Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Best Midwest ice cream shops keep you cool

Enjoy the Midwest's tastiest ice cream
Barb at Pumphouse Creamery
One of the best parts of summer is seeking out the Midwest's best ice cream stand, shop, parlor or drive-in. Grab a crispy, crunchy cone, pile it high with dense, sweet ice cream or tangy, refreshing sorbet. It's one of the most luscious (and cool) ways to savor seasonal fruits and flavors. 

Here are my top picks and tips for enjoying the best ice cream in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest: 

Pumphouse Creamery
4754 Chicago Ave., Mpls., 612-825-2021
The local farmers who make this ice cream shop a possibility are featured on the walls. The care shows as owner Barb Zapzalka scoops up sea salt caramel, handcrafted strawberry, blueberry buttermilk and local wild black raspberry at this little Twin Cities ice cream store. Just as good: the handmade Minnesota harvested multigrain cones. 

If you've got your dog along, you can get special cups just for him or her in vanilla or peanut butter with less sugar. Word of advice: Check their Facebook page to find out when seasonal flavors are available so you don't miss them.

Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream CafĂ©
Among the first to up the ice cream ante, Minneapolis's Sebastian Joe's has been scooping its exquisite raspberry chocolate chip and more than 100 other flavors since 1984. You can pick from about 24 daily choices, but we never seem to get past the raspberry. It's that good.


Other temptations: Pavarotti (banana, caramel, and chocolate chips), Immaculate Confection (vanilla, honey, ginger and strudel), white licorice with freshly ground anise, and hilariously named Nicollet Avenue Pothole and Praline Home Companion. Among their sorbets, you'll find ultra refreshing and unique tastes such as orange basil, mint pink grapefruit and red papaya. 4321 Upton Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-7916; 1007 Franklin Ave. W., Mpls., 612 870-0065

Madison's Chocolate Shoppe ice cream.
 Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream
With nationally lauded dairy program at Madison's University of Wisconsin, you know there has to be good ice cream. Babcock Hall Dairy Store, where the university makes its own ice cream (and you can see the process) has a fiercely loyal following. They do have good flavors, such as orange chocolate, but I prefer the denser, super premium Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, another Madison creation. 
Best flavor bets: strawberry lemonade (this summer's new flavor), Door County cherry, dark and rich Zanzibar chocolate, and fat Elvis (banana, chocolate, peanut butter). Some other unique options among their 110 flavors include honey ginger and horchata (a sweet Mexican rice milk). Customers also can find non-fat yogurt, soy ice cream, no-sugar ice cream and sorbets for anyone on special diets.
You can Chocolate Shoppe ice cream at its three Madison stores or in other locations such as Kalahari Resort's Sweet Shop at Wisconsin Dells, one of our family's favorite treat stops. 

Why here? Besides the ice cream, the sweets are picture-perfect and wonderfully creative whether it's candied apples or playful, googly-eyed chocolate creations. Plus you can eat your ice cream in the African-themed lobby where you might see a live tiger cub snoozing or playing.

In Minnesota, you can get Chocolate Shoppe ice cream at the The Creamery in Rushford along the Root River Trail in southeastern bluff country. It's one of my favorite areas of the state, and if you bike there from the charming hub of Lanesboro, you've more than earned a huge cone.


Another Chocolate Shoppe ice cream outlet worth mentioning is the whimsically eclectic Ella's Deli in Madison--one of the best places to dine with kids. This place is part restaurant, part toy museum and part ice cream parlor (remember the heydays of those in the 1970s?). 

Grilled pound cake a la mode.
There are moving toys and flying objects overhead (think superheroes and Harry Potter), games under glass at each table, and a bizarre, but fascinating collection of automatons including mechanical bare feet that sing. Really. There’s also a merry-go-round outside. Besides serving Chocolate Shoppe ice cream cones, they heap it onto grilled pound cake for dessert. Yep. Grilled pound cake with lots of whipped cream, too. Take a few friends or kids to help you eat it.


Michigan's divine tart cherry sorbet and ice cream
Cherry Republic's tangy-sweet cherry pie ice cream.
Across Lake Michigan, Traverse City has taunted my taste buds for years. Truly. I got hooked on its tart cherry sorbet in 2005, and finally got back for another round in June. Tangy, sweet and utterly refreshing. 

As the tart cherry capital of the country, the variations on cherry ice cream is mind-boggling. We'll take the vanilla with real chunks of cherry pie blended in, thank you very much.

Favorite ice cream destinations: The cheeky and beautifully landscaped Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor and family-run Moomer's dairy just outside Traverse City.

Grab a fresh berry shake at the family-run Peppermint Twist in Delano, Minn.
Find a drive-in
If you can't hit the road--and it's not easy with gas prices where they are--look for local drive-ins that  are as comfy and delightful as a meatloaf dinner served by Grandma. I love The Drive-In in Minnesota's Taylor's Falls with its giant root beer mug and homemade root beer. The playful pink Peppermint Twist in Delano, Minn., is just as fun and wedges into the memories of children who love its kid-friendly play and picnic areas. Best bet: fresh berry shakes.
Graeter's blackberry chocolate


Troll your local freezer cases
If you haven't trolled the freezer cases of upscale grocers such as Minnesota's Lund's or Byerly's lately, that's another sweet hotspot for cooling off. Cincinnati's hometown favorite, Graeter's ice cream, hit the cases earlier this year. They make small batches and stir in melted chocolate so it blends in as big irregular hunks you can fight over. 

I tried its trademark blackberry chocolate at its Cincinnati shop years ago, and it was as good as I remembered when I tried the pint in the freezer case. Graeter's mint ice cream is divine, as is the strawberry.

Even better: check the freezer cases of your local co-ops. They'll often carry the best locally made ice cream and sorbets.
 Please chime in with your favorites, too!