Since the dawn of time (at least, since the dawn of Brigham’s), Boston has been an ice cream city. Summer is the best excuse of all to find an ice cream store to match your persona. Here are our favorites.
Gus Rancatore’s favorite flavor at his perennial “best of everything”-winning ice cream shop Toscanini (899 Main Street, Cambridge) is Nocciola. You probably won’t like it. And that’s okay. “It’s a very popular flavor in Italy, like a better Nutella,” he says. “Most Americans think that it’s a little too unctuous.” From its nationally-recognized earl grey ice cream to this summer’s new Chaya (Singaporean coconut curd), Toscanini’s is sure to serve at least one flavor you’ll hate but someone you know will love. It’s all worthwhile when you find that one flavor you love but everyone you know hates. “I’m currently playing with croutons,” says Rancatore. “They stay crunchy.”
The dirty secret of ice cream is that most shops make it from a mix – often the same mix their competitors buy. Contrast that with Picco (513 Tremont St, Boston), where even the chocolate chips are made from scratch. Where mix users make coffee ice cream by adding cheap espresso to the same base they’d use for chocolate or vanilla, Picco owner Rick Katz can infuse the milk with high-end coffee before starting a recipe that includes a type and amount of sugar specifically chosen for the flavor. If Toscanini is the destination for the flavors you can’t find anywhere else, Picco is the destination for flavors you find everywhere else, but done right. They scoop chocolate made from Schaffen Berger chocolate, vanilla made from Tahitian vanilla and fruit flavors made from fresh, seasonal fruit. Sound too ritzy for your ice cream dollar? Picco, short for Pizza and Ice Cream Company, makes most of its money on pizza and alcohol, which Katz uses as an excuse to keep ice cream prices low. “We don’t have to make a profit on every scoop of ice cream,” Katz says.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD CHAIN
“When people are standing in line for ice cream they revert to being children,” says J.P Licks-owner Vince Petryk of his customer service philosophy, “and you have to be nice to kids.” Over 33 years, J.P. Licks’ cow-spotted presence has slowly become every neighborhood’s neighborhood ice cream shop. Petryk now boasts a baker’s dozen of stores. None are franchises. But Petryk takes pride in the humanity of every one. His ice cream scoopers come from the same offbeat pool that births baristas – throughout the ‘80s J.P Licks was the unofficial employment center of MassArt. With the new Assembly Row location, J.P Licks has hit a milestone. It has now maxed out the production of its Jamaica Plain facility, where ice cream is made from scratch, coffee is roasted and yogurt is frozen. “It was completely by accident. We’ve never had a five year growth plan.”
ADDENDUM: FROZEN YOGURT IS NOT THE BAD GUY
Frozen yogurt will never beat ice cream at being ice cream. As a substitute, it’s a health conscious necessary evil. But froyo is great at being froyo. “Frozen yogurt is absolutely not the bad guy,” Berryline founder Matthew Wallace insists. As customers realize that tart yogurt is the ideal creamy delivery system for fresh fruit toppings, the city has been overrun with frozen yogurt specialty stores. BerryLine is the local entrant in a market crowded by national chains, like its Harvard Square archrival Pinkberry. Does the frogurt taste better because it was founded in Cambridge by MIT and Harvard post-docs? Perhaps.