Certification and transparency matter in this era of fake-this, false-that, and oversold, fiercely biased and highly preferential information sharing. I’m going for full disclosure about my credentials for composing and writing this article about National Ice Cream Day (Sun/17) and the supreme ice cream possibilities found in the Bay Area.
Disclaimers: I am definitely NOT an ice cream/frozen yogurt snob or critic. I am an over-the-top fan of the frozen sweet stuff. If most of my body is composed of melted ice cream, not water, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
After moving to the Bay Area and missing a cookies n’ cream frozen yogurt I could only get in Minnesota, I packed cartons of it in dry ice and brought them back with me on airplanes after annual visits. Tragically, the flavor was eventually discontinued—executed, as I think of it—a few years ago. Full disclosure? I still have the last, empty carton, cleaned, in my cupboard. When I die, my cremains will be stored in it until they are flung and scattered by a winter wind from atop a glacier.
Now quickly to Facts: One of the extremely rare wonderful acts performed by Ronald Regan that even the most far-left citizen can get behind was in 1984 to decree the third Sunday in July National Ice Cream Day. Honestly. Look it up: Presidential Proclamation 5219.
And the most important fact after that? This year, National Ice Cream Day is July 17. Here then, are (pains me to say only seven) winners and honorable mentions in made-up categories. In diasporic locations, get your frozen fix and more—including one protein bar alternative that builds muscles (honest!) and won’t melt if you slip it in your suitcase sans dry ice. I recommend celebrating National Ice Cream Day early, often, and year-round, for practice and optimum performance on the Big Day.
Traditional: Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store
The recently reimagined Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store in Ghirardelli Square features the renowned Hot Fudge Sundaes, but there are plenty of other treats served in glass goblets or hand-dipped waffle bowls on a menu that includes milkshakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and beverages. Watch chocolatiers hand-craft the hot fudge while ordering a Lands End Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae (chocolate brownie, caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, cherry), the Nob Hill Chill (vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, mini dark chocolate chips), or go rebel with the Create Your Own Quake Shake (vanilla milkshake, three pick-your-own chocolate SQUARES, whipped cream, mini dark chocolate chips). Honorable mention: The Castro Fountain.
Eliminate Brain Fog: Salt & Straw
Surprise your tongue at Salt & Straw with flavors churned from ingredients often arriving from local purveyors. Like what, you ask? Panther Coffee Chocolate Tres Leche, Honey Lavender, Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero and more. Prefer the tried-and-true? Put your money and your mouth on Sea Salt w/ Caramel Ribbons. I don’t know what hand-burned caramel means, but I don’t care, it’s delicious. Of note: with Pint Club membership, shipping is free! Honorable Mention: Koolfi Creamery (popups resume when Covid recedes; available in stores Bay Area wide and online).
Infinitely Instagrammable: Garden Creamery
Can’t beat the colorful pop and (when available) the churro-like chimney stack cones from Garden Creamery. Pose and duckface with Hawaiian-influenced flavors made from a 100% grass-fed, organic dairy base courtesy of Petaluma family farms. Lucious, creamy vegan sorbet sweetened with agave nectar presents a non-dairy alternative, but it’s the seasonal produce and herbs that star in flavors like spiced chai, young coconut, black sesame, Mexanilla mango, ume, and genmaicha. Honorable Mention: Uji Time Dessert
Yes to Donuts and Devotion: Milkbomb Ice Cream
Gotta love a mom and pop family shop that since 2017 has been putting ice cream into donut buns, then crowning their signature Milkbomb Sandwiches with your choice of toppings (cocoa pebbles, gummy bears, torched marshmallow fluff) and sauces. It’s ice cream royalty from Milkbomb Ice Cream, and though temporary closures due to COVID almost made us abdicate our ice cream thrones, they deliver and there are locations in both San Francisco and Berkeley. Honorable Mention: Mitchell’s Ice Cream
Icon of the Industry: Smitten Ice Cream
Liquid nitrogen used in a patented machine invented by almighty founder and CEO Robyn Sue Fisher of Smitten is the genesis of creamy, otherworldly, frozen fantasy fulfilling chocolate ganache w/ 61% Guittard cacao morsels, killer sweet summer corn, or our current addiction, cookie dough with pretzels and chocolate chips. Don’t deny yourself. With three locations and counting, there’s no reason to say no and every reason to be smitten. Honorable Mention: Bi Rite Creamery
East Bay Outpost: Fenton’s
There’s history, and then there’s Fenton’s history. The venerable parlor was founded in Oakland in 1894 Elbridge Seth (E.S.) Fenton, whose grandson Melvin Fenton invented venerable flavors such as toasted almond, Swiss milk chocolate and Rocky Road. Fenton’s infinitely digestible Black & Tan Sundae features the toasted almond, but why stop there when there are in your future the Fudgeanna, The Cookie Connection, The Berry Go Round, three-gallon tubs, and the ever-present, Create Your Own Sundae? If you can carve yourself out of the parlor seat after imbibing, hoist yourself across Piedmont Avenue to visit Myrtle’s Lodge. Find retro merchandise with the Fenton’s logo emblazoned on glassware, bags, jars of sauces, toys, shirts, hats, gift cards, and tiny games. Fill your swag bag, embrace a belly full of the good stuff, vow upon your next return to leave room for (multiple) desserts. Honorable Mention: Humphry Slocombe
Clean Ice Cream: ONE™ Rocky Road bar
The national launch for ONE’s Limited Edition Rocky Road protein bar was held at Fenton’s on June 2, National Rocky Road Day. (What?! You didn’t know there was such a holiday?) The event had people dancing (and eating Rocky Road in all forms) with Dancing With the Stars’ Jenna Johnson. The ONE bar resists melting so it won’t become a hot mess no matter how furiously you dance while holding it—and is actually pretty darn tasty. It has only 1 gram of sugar and 20 grams of protein, so it’s virtuous ice cream ingestion. Plus, it’s legal to pack in your carry-on bags the next time you are forced to travel away from the Bay Area’s marvelous ice cream Mecca.