Ice cream has always been the perfect comfort food, especially during the isolation of these past couple of years. It has also brought people together, whether it was running into a neighbor while picking up a pint to go or sitting with a friend and eating a cold scoop atop a crunchy cone.
“Ice cream is one thing that anybody that lives here loves,” says Charles Foreman, the owner of Everyday Sundae in Petworth, one of a handful of D.C.-area frozen-treat purveyors who got their start during the pandemic. Through small-batch flavors, boozy pints or a taste of other cultures, these new ice cream shops have each sweetened their community in their own way.
Foreman opened Everyday Sundae on Kennedy Street NW in July 2021, hoping to make it a local fixture. A Petworth resident for two decades and father of two sons, Foreman had been laid off during the pandemic from his job as a corporate chef. He thought a family-friendly scoop shop was exactly what his neighborhood lacked.
“I want to make an impact in my community,” says Foreman. “Treat people like family and remember them.” His business’s tag line is “A place for commUNITY.”
In less than a year, Everyday Sundae has developed a loyal following: Regulars come in looking for a favorite flavor, drawings and cards from neighborhood kids hang on the walls, and one customer even buys his paper napkins there to help support the shop. Foreman has hosted children from a nearby day care for a storybook reading, followed by sweet treats, and next month he’s organizing a free end-of-school-year movie night in a parking lot across the street, with plans “to serve ice cream and popcorn until it’s gone.”
At any given time, his shop offers 24 flavors from a rotating list of about 50 refreshing yet familiar takes on classic tastes, such as rich dark-chocolate hazelnut fudge, cappuccino crunch, brown butter bourbon truffle and black cherry. Portions are generous: A “single” serving includes three scoops, which can be of three different flavors (a “double” includes six).
Foreman sources his dense, satisfying ice cream from a producer in Pennsylvania, but the career chef keeps his hand in the mix by making vanilla-infused waffle cones on-site and, on Wednesdays, Belgian waffles served a la mode and with toppings. In good weather, customers can snag one of two sidewalk tables shared with Anxo cidery next door.
Scoops $3.50-$5.95; half-pints $6.50. 713 Kennedy St. NW. Open Tuesday to Sunday. everydaysundaedc.com. — VHL
Happy Ice Cream
Ben Brunner had “always dabbled” in ice cream in restaurant kitchens but never really focused on it until Komi — the Michelin-starred Greek restaurant where he had worked for a decade — closed during the pandemic and reopened as casual takeout spot Happy Gyro, prompting Brunner to shift gears too. Now, as the maker of sister brand Happy Ice Cream, he creates elaborate flavors that play up his pastry chef background.
Happy’s ice creams combine multiple elements, all of which Brunner makes by hand, such as a recent offering with Valrhona dark chocolate ice cream; pieces of chocolate shortbread; and candied mandarinquats, a tart-sweet cross between mandarins and kumquats. Some flavors re-create beloved desserts, including the popular oatmeal cookie, which incorporates cookie chunks, chocolate shavings and a hint of cinnamon, and a Key lime pie frozen yogurt with graham cracker crumble. Flavors change frequently, partly based on seasonal ingredients like fruit.
Brunner says he’s “trying to create a sense of nostalgia for people, like when you taste a flavor, it just kind of brings you back.” The delightfully crunchy honey stracciatella and cashew brittle even uses his great-grandmother’s honey brittle recipe.
To-go pints are packed with alternating layers of ice cream and toppings, to bring all the components into each bite. A sidewalk cart on 17th Street NW offers four flavors at a time (posted daily on Instagram @happyicecreamdc), served up in tasty waffle cones made with caramelized honey and sourdough. Brunner is often doing the scooping himself, and says he appreciates the change from long hours behind the scenes in the Komi kitchen: “Getting to see people’s faces and reactions when they taste something immediately is awesome.”
Scoops $6-$8; pints to go $15. Cart stationed at 1509 17th St. NW. Open Tuesday through Saturday (weather permitting). happyicecreamdc.com. — VHL
Mimi’s Handmade Ice Cream
Rollin Amore’s interest in food goes back to his childhood in Germany. When he was 7, his mother was sick in bed for months. “Every night, she would direct me on how to cook dinner from her bed,” he recalls. “That’s how I started cooking.”
Years later, he transitioned from a three-decade banking career and opened Mimi’s Handmade Ice Cream in Arlington’s Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) in December 2021. “My whole career [in investing] was traveling — through Europe, where I have family, or through Asia, where I worked,” Amore says. “I loved bringing back flavor ideas and using them in cooking.” His travels infuse the constantly changing menu of ice creams and sorbets at his light-filled shop, named after his youngest daughter, where Amore makes small batches from scratch.
Keyed lime combines juice from Key limes with bits of housemade pistachio-encrusted toffee, while the intense flavor of snow ginger is fresh, peppery, sweet and cooling. Amore shells 1½ pounds of raw pistachios by hand to flavor five gallons of ice cream, and he roasts beets to draw out their sweetness for the beet ice cream. Apple pie ice cream incorporates Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter, all of which Amore cooks down before adding milk and cream.
Any of the flavors can be incorporated into made-to-order ice cream sandwiches. Mimi’s also offers “pup cups” (ice cream for dogs). Amore’s goal is to create ice creams that “appeal to the kid in all of us,” and his fun treats do just that.
Scoops from $5.79. 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington. Open daily. mimishandmade.com. — SFF
Niko’s Spiked Gelato
In early 2020, Chelsea and Drew Xeron planned to open a gelato counter inside Studio 52, their Ivy City event space, to capitalize on increasing foot traffic in the neighborhood. Then the pandemic hit, and Chelsea found herself looking at three months’ worth of liquor for postponed and canceled events.
“The only things people are buying are toilet paper and liquor; we should put liquor in our gelato,” she recalls telling Drew. “Drew laughed — but the first batch of gelato quickly sold out.” By June 2020, customers were driving in from around the region to pick up a dozen pints at a time, she says.
Niko’s, which is named after Chelsea and Drew’s young son, offers spiked pints with 5 percent alcohol, as well as nonalcoholic options. Chelsea develops the initial concepts for flavors by building off Studio 52’s most popular drinks; the gelatos and sorbets are ultimately produced with chef Gianluigi Dellaccio of D.C.-area mini-chain Dolci Gelati. The bourbon coffee chocolate chip is one of the early hits; when Chelsea tried to rotate it off the seasonally changing menu, customers begged her to keep it on year-round.
The alcohol doesn’t overwhelm the flavors. In the blood orange cognac sorbet, the intense fruit hits the tongue first, followed by a hint of cognac. Strawberry rosé initially highlights the fruit’s delicate taste, then the essence of rosé.
“The gelatos are fun because it is a buzz with no hangover,” Chelsea says. The Xerons plan to open a dedicated storefront for Niko’s; for now, pints can be picked up inside Studio 52.
Pints $11 (nonalcoholic) to $18. Cart inside Studio 52, 1508 Okie St. NE. Open Friday through Sunday for pickup; delivery available via DoorDash, UberEats and Gopuff. nikosgelato.com. — SFF
Before the pandemic, Pegah Kazemifar’s full-time job in consulting kept her traveling five days a week. With the shift to online work, she found herself thinking about how D.C. lacked a place selling bastani sonnati, a traditional Persian ice cream. Later, while planning a brunch one day, Kazemifar realized her mom would be bringing bastani. “It doesn’t matter who comes over — Persian or not — everyone loves my mom’s ice cream, and it is always the focal point of any meal,” Kazemifar says. She ordered an ice cream maker that same day.
Rosewater’s bastani, based on Kazemifar’s mother’s recipe, begins with the sweetness of her brand’s eponymous ingredient, which melds nicely with the delicate saffron, tiny flecks of which give the ice cream its intense yellow color. Pistachios add a satisfying crunch.
The menu also includes cardamom Earl Grey ice cream, a nod to Iran’s tea culture. The spices and bergamot orange oil that are infused into the tea complement each other, giving the dessert a tantalizing blend of milk, zest and spice. The salted date and walnut ice cream brings together sweet dates tempered with just a hint of salt, along with walnut pieces.
Rosewater doesn’t have its own physical space yet, but Kazemifar brings her creations to pop-up events. With each scoop of her handmade ice cream comes a little bit of hope. “The company is a way to bring something that is Iranian that people love to our city,” Kazemifar says. “If I can do that through food, great — but if it extends to politics, language and culture, even better.”
Mini pints (individual portions) $7; pints $12. Order ahead online for local pickup or delivery; pop-up at Union Market’s Village Cafe on June 18 and July 31. rosewaterdc.com. — SFF