favorite combos are the Jacked-Up Carrot Cake (infused with Jack Daniels, bits of cake, and a cream cheese swirl) and customizable floats made with Michigan draft beers.

    Plan your trip: Detroit
    Photo by @katmwalker
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    6. Black Dog Gelato
    So gelato isn’t technically ice cream, yet the inventive offerings at Black Dog Gelato easily warrant it a spot on the list. Chef/owner Jessie Oloroso mixes up batches of the creamy Italian treat the traditional way, while flavors like Blueberry French Toast and Sesame Fig Chocolate Chip make this gelateria anything but old school.

    Plan your trip: Chicago
    Courtesy of Black Dog Gelato
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    7. Spun Ice Cream
    While making a single scoop of ice cream to order might sound like some kind of magic trick, at Spun Ice Cream in Austin, it’s business as usual. That’s because co-owners Ashley and Christina Cheng use liquid nitrogen to freeze their organic ice cream batters, so customers get a made-to-order treat free of emulsifiers, preservatives, or stabilizers. The real magic, however, lies in Spun’s rotating menu of flavors and toppings. Customers can mix and match or choose from specially crafted sundaes. The Toastess with the Mostess, for example, includes toast ice cream, Valencia orange marmalade, brown butter powder, and a tiny brûléed toast.


    Plan your trip: Austin
    Photo by Veronica Meewes
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    8. Heifer and the Hen
    Heifer and the Hen is named after ice cream’s two most important ingredients: milk and eggs. And here, the head chef of this Boulder, Colorado, spot makes sure both are organic, local, and fresh as can be. So while we wouldn’t say a scoop or three of Heifer and Hen’s Burnt Marshmallow S’mores or Orange Blossom ice cream is healthy, per se, indulging can at least be done with a clear conscience. And on Tuesdays, when cones are just $2 apiece, all of that conscience clearing can be done with an
    almost-full wallet on the way out the door. We’ll see you there next week.

    Plan your trip: Colorado
    Courtesy of Heifer and the Hen
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    9. Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
    There are a lot of old-school-esque ice cream parlors in New York City that serve up tubs of old-school-esque flavors. Although its charming graphics and simple design might indicate otherwise, Morgenstern’s Finest is not one of them. Opened in 2014, this wildly popular shop makes small-batch variations of classic flavors. Vanilla, for example, is offered as Madagascar, Burnt Honey, Bourbon, French, or Rum Raisin, while strawberry can be Balsamic, Smooth and Delicious, or Pistachio Pesto. The creativity also extends to Morgenstern’s menu of untraditional flavors, like Raw Milk, Durian, or the Insta-famous Black Coconut Ash.

    Plan your trip: New York City
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    10. Little Baby’s Ice Cream
    Little Baby’s made its way into the spotlight because of this supremely creepy commercial in 2012, and it hasn’t left the stage since. In the six years since its founders started towing freezers full of homemade ice cream around Philly on tricycles, Little Baby’s has opened up two storefronts and gained nationwide recognition for its quirky vibe and quirkier flavors. On the milder side of the spectrum are choices like Cardamom Caramel and Thai Iced Tea. On the not-so-mild side? Cucumber Dill, which uses fresh cucumber juice and chopped dill pickles, or Ranch, which is exactly as it sounds.

    Plan your trip: Philadelphia
    Courtesy of Little Baby's Ice Cream
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    11. Coletta Gelato
    OK, Coletta Gelato didn’t make this list because its flavors are unique (although they are interesting, with offerings such as an Italian take on chai). What’s different about this San Francisco shop is that its founders, Henri and Antonio, went to Gelato University in Italy. Safe to say—they know their stuff. They pasteurize and make their own gelato base to get the perfect flavor and texture, so you’ll never be stuck with a run-of-the-mill scoop.

    Plan your trip: San Francisco
    Courtesy of Coletta Gelato
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    12. Ample Hills Creamery
    When Brian Smith first opened the doors to Ample Hills Creamery in 2011, he expected it to fail. However, 6 years, three new locations (including one in Disneyland), and an Amazon distribution deal later, the Brooklyn-based creamery has position itself as one of New York’s most popular spots for a scoop. Ample Hills attracts the masses by making ice cream the old-fashioned way with an “everything homemade” mantra, and its flavors have a Brooklyn-style eccentricity that’s both craveable and creative. Year round favorites include Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and Butter Pecan Brittle.

    Plan your trip: New York City
    Photo by Mirella Cheesman
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    13. Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches
    If the Instagram food trends of the past few years have been any indication, donuts are no longer just for breakfast. But for those who prefer to forgo the donut-sandwiched hamburger patties and turkey sausages in favor of something sweet, Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches in Reno is the spot to hit. And although the shop itself is decorated with funky wall art and colorful signage, the formula for its offerings is, well, simple. Donuts or “cronuts” from local Reno bakeries plus ice cream from Carson Valley’s Hoch Creamery equals delicious, sugary treat.

    Plan your trip: Nevada
    Courtesy of Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches
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    14. Lick’s Honest Ice Cream
    Since opening the doors of Lick’s Honest Ice Cream in 2011, co-founders Anthony and Chad have remained dedicated to creating a hyper-local ice cream shop of a small town with the inventive and whimsical flavor offerings of a big city. With all of the Lick’s locations in Texas, the Lone Star state’s produce almost exclusively dictates what’s on the menu board each season. The dairy is, of course, sourced year round from Mill-King Market & Creamery outside of Waco, but funky flavors like Banana Nut Fudge and Tequila Lime Coconut also use produce (bananas and peanuts) and hand crafted goods (Dulce Vida tequila) that are created within Texas’ border.

    Plan your trip: Texas
    Photo by Annie Ray
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    15. Garden Creamery
    While there are clearly more than a few good ice cream parlors in San Francisco, Garden Creamery sets itself apart with its salmon pink facade and rotating selection of Asian-inspired flavors. Hawai’i native Erin Lang and her partner Donny started hawking frozen treats from a similarly colored food truck several years ago, but only opened their first brick and mortar earlier in 2017. Patrons not only line up for scoops of Mango Sticky Rice and Butter Mochi Toasted Sesame, but also for Lang’s decadently flavored semifreddo ice cream sandwiches. Despite its name, Garden Creamery does more than cater to dairy-lovers. The also store offers a plentiful selection of plant-based options like Thai Iced Tea and Kona Coffee, all made with coconut milk and agave nectar.

    Plan your trip: San Francisco
    Courtesy of Garden Creamery
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