Those Neapolitan standbys vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry will forever conjure memories of festive childhood birthday parties. But today’s ice cream makers are totally rethinking the cone. “There has definitely been a shift in the public looking for desserts that aren’t just one note,” says Natasha Case, CEO of Coolhaus (EatCoolhaus.com), a hip collection of food trucks in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, and Dallas offering flavors as varied as Vietnamese coffee, Peking duck, and Cuban cigar. “People want sweet meets savory, meets spicy, meets boozy, meets sour,” she adds. “More traditionally, what main courses, appetizers, and amuse bouches have brought to the table.”
The result is an arms race of ingredients that move way beyond those of your standard hot fudge sundae. Chicago’s Cone (1047 W. Madison St.; ConeChicago.com) infuses its icy desserts with Guinness and Jameson; order the Irish breakfast sundae and you’ll get the latter topped with corn flakes. OddFellows, a new shop in Brooklyn (175 Kent Ave.; OddFellowsNYC.com), is famous for its meaty renditions like chorizo caramel swirl, maple-bacon pecan, and a foie gras blend that sells out whenever it’s made available. (Follow the store’s Twitter feed to score a spoonful.)
On the West Coast, the two locations of San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe (HumphrySlocombe.com) capture the Fourth of July in a scoop with their sweet summer corn, while also serving up a to-die-for medley of green tea and black sesame. And while L.A.’s Ice Cream Lab (9461 S. Santa Monica Blvd.; IceCreamLab.com) scores big in the taste department (hello, salt lick crunch), it’s the shop’s haute-gastro technique that stands out: All of its ice cream is made on site with liquid nitrogen, a quirky, mad-scientist approach that makes for a good show.
Of course, it is possible to go too far with all this experimentation. “I just loved my beet soft-serve,” says Douglas Quint, co-owner of Manhattan’s renowned Big Gay Ice Cream (BigGayIceCream.com). “But I’m the first to admit that saleswise, it was a colossal failure. I made gallons of it...and sold two cones.” The key to success, says Case, is also mastering the classics. “People will always want simple. So you just have to do simple — along with all the crazy experimental — as well as possible.”
A number of ice cream shops use innovative base ingredients that nix animal products entirely. Whether you’re vegan or just looking for a chill without the calories, these shops have the competition licked.
Little Baby's, Philadelphia
This ice cream slinger’s numerous carts and shops specialize in treats made with coconut and almond milk. Its adventurous vegan options include duck sauce and Thai iced tea. LittleBabysIceCream.com
Sweet Action, Denver
Take your dairy-free pick from its daily-rotating sorbet selection (with flavors like ginger beer lime sorbet) or its array of vegan ice cream (try the cinnamon). SweetActionIceCream.com
Its flavors are not only vegan, they’re also raw and organic. Like Little Baby’s, the secret ingredients are almond and coconut milk, but these guys also throw cashew milk into the mix. KindKreme.com
Photos courtesy of Coolhaus and Dan Perrone