By Jane Bonacci
Standing on the sidewalk, holding a cone with ice cream dripping down your hand and eating as fast as you can to keep up with the melting is a perfect summer evening activity. Kids of all ages love the sweet treat we call ice cream. Traditionally made by churning cream, sugar, eggs, milk, and flavorings together, turning a crank for what seemed like hours, these days we have the magic of liquid nitrogen with the ability to make ice cream to order. This opens up all kinds of possibilities and some of our local shops are taking advantage of it.
The demand for the new technology is high, so don’t be surprised if there are long lines at some places. People are willing to wait patiently to be able to order exactly what they want and have it made right in front of them. Kids love to watch the fog it creates – like dry ice in water – spilling out from around the mixers as they turn ingredients into ice cream in a minute or two! Head to Smitten or Craft to experience this new phenomenon.
Others, like Lottie’s and CREAM are using traditional methods, but offering creative and fascinating flavor combinations. You can create a dream cone, sundae or milkshake. Don’t be afraid to wander beyond your comfort zone and discover new delightful favorites. CREAM also offers the chance to get custom-made ice cream sandwiches, made with cookies, donuts, waffles, and more – a very fun option.
For a true classic experience, don’t miss Loard’s. With a broad spectrum of flavors, you can combine your favorite flavors in cones and sundaes. Their ice cream is made the old fashioned way and many prefer the texture and flavor of the time-honored method. Sometimes the old ways are better!
Smitten Ice Cream
3545 Mt. Diablo Blvd, Lafayette
One of the hottest ice cream chains in the Bay Area, Smitten uses liquid nitrogen to create the freshest frozen treats to order, with locally sourced, seasonal, and organic ingredients. They get all their cream from Petaluma dairy farmers, helping local businesses as much as possible. They change up the available base flavors about every 10 days, which can include seasonal favorites and other special toppings and sauces. General Manager Jennifer Bunnell shared that they offered a special Whiskey Chip flavor for Father’s Day and for the 4th of July they had Blueberry Pie ice cream with Strawberry sauce for a delightful red, white, and blue holiday treat. If you see their Spicy Caramel sauce on the list, give it a try. It is made with brown sugar, cinnamon, white pepper, and cayenne for a subtle heat and flavors that are reminiscent of Mexican chocolate in a luscious caramel sauce.
The Lafayette shop is one of the larger ones in the area with 6 machines giving you more base options to choose from. If you are dealing with dietary restrictions, they can guide you on which flavors and toppings are safe for your requirements. Smitten is known for unusual flavor combinations that will have you rethinking what ice cream can be, making it a fun new adventure every time you visit.
1414 N. Main St., Walnut Creek
Led by Chef Deb Phillips, daughter of Lottie, this local micro-creamery with on-site pasteurizing for maximum control has some fun and more unusual flavors including Lemon Marshmallow, Whiskey Coffee Crunch, Roasted Banana, Rose Cardamom Pistachio. Their best sellers are Vanilla Salted Almond Toffee (order a V-SAT to sound like an insider!), Thai Iced Tea, and the chocolate sorbet. They also offer ice cream cakes which you can order in advance for special occasions.
100 Railroad Ave., Danville
Choose your flash frozen ice cream and add your favorite toppings to make your very own unique concoctions! You can choose from rich and creamy local dairy, non-GMO organic, or low fat dairy, and for dairy-free you can select organic coconut milk or fruit-based “creams”. Add your choice from over 35 flavorings (many are gluten, soy, and nut free), and watch it all become ice cream right before your eyes, then add toppings from a vast list of classics – look for a wide variety of cereals and other crunchy bits, gluten-free candies, nuts, fruits, and sauces. You can also opt to have your toppings mixed into the ice cream, adding a beautiful textural counterpoint. Cookie and cream is their most popular flavor, but if you don’t want to stand in the long lines, you can pick up their “Pints to Go” to make your own cones and sundaes at home.
CREAM Walnut Creek
1372 N Main St, #101, Walnut Creek
Freshly baked cookies that “rule everything around me” are used to make all natural gourmet ice cream sandwiches. Even with lines out the door, it is worth the wait to get your choice of ice cream, cookies and toppings. Their most popular flavors are mint chocolate chip, salted caramel, and the newest, We Be Jammin’. They recommend ordering the We Be Jammin’ with peanut butter cookies for a frozen version of a PB&J! They offer vegan and gluten-free cookies, milkshakes, brownies, an awesome Cream Taco, scoops in cones, as well as sundaes where you choose your favorite combinations of cookies or brownies, ice cream, and toppings.
Loard’s Ice Cream – 2 locations in the area
220 Alamo Plaza, Alamo
230 Brookwood Rd., Orinda
A classic shop that has been around the Bay Area for decades, it still delivers some of the best ice cream in the area. You can find creamy and luscious traditionally churned ice cream, with plenty of flavors to choose from, as well as milk shakes and sundaes. High quality and consistency have helped it hold its perennial popularity in the Bay Area. If you are lucky enough to be close to one of their shops, you too can enjoy the treats that locals remember fondly from their childhood.
345 Railroad Ave., Danville
If you are looking for dinner out followed by ice cream for dessert, take a look at The Forge in Danville. Pizza and soft serve ice cream is a kid’s dream! A beautiful rustic atmosphere enhances the experience far above an ordinary pizza parlor. Mom and dad will appreciate the fresh salads, healthier topping options for the wood-fired pizzas, and the craft beer program. Bring your four-footed friends and enjoy the warm weather on their wraparound dog-friendly patio. Then sit back and enjoy a soft serve sundae with your choice of toppings. A delightful evening out with the family!