Best ice cream in America not just from a shop

best ice cream AmericaSince Memorial Day is past, I think it’s safe to say we’ve officially entered ice cream season (National Ice Cream Day is July 17) Unless you live in Seattle, in which case, it’s still winter, but never mind. We still have great ice cream.

What makes for acclaim-worthy ice cream? Food writers like me tend to look for an emphasis on local/seasonal ingredients, including dairy. I love high butterfat ice cream, because my feeling is, if I’m going to indulge (I’m also lactose intolerant, so it’s really taking one for the team) I want something insanely creamy and smooth, with a rich, full, mouthfeel. Gummy or chewy ice cream is the hallmark of stabilizers such as guar or xanthan gum. The fewer the ingredients, the better, in my book. Hormone/antibiotic-free cream, milk, eggs; fruit or other flavoring agent(s). That’s it.

Much ado is made of unusual ice cream flavors, and I agree that creativity is welcome, as long as it remains in check. But there’s something to be said about purity, as well. If you can’t make a seriously kickass chocolate or vanilla, you may as well shut your doors.

Below is a round-up of my favorite ice cream shops, farmers market stands, food trucks, and carts (the latter two a growing source of amazing ice cream) across the country. If your travel plans include a visit to one of these cities, be sure to drop by for a dairy or non-dairy fix; most of these places do offer sorbet, or coconut milk or soy substitutes. Some also sell via mail order and at other retail outlets; check each site for details.

1. San Francisco: Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop
When I lived in Berkeley, I used to make special trips into the City just to shop at Bi-Rite Market, a beloved neighborhood grocery in the Mission District that specializes in all things local, organic/sustainable, and handcrafted, from produce to chocolate. When they opened a tiny, adorable creamery across and up the street a few years ago, it was with the same ethos and business practices in mind. Organic milk and cream are sourced from Straus Family Creamery in adjacent Marin County, fruit from nearby family farms. Salted Caramel is a best seller; I’m a slave to Brown Butter Pecan, and Creme Fraiche. Every rich, creamy mouthful is about purity of flavor, but sundaes and new soft-serve flavors are also available.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Barbara L. Hanson]best ice cream americaRunner-up is three-year-old Humphrey Slocombe, also in the Mission. Personally, I can live without Government Cheese, Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke), or Foie Gras ice cream, but I can definitely get behind Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes), Prosciutto (somehow, it makes sense, whereas I just don’t like my diseased goose liver in dairy form), Honey Thyme, and Cucumber Ice Milk. Like Bi-Rite, dairy also comes from Straus, and local food artisans and farmers provide the goods for most of the esoteric to downright freakish flavors. Bottom line: what doesn’t repulse you is good stuff

2. Brooklyn: Van Leeuwen
While in Williamsburg two weeks ago, I stumbled upon one of Van Leeuwen’s famous, butter-yellow ice cream vans (co-founder Ben Van Leeuwen used to be a Good Humor driver). It was tough to decide on a flavor, given the lovely, lyrical sound of the mostly botanical flavors such as ginger, currants and cream, and Earl Gray. I chose palm sugar, which was an ethereal blend of sweet, high-quality dairy Van Leeuwen sources from a farmer he knows in Franklin County, and the caramelly richness of the sugar. Props too, for using all biodegradable materials. Van Leeuwen also has stores in Greenpoint and Boerum Hill. A trusted friend in Brooklyn also highly recommends the Asian-inflected flavors at Sky Ice, a Thai family-owned spot in Park Slope.

3. Chicago: Snookelfritz Ice Cream Artistry
Pastry chef Nancy Silver stands behind her unassuming little stall at Chicago’s Green City Market in Lincoln Park, dishing out some of the most spectacular ice cream in the country. Snooklefritz specializes in seasonal ice creams, sherbets, and sorbets using Kilgus Farmstead heavy cream and Meadow Haven organic eggs. The result are creations such as the deeply flavorful maple-candied hickory nut, and heavenly brown sugar and roasted peach ice creams, and a creamy, dreamy Klug Farms blackberry sherbet.

4. Seattle: Full Tilt Ice Cream
The city’s most iconoclastic ice cream shop (on my first visit, the ska-punk band Three Dead Whores was playing…at the shop) has opened several locations in the last two years, but the original is in the ethnically diverse, yet-to-gentrify part of South Seattle known as White Center. That accounts for flavors like horchata, Mexican chocolate, ube (purple yam), and bourbon caramel (if you saw the patrons at the open-at-6am tavern next door, you’d understand). Enjoy Memphis King (peanut butter, banana, and chocolate-covered bacon) with a beer pairing while scoping out local art on the walls or playing pinball. Over in hipster-heavy Capitol Hill, Bluebird Homemade Ice Cream & Tea Room does the PacNW justice by offering an intense, almost savory Elysian Stout (the brewery is two blocks away), and a spot-on Stumptown Coffee ice cream. Not as high in butterfat as the other ice creams on this list, but well-made, and full of flavor, using Washington state dairy.
best ice cream america
5. Portland, Oregon: Salt & Straw
“Farm to Cone” is the motto at this new ice cream cart/soon-to-be-storefront in the Alberta Arts District. Think local ingredients, and sophisticated, fun flavors that pack a punch like a lovely pear and blue cheese, honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper, hometown Stumptown Coffee with cocoa nibs, and brown ale with bacon. The 17% butterfat content is courtesy of the herd at Oregon’s 4th generation Lochmead Dairy.

6. Columbus, Ohio: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni’s has a clutch of stores now, but the family-owned original is in Columbus. The Brown Swiss, Jersey, Guernsey, and Freisan cows at Ohio’s Snowville Creamery produce high-butterfat milk and cream, which, according to Jeni’s, goes from “cow to our kitchen within 48 hours.” The result are flavors ranging from signature Buckeye State (salty peanut butter with chunks of dark chocolate) and Riesling Poached Pear sorbet, to seasonal treats such as Backyard Mint, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, and Strawberry Buttermilk. Down home and delicious.

7. Boston: Toscanini’s
From Burnt Caramel to Grape Nut, Cake Batter, Cardamom Coffee, or Banana sorbet, this wildly popular Cambridge shop is, in the words of a colleague, “consistently original and good.” Equally wonderful is Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream, also in Cambridge. It’s attached to the family-owned spice shop: the results are fresh, potent flavors such as Cinnamon, Herbal Chai, French Vanilla, Fresh Rose or Mint, and Bergamot. Five sorbets are available daily, as well.

[Photo credits: bourbon, Flickr user gigaman; bacon, Flickr user miss_rogue]

This eggnog ice cream from Van Leeuwen is admittedly Christmasy-sounding, but just think of it as “custard” ice cream (and a way to subconsciously cool off, while watching this clip). Pair with luscious summer fruit, such as sliced nectarines, cherries, strawberries, or plums.

Van Leeuwen Eggnog Ice Cream Recipe

Video of the Day: Zombie Walk in Columbus, Ohio

People like to argue over the best time to visit places. You’ll hear plenty of people recommend Paris in the spring, wax poetic on the Alaskan winter and suggest New England in autumn. For our money, however, it’s all about Columbus, Ohio during the zombie apocalypse. Columbus hosted it’s seemingly annual Zombie Walk this past weekend. It’s hard to tell what’s happening in this video, but it looks like faux military personnel are fighting against some zombies with pretty impressive makeup. Not exactly your typical tourist attraction but a pretty amusing activity nonetheless.

So, the next time someone asks you about the best time to visit central Ohio, let them know that mid-May is the time to go. Go for the temperate spring weather, stay for the end of mankind.

A guide to America’s most “offal” restaurants

offal restaurantsEven when I was a finicky kid subsisting on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, I was intrigued by offal. No way in hell would I have eaten what are politely known in the food industry as “variety meats,” but they sure looked intriguing.

As with most of my weird habits, I blame my dad for my fascination with animal guts. Growing up the daughter of a large animal vet, I spent most of my formative years raising livestock, assisting with surgeries and necropsies, and working cattle brandings, so I’ve never been squeamish when it comes to animal innards.

Not until I began working in restaurants, however, did I learn that offal, properly prepared, is absolutely delicious. Many of us were forced to eat liver cooked to the consistency of jerky as kids because it was “good for us.” When I ate my first tender, caramelized calf’s liver, however, the interior creamy and surprisingly mild, I actually enjoyed it. Ditto fried pig’s brains, calf testicles, smoked cow’s tongue, grilled chicken hearts…

In most of the world–Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America–offal has always been a dietary staple due to poverty, and the need to utilize as much of the animal as possible. Glands, organs, and other bits and pieces fell out of favor in America in the late 19th century due to cheap meat (muscle cut) prices. Today, offal is gaining popularity in the States, thanks in part to the increasing emphasis on sustainable food production and supply. British chef Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating has done just as much to inspire American chefs to get in on the offal revolution this side of the Atlantic.

Following the jump, my picks for some of the best restaurants in the United States to specialize in or honor offal (having the occasional sweetbreads or tongue on a menu doesn’t count). Read on for where to find these temples of, as one chef put it, “offal love.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user The Hamster Factor]

offal restaurantsIncanto, and SPQR: San Francisco
It’s hard to turn on the Food Network these days without seeing Incanto chef Chris Cosentino’s mug. The “Iron Chef” contestant also appears on a handful of other shows, but he’s best known for his obsession with offal. At Incanto, you’ll find Italian-rooted local cuisine heavy on variety meats. Lamb fries (testicles) with bacon and capers; kip (veal) heart tartare Puttanesca style; creative endeavors with cockscombs. If you want to discover how good esoteric offal can be, this Noe Valley spot is it.

SPQR–sister restaurant to the wildly popular A16–is a bustling little sweet spot on boutique-and-restaurant heavy Fillmore Street. The name, an acronym for the Latin version of “The People and Senate of Rome,” is a tip-off that rising star chef Matthew Accarrino’s menu is littered with animal parts. Look for delicacies like a delicate fritto misto of offal (liver, tripe, and sweetbreads), and braised pig ears deep-fried, and served with pickled vegetables and chili oil.

Animal: Los Angeles
As you will see, this round-up is unwittingly a tribute to Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs, past and present. But a great chef is a great chef, and it just so happens that 2009 F & W winners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo love them some animal parts. At their first restaurant, Animal, the down-to-earth duo–former culinary school classmates and longtime co-workers–serve up fancified down-home, finger-slurpingly good treats like pig tails, “Buffalo-style,” with celery and Ranch; pig ear, chili, lime, and fried egg, and veal brains, vadouvan (a spice mixtures), apple sauce, and carrot.

Clyde Common, Porland (Oregon)
The menu isn’t always bursting with offal, but this lovely communal dining spot in downtown’s Ace Hotel knows its way with variety meats–it’s where I first fell in love with tongue. Savor Euro tavern-style treats like chef Chris DiMinno’s chicken-fried chicken livers with cress, cucumber, and lemon aioli; pig trotters, or hearty charcuterie boards with excellent (heavy on the bourbon, gin, and rye) house cocktails.offal restaurants

Amis, and Osteria: Philadelphia
Arguably one of the nation’s most talented chefs, Marc Vetri trained in Italy, and now runs a three-restaurant (and growing) empire with his partners in Philadelphia. The award-winning chef’s restaurants Amis, and Osteria, are heavy on the offal, in two very divergent ways. At Amis, chef/co-owner Brad Spence turns out earthy, Roman trattoria specialties, including a menu section called “il quinto quarto.” In ancient Rome, this “fifth quarter” refers to the four quarters of an animal that were butchered and split up amongst the noblemen, clergy, and soldiers. Peasants got the fifth quarter (also known as “what falls out of the animal). Expect hearty fare like trippa alla Romana, Roman tripe stew.

Jeff Michaud, chef/co-owner of the industrial-farmhouse-styled Osteria, turns out intensely rich dishes like Genovese ravioli stuffed with veal brain, capon, and liver, served with a braised capon leg sauce; crispy sweetbreads with Parmigiano fonduta and charred treviso, and grilled pork tongue spiedini with fava beans and pancetta.

The Greenhouse Tavern, and Lolita: Cleveland
Chef/owner Jonathon Sawyer of downtown’s The Greenhouse Tavern is more than just a 2010 F & W Best New Chef. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to make “Roasted Ohio pig face” one of his signature dishes. Granted, this is a hog gussied up with Sawyer’s signature Frenchified gastropub style: cola gastrique, petit crudite, and lime. But Sawyer, who lived briefly in Rome, also pays tribute to the eternal city of love by serving a daily-changing il quinto quarto “with tasty bits.”

the Publican: Chicagooffal restaurants
Spicy pork rinds; blood sausage; headcheese; neck bone gravy with spaghetti and Parmesan; sweetbreads with pear-celery root remoulade. the Publican executive chef/co-owner/award-winning chef Paul Kahan is innovative with more than just offal. He uses scraps, blood, and bones to create charcuterie, as well as elegant, “beer-focused farmhouse fare (his father owned a deli and smokehouse; no wonder).” Chef de cuisine Brian Huston leads the show, carrying on the tradition.

The Spotted Pig, New York
Having just received its fifth Michelin star means this Greenwich Village hot spot will continue to be nearly impossible to get into. But it’s worth the wait for chef/co-owner April Bloomfield’s (yet another F & W Best New Chef alum) soulful gastropub cuisine. In the never-too-much-of-a-good-thing category: Calf’s liver with crispy pancetta and house-made bacon.

I’ve only tapped the surface of what talented, creative chefs are doing with offal in the United States. Have a favorite restaurant doing something noteworthy with bits and pieces? I’d love to hear about it!


Blogger Elizabeth Seward

Introducing another new blogger at Gadling, Elizabeth Seward.

Where was your photo taken: Puntarenas, Costa Rica. I was lounging at the Los Suenos Resort there (on the Pacific side of the country) for a few days. This photo captured me mid-thought, writing alongside the ocean. It should be noted, however, that I might have just been gazing off at a Scarlet Macaw.

Where do you live now: I’m a newbie to Austin, TX. I recently relocated from New York City. Fed up with the things in NYC that one easily becomes fed up with after nearly a decade of residence, I decided to learn a thing or two firsthand about this much lauded southern city. People told me Austin was great for music, the outdoors, nightlife, food, and weather, and those people were right. While I’m still navigating my way around, say, having a house and a yard (with a pecan tree out back), the transition into Austin has been smooth… and warm.

Scariest airline flown: I don’t routinely get jittery on planes. I prefer to anxiously deprive myself of sleep the night before, powerlessly succumb to deep sleep mid-air, and let the landing jar me awake. But a recent viewing of a “World’s Most Extreme Airports (!!!)” kind of show clued me in on the fact that I’d flown into, apparently, two of the most EXTREME airports out there: Saint Martin/Sint Maarten and Vail, Colorado. And yeah, when I think back to those flights, I’m pretty sure I was wide awake well before landing.

Favorite city/country/place: Anything not overrun by kitschy tourist attractions probably appeals to me. I don’t have any sort of rain forest vs. mountains vs. desert vs. city preference, but I did go somewhere this past summer that was remote and took my breath away: The Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan. This sliver of land farther north than the city of Quebec juts deep into Lake Superior. In the summertime, daylight sticks around until 10pm (or after), the weather is warm but not too hot, and the lake is, I kid you not, glistening.Most remote corner of the globe visited: I once took a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica and from there I caught another little plane (only 6 of us, including the pilot, fit on board) to Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica (about 4-5 hours by car south of San Jose). I then took a boat across Golfo Dulce, a body of water teeming with dolphins and brightly-colored wildlife, to an eco-resort called Playa Nicuesa. Playa Nicuesa can’t be reached by car because it’s in the middle of a more or less untouched and protected rain forest–no roads even go there. The open-aired resort serves delicious local and seasonal food. And the best part? There’s no TV, Internet, or cell phone use this deep into the rain forest, so you’re alone with nature, whether you like it or not.

Favorite guidebook series: The only travel guidebooks I own are the ones I find in thrift stores (or the ones my mother finds for me in thrift stores) and among those, it’s not easy to pick a favorite. The photos are usually as inspiring as the information is outdated. I enjoy meandering through places using my own kind of guide: some combination of tips gathered from cutting edge travel sites, friends’ Facebook feeds, and recommendations made by locals.

How did you get started in travel writing: I got into travel writing by way of an industry that encourages travel: music. While on tour, I found myself with a lot of free time between arriving at a city and performing in the evening. Reflexively, I began documenting my travels (venues, restaurants, vintage stores, good trails, off-the-beaten-path stuff, etc.)in my journal. My fascination with exploring became more public when I started a website, TheAntiTourist.com, to help me keep an organized database of my favorite places (and eventually the favorite places of other writers, many of them also touring). The launch of the website simultaneously acted as the launch of my travel writing career and now I often find myself in a reversed situation from where I started–trying to squeeze shows into my free time when I’m traveling.

The ideal vacation is: A vacation that gives me freedom from the stresses back home. I travel all of the time for work, be it writing or music, and people will get mushy about my travels (“Oh my gosh! I wish I could just take off work and travel all of the time!”) without considering the fact that I’m actually still working when I’m traveling. I’m almost always still plugged in, still dealing with email, and still seeing news headlines in my peripheral vision. My ideal vacation is one that allows me to actually check out, detach, and detox while my inbox overflows.

Type of traveler–vagabond, luxury, camper, package, adventurer, etc.: I’ve had my favorite travel experiences while living in a van and driving across the USA on tour, washing my hair in McDonald’s bathrooms no less. Inevitably, vagabond and adventurer has to be my reply… but I openly embrace what every style of travel has to offer. READ: You won’t find me snubbing my nose at a pampering massage treatment, freshly caught lobster, or plush hotel beds.

On your next trip, you are forced to schedule a 24-hour layover. You have $200 to spend. Where do you spend the layover and why:

Less than 24 hours to have some fun? Bring it.

$20 cab into town from airport, it’s evening.
$30 bed reserved at likely awesome spot with probably good people, courtesy of Air B&B.
$19 round of drinks for me and my hosts at their favorite dive bar in town.
$1 two songs on the juke box.
$20 admission into the circusy loft party the guy at the dive bar tells me about, the one where people are fire dancing and hula-hooping and the live band is inviting me, and everyone else, to come on stage figure out a way to be percussive.
$15 late night/early morning breakfast at the best 24-hour diner in town with new friends from the loft party. Maybe my Air B&B hosts are with me, too.
$3 coffee I grab at the first coffee shop I see that looks good, and by good, I mean a coffee shop that looks like it’s been around the block a few times.
$7 earrings I talk myself into buying from the nice girl outside of the coffee shop.
$2 tip for the talented musicians playing on the sidewalk.
$3 local newspaper to read while basking in the park’s sunshine.
$15 ticket to borderline-pretentious-but-maybe-still-cool early afternoon cultural event.
$5 post-event obligatory purchase (roasted peanuts? bookmark drawn by a child in need?).
$20 lunch at some tasty spot, a place with a low tourists-locals ratio.
$20 thrift store purchases.
$20 cab back to airport.

Done. Why? Because 24-hour layovers suck. Getting an authentic feel for a town is way better than getting an authentic feel for an airport.

Photo Credit: Ben Britz

Ark Encounter theme park plans unveiled

Ark Encounter theme park

The “Creationist” theme park long-rumored to be built in Kentucky is one step closer to reality.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced the plans for the new theme park on Wednesday, along with tax incentives the state of Kentucky will provide to the tune of $37 million.

Ark Encounter’s centerpiece will be a 500-foot long wooden ark, modeled after the Biblical Noah’s ark. The park’s organizers – the same folks behind the Creation Museum – say that Noah’s Ark is the source of much fascination to the general public, and the plans for Ark Encounter should answer many people’s questions about the building of the ark.

They point to a 2009 CBS News survey in which 43 percent of people responding said that Noah’s Ark is the archeological discovery they would most like to see made next.

The park will also include sections based on other Bible stories, such as:

  • The Walled City, a shopping and food complex
  • Noah’s Animals, with a petting zoo and live animal shows
  • The Tower of Babel, a 100-foot tall building with exhibits and a theater
  • Journey Through History, a “trip through the events of the Bible”
  • First-Century Village, a model of a First-Century town in the Middle East

Ark Encounter is planned for an 800-acre site off Interstate 75 in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnatti, Ohio. The park is being built by a private, for-profit company. A fundraising campaign is underway to build the ark itself.

The plan is not without controversy. Groups that advocate for the separation of church and state are protesting the state of Kentucky’s plan for tax incentives. Beshear says the motivation behind the incentives is jobs, not Jesus.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” Beshear told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “They elected me governor to create jobs.

Ark Encounter is expected to create 900 full- and part-time jobs and draw 1.6 million visitors in its first year of operation. The theme park is expected to open in 2014.

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