From artisan purveyors to on-the-farm dairy stores, the Eastern U.S. abounds in ice cream shops worthy of a driving detour—or a dessert-focused excursion.
Forget frozen desserts from the grocery store; ice cream enthusiasts know that the best stuff is made by culinary creatives in small batches using high-butterfat milk and all-natural ingredients. Here are a few that get the thumbs-up from connoisseurs.
Fans of Arethusa Farm ice cream can now get their fill at three locations in Connecticut: Bantam, New Haven and West Hartford. Courtesy of Arethusa Farm Dairy
Arethusa Farm Dairy
A 1927 firehouse on Bantam’s main strip now serves as a creamery and retail shop for Arethusa Farm, a 500-cow dairy farm in Litchfield. The creamery’s high-fat content, egg yolk-based “cow-to-scoop” dessert “is traditional ice cream like it used to taste,” says Production Manager Chris Casiello. Year-round flavors are supplemented by seasonal fare such as Cranberry with Chocolate Chunks and Pumpkin with Ginger Molasses Cookies. Visitors can watch the production of ice cream, yogurt, and butter, and the bottling of milk through the shop’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Arethusa Farm Dairy also scoops at its retail store in New Haven and its new West Hartford location.
Courtesy of Connecticut Office of Tourism
Grassroots Ice Cream
Eliza Florian is the brains behind the all-natural, all-handmade, all-delicious ice cream whipped up at Grassroots Ice Cream in far northern Connecticut. A former social worker, Florian surely knows that ice cream can soothe the soul. Located on the town green in what used to be Avery’s General Store (open from the late 19th century into the 1980s), Grassroots serves up 36 flavors of artisan ice cream from its 300-flavor collection, from American Apple Pie to Violet.
“We have the classics [vanilla, natch] to the crazy [Sunday Morning Breakfast—bacon and maple], but every flavor needs to taste delicious,” says Florian, who seeks inspiration from other cultures for creations such as Persian-inspired Rose with Dark Chocolate and Lime with Dark Chocolate, a flavor combo favored in Ghana.
Main Street Creamery and Café
Main Street Creamery is known for its vast selection of high-quality ice cream—up to 60 flavors at any given time. When there are so many options, how do you choose? You could go with ever-popular chocolate and peanut butter, available in two opposing flavors: Peanut Butter Dream (vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirls and bits of peanut butter cup) or Peanut Butter Nightmare (chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls and bits of peanut butter cup).
The ice cream served at Main Street Creamery is Praline’s Own Made, which you’ll find at no less than 20 ice cream shops in Connecticut, 10 of them under the Praline’s Own Made moniker. Main Street Creamery also boasts a rich selection of locally made vegan ice cream—a rarity, as any vegan will testify. And remember to pick up one of Main Street’s delectable ice cream pies. Available in any flavor and with two toppings of your own selection, the pies let customers go wild with flavor combos.
Hopkins Farm Creamery
With 500 cows in its herd, Green Acres Farm has supplied milk to Land O’Lakes since 1942, but it’s the ice cream made at the on-site creamery since 2008 that put the farm on the map for Delaware beachgoers. Ice cream lovers can choose from among 25 flavors, including new offerings Blueberry Cinnamon Graham Cracker, Banana Peanut Butter, and Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (chocolate ice cream with heaps of diced strawberries).
Bringing people to the farm to see where food comes from was among the motivations for establishing the ice cream business, says general manager Michael Hopkins, the fifth generation of Hopkins to farm here. “You can get your ice cream cone, walk a few yards, and you’re face to face with a cow.”
Kings ice cream. Courtesy of VisitSoutherDelaware.com
King’s Homemade Ice Cream Shops
Lewes and Milton, Delaware
King’s has been an institution in southern Delaware for nearly four decades since opening in a circa-1830 former general store in the heart of Milton. Beachgoers might be more familiar with its second location in Lewes, where the ice cream churned out in Milton is served up to an eager crowd. The family-owned and -operated business prides itself on the fact that its ice cream is made in small 10-gallon batches using fresh buttermilk from a local dairy.
Ice cream lovers can enjoy all the traditional flavors by cup, cone, and half-gallons, or in sundaes, milkshakes, malts, and floats.
Top your Woodside Farm ice creamwith gummy worms; cover it with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry; or keep it au naturel —any way it’s served, it’s sure to be delish. Courtesy of Woodside Farm Creamery
Woodside Farm Creamery
When Jim Mitchell’s ancestors bought the farm that he and his wife, Janet, operate now, George Washington was president and farmland was abundant. Today, Woodside Farm is the last farm standing in this now-suburban area—and Delawareans consider it a state treasure.
Woodside Farm’s ice cream is made at its on-site creamery using milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, a breed known for the high milk solids and butterfat content of its milk. You can partake of Woodside Farm ice cream at a host of restaurants in Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania as well as at Sweet Lucy’s in Wilmington and The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth Beach, but it tastes best when you’re sitting at a picnic table underneath the sprawling 80-year-old oak tree on the edge of Woodside Farm.
The ice cream from Broom’s Bloom Dairy is made by ninth-generation dairy farmers. Photo by Carrie George.
Broom’s Bloom Dairy
Bel Air, Maryland
The Dallam family farm harkens back nine generations, but the ice cream—made with milk from the farm’s 50 cows—is a more recent addition. Matriarch Kate Dallam has thrown herself into her role as ice cream purveyor, dreaming up hundreds of flavors, including tantalizing options such as cornbread, caramel cashew, and Oatie Pie—a sweet cream base loaded up with crumbled Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies. The winner for most unusual flavor, however, has to be End of Maryland Summer, a paean to the Old Line State—sweet corn ice cream with caramel swirls and a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning. “People are always asking for it, but we only make it for Labor Day Weekend. And every year, I have to make more of it,” Dallam says.
Taking its moniker from Baltimore’s nickname Charm City, this ice cream shop was founded in 2013 and still serves up homemade ice cream in the city’s Hampden neighborhood as well as at outposts in Towson, Baltimore City (where the ice cream is made), Federal Hill and, by the end of 2020, in Columbia.
The Charmery resulted when husband-and-wife founders David and Laura Alima combined his love of ice cream making with her experience in running hospitality destinations. David says he’s obsessive not only about finding the best, mostly local, ingredients but also in churning out superior ice cream. Look for a top-notch vanilla as well as flavors inspired by dessert cookbooks from around the world. David adds some off-the-wall flavors, too, such as Old Bay Caramel as well as Cheese & Crackers—just one taste, he says, converts most skeptics.
A trip to Lakeside Creamery is a must on every visit to Garrett County’s Deep Creek Lake spring through fall, but it’s most special if the outing comes near sunset, for Lakeside reputedly has one of the best sunset views on the lake. Have your homemade waffle cone filled with one of the 90 flavors on rotation—24 at any given time. Try specialty flavors such as Apple Pie, Key Lime Pie, Blueberry Cheesecake, and Graham Cracker, all made using cream from local dairy farms, fresh fruit, and high-quality nuts and cookies. And if you’re at nearby Swallow Falls State Park, you’re still in luck. From June through August, Lakeside Creamery operates an ice cream truck there.
The ice cream masters take a break: Gabrielle Carbone and Matthew Errico of The Bent Spoon. Photo by Guy Ambrosino.
The Bent Spoon
Princeton, New Jersey
Lifelong New Jerseyans and Bent Spoon owners Gabrielle Carbone and Matthew Errico know that local is best. “People don’t realize the wealth of the state’s farms and producers, and we have relationships with many of them,” says Carbone. That Maple Oatmeal flavor you love? That’s made with maple syrup harvested in Jersey and oats grown 15 miles from Princeton. Many of the herbs used—mint, rosemary, rose geranium—are grown by schoolchildren through the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative. Local fruits flavor the ice creams and sorbets as well as the much-anticipated Elderflower ice cream, available only for about a week in mid-May.
A rotating menu of 650 flavors—23 flavors in the case at any time—means that you could come in thrice daily in the summer and choose from different flavors every time.
Swedesboro, New Jersey
Latteria is Italian for creamery, and the cream that goes into this hand-dipped ice cream, according to owner Jaclyn Ilaqua, comes from “happy, grass-fed cows” that are hormone-free. The shop’s specialty is taking the ice cream to next-level scrumptiousness with lots of mix-ins. The popular McSteamy (yes, named after the Grey’s Anatomy character) features vanilla cake batter ice cream loaded up with chocolate chip cookie dough, Oreos, and rainbow sprinkles. Cocktails reimagined as ice cream flavors are another specialty. Think the Sophia Loren (chocolate amaretto ice cream with salted caramel swirl), the Mud Slide (Bailey’s Irish Cream ice cream with Kahlúa and fudge), and the Chocolate Jack Daniels (chocolate bourbon ice cream).
Latteria sells all sorts of coffee and coffee creations, too, including flavored lattes as well as ice cream–espresso milkshakes or an affogato—ice cream topped with a double shot of hot espresso.
Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream
Stone Harbor, New Jersey
Springer’s began scooping during Prohibition when the ice cream shop served as a front for rum-running—or so says local lore. Pay homage to that colorful past with a cup of rum raisin ice cream, which—along with current bestseller mint chocolate chip and cult favorite teaberry—is made in two
machines at the back of the shop that churn up to 12 hours a day.
Run-ins with authorities continued, in a manner of speaking, under subsequent owners, who ran into trouble with corporate types who didn’t appreciate Springer’s use of their product names for ice cream flavors. Thus, Oreo was renamed Milk & Cookies, Almond Joy became Emotionally Nuts, and Coffee with Heath Bar segued to the tongue-in-cheek Cease and Desist. We will testify that Springer’s is guilty of great taste.
Alleyway Ice Cream
Saugerties, New York
A hobby making ice cream, the desire for a new career, a copy of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book, and much experimentation led to Julian Hom being credited as the creator of “the absolute best ice cream in New York State” by EatThis.com. Order your cup or cone at the window of the tiny Alleyway Ice Cream shop, and then find a bench in the nearby park or take a stroll through pint-size downtown Saugerties in New York’s Catskills region. Hom figures he has experimented with thousands of ice cream flavors, but only 70 have emerged as winners. Among them is surprise-hit Ube with Heath Bar Crunch. Made with a purple yam (ube) common in the Philippines, the flavor is so popular that it stays in the rotation continually, alongside chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
Moo Moo’s Creamery
Cold Spring, New York
A job loss during the 2008 financial crisis led to a new career for Alexi Katsetos, founder of Moo Moo’s Creamery in the Hudson Valley. Decades earlier, Katsetos’ parents had contemplated opening an ice cream shop themselves—so, he dug out his mom’s files, set to work perfecting her ice cream recipe, and determined the ideal location for his store.
Moo Moo’s has been the go-to ice cream spot in this picturesque riverside town ever since. Katsetos credits the ice cream’s high milkfat and low air content as well as its freshness. Moo Moo’s rotates through some 70 flavors, but Katsetos is particularly proud of his chocolate and chocolate-based flavors, all made with an extra generous helping of cocoa.
Penny Lick Ice Cream Company
Hastings on Hudson, New York
Founder and CEO Ellen Sledge started her business with a pushcart that she took to West Chester-area farmers’ markets. Within two years, she had her current brick-and-mortar shop.
Ice cream lovers with food allergies travel long distances for the pleasure of getting their scoops in Penny Lick Ice Cream Company’s nut-free environment—one of few ice cream shops that can make that boast. Yes, that means no chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream, but with 24 flavors in the case, you’ll find something else to please your palate.
In a rarity for non-farm-based ice cream shops, Penny Lick pasteurizes all its own ice cream bases. “It’s a laborious process and more expensive, but we can control the ingredients, and we can control the sugar. I’m a pastry chef by training, but I don’t think flavors should be sugar forward,” Sledge explains.
The Franklin Fountain
Set in a historic building, furnished in early 20th-century antiques and with soda jerks dressed in period garb, The Franklin Fountain transports guests to 1910. Many of the made-on-site ice cream flavors are a blast from the past, too. Think teaberry, a bubble-gum pink ice cream with a minty spicy flavor, and pawpaw, a fruit native to the Eastern U.S. that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana. Of course, the menu has more common flavors, too. Hydrox Cookie (the look and taste of Oreo cookies two years before Oreo cookies were introduced) and Caramelized Banana are popular choices.
The sundae menu gives a nod to history with creations such as Stock Market Crunch, made with a base of rocky road ice cream—a flavor invented in 1929 after the stock market crash. As a true soda fountain, The Franklin Fountain also has 23 kinds of soda on tap, most of them made in-house. Try a classic root beer float.
The Lands at Hillside Farms Ice Cream Parlor
The ice cream parlor at this historic nonprofit educational dairy farm in the foothills of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains just happens to be a great way to entice visitors to come and learn about environmentalism and sustainable farming. The milk for the ice cream doesn’t come from the farm’s cows—that’s all sold at the on-site Dairy Store—but the milk is local, and the ingredients are all-natural.
“That means we use cane sugar instead of corn syrup. If we’re making vanilla ice cream, we’re using real vanilla, not laboratory vanilla, and the chocolate ice cream is made with real cocoa. Another key is the butterfat; we make premium ice cream with a minimum of 14 percent butterfat,” says Chet Mozloom, the farm’s executive director.
Sweet corn, avocado and rice pudding are some of the unusual but tasty flavors served at La Michoacana. Courtesy of Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
For 17 years running, Sweet Corn ice cream has been the top seller at La Michoacana, an ice cream and paletas shop on Kennett Square’s main drag named for the Mexican state from which three of its four owners hail. Paletas, for the uninitiated, are creamy popsicles, often with chunks of fresh fruit. With recipes from back home—and creative flair—the owners whip up paletas in flavors such as pistachio, rice pudding, and mamey (a tropical fruit common in Mexico).
The culinarily daring will want to try ice cream in flavors such as avocado, pistachio, pumpkin, or mango sprinkled with a special mix of chili powder, salt, and lime. La Michoacana products can also be found at Old Ice Factory in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and El Changarro in Camden, New Jersey.
Brown Dog Ice Cream
Cape Charles, Virginia
Miriam Elton, owner of Brown Dog Ice Cream, takes full advantage of the abundance of farms on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Besides local milk, she makes her all-natural ice cream with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices from local farms. Berry harvests bring flavors such as blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry, while veggies pack the punch in Sweet Corn and in Josie’s Sweet Pea, accented with mint. Coffee ice cream is made with beans from Eastern Shore Roasters. Elton uses goat cheese frequently, too (think Beet and Goat Cheese accented with chunks of pistachios or Basil with Goat Cheese and Olive Oil).
Some 125 Holstein and Jersey cows on four dairy farms provide Homestead Creamery with milk for bottling and cream for the homemade ice cream available by cups, cones, and containers at the farm market. Owners Donnie Montgomery and David Bower make the ice cream in small-batch, churn-style machines that allow very little air into the product—thus creating denser, creamier desserts.
With 24 flavors available in single servings at the farm market from a rotating list of 35 flavors, ice cream lovers will find refreshing flavors such as Lemon Crunch (lemon ice cream with lemon cookie crumbles), summery favorites such as peach and blueberry pomegranate, and even a few fruit-and-cheesecake combo flavors. If you’re not in the vicinity of Wirtz, you might be lucky enough to find Homestead Creamery’s pints and quarts at Kroger, Wegmans, or the occasional Whole Foods Market.
Moo Thru is operated by fourth- and fifth-generation dairy farmers, and, as manager Emily Julian says, “Dairy farmers have a good idea of what ice cream should be like.” Made in hand-mixed batches, the ice cream here is thick and creamy. With more than 16 flavors available (from a repertoire of 100), you’ll be able to choose from staples like Cookie Dough or, if your timing is right, liquor-infused flavors such as Whiskey Caramel and Blackberry Merlot. The shop has soft-serve, too, but it’s not a big seller. “Everyone wants a cone of the good stuff,” explains Julian. In addition to Moo Thru’s original location, ice cream lovers can find its product at Moo Thru shops in Mineral and Fredericksburg.
Located just blocks from the White House, it makes sense that this tiny ice cream shop, which opened in 2018, would take the presidency as its theme. Add in the fact that founder Jim Warlick has an obsession with political memorabilia and owns the nearby souvenir shop White House Gifts, and you end up with ice cream flavors such as JFK’s America’s Birthday Cake (cake batter chunks in vanilla ice cream with colorful bits of candy) and Trumango Apricot Sorbet (a blend of mango and apricot).
While the names are courtesy of Presidential Scoops, the ice cream is Philadelphia’s own Bassett Ice Cream, a fifth-generation family business dating to 1861. You’ll find Bassetts at ice cream shops all over the Philadelphia metro region, but Presidential Scoops is among fewer than a dozen located farther afield. On a cold day, duck in for a Presidential Scoops specialty: a hot-chocolate float made with a scoop of mint or salted caramel pretzel ice cream.
Talk about sweet! Not only is the ice cream at this popular Georgetown shop made in-house but so, too, are the fudge, truffles, and other chocolate candies. Thomas Sweet is also known for its ice cream mix-ins—select any flavor of ice cream and any mix-in, and they will be blended for your own unique treat.
Thomas Sweet, which opened in the Nation’s Capital in 1983, has several locations in New Jersey, but none of them can boast of being favorites of presidents and their families going back to Ronald Reagan, who had a preference for the chocolates. Thomas Sweet provided raspberry mango sorbet for Clinton state dinners, and the young Chelsea Clinton was a frequent visitor. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Ivanka Trump and her son have all stopped in for ice cream, says manager Muhammed Ali.
Note: Before visiting any of the ice cream shops highlighted here, call to inquire about their current operating procedures