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.
Izzy’s Ice Cream
St. Paul, MN (and Minneapolis, MN)
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.
Flayvor’s of Cook Farm
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.
Herrell’s Ice Cream
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.
Moline, IL (and other Quad Cities locations)
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