Like so many other foods here in the Bay Area, ice cream has been exalted to a culinary art form. Fans of the creamy treat will revel in the flavors of childhood such as mint chip, chocolate and strawberry reimagined into luxurious new creations with heirloom fruit, organic dairy and exotic additions. And if you have a taste for adventure, your palate will run wild with unique varieties such as Earl Grey, rosewater and coconut curry. Whether you prefer your ice cream traditional or exotic, here are five ice cream shops in the East Bay and San Francisco you’ll want to explore.
In the chic Berkeley enclave called Elmwood, there’s one business that perpetually has a line outside — Ici. French for “here”, this delightful spot is a European-inspired sweet shop that sells items such as pretty housemade marshmallows, chocolate-covered almonds and rosemary-pine nut brittle whipped up in a kitchen with gleaming copper pots. Check Twitter for the flavors du jour; favorites include brandied cherry, green tea and peppermint, as well as an ice cream sandwich with Meyer lemon ice cream on gingerbread.
This Oakland eatery on Piedmont Avenue has been scooping up ice cream since 1894, and it’s a quintessential ice cream parlor. Its claim to fame is inventing three now-classic flavors: Toasted Almond, Rocky Road and Swiss Milk Chocolate. Once you make your way to the front of the line, sit in the full-service restaurant for a burger or salad before diving into a specialty sundae such as the Fudgeanna (two scoops ice cream, handmade hot fudge sauce, a whole banana, almonds, whipped cream and a cherry).
Locals love Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, a pair of low-key ice cream shops in Berkeley and Oakland with an East Indian, hippie-esque vibe. You never know what flavors you’ll encounter: cilantro, white pepper chocolate chip, plum ginger, Mayan chocolate and chipotle were among the recent offerings. Tara’s offers toppings such as sea salt and olive oil, but one flavor that can stand-alone is sweet corn (made from fresh kernels), which is taken to a heavenly level when served in a handmade sesame-studded cone.
Next stop on the ice cream discovery tour is San Francisco’s eclectic Mission District. Humphry Slocombe, a charming outpost decked out with a black-and-white striped floor and red chairs, put itself on the novelty-gourmet ice cream map with a flavor called Government Cheese. These days, you’ll discover a laundry list of enticing flavors such as Secret Breakfast (corn flakes and bourbon), Vietnamese coffee, bacon, and even cucumber. Follow the shop’s Twitter account for announcements of novel flavors.
Just off the culinary epicenter of the Mission (Guerrero and 18th Street), Bi-Rite Creamery is the undisputed king of salted caramel ice cream — the brand’s version is deeply flavored with the perfect balance of sweet caramel, saltiness and a bittersweet edge that makes you crave another taste. Roasted banana, basil and balsamic strawberry are delicious options, too. Bi-Rite’s most popular flavors are also churned out in soft-serve versions on different days of the week, and nearby Delores Park provides the perfect setting to sit down and enjoy the sweet treat.
Photo Courtesy of iStock-Groomee