On a cone. In a cup. On a stick. Between cookies. Dairy. Vegan. Hard. Soft. Really, is there a bad way to eat a frozen dessert? We didn’t think so.
The Washington area has an amazing array of the numerous genres of cold treats, taking inspiration from places such as South America, Italy, the Midwest, Hawaii and the nation’s capital itself. Here’s your guide for trying as many of them as you can possibly consume this summer.
Navy Yard’s Ice Cream Jubilee offers some of the most creative ice creams in the area. Owner Victoria Lai, a former government lawyer, offers an ever-changing collection of flavors that manages to combine youthful abandon — cookies-and-cookie-dough, caramel popcorn — with adult sophistication — banana bourbon caramel, pomegranate rose. (There’s sorbet, too.) Lai’s ice cream features cream from Maryland’s South Mountain Creamery, which goes into a base that she churns to what she calls a “solid yet soft” consistency. “I love having an ice cream cone that you can both lick and bite into,” Lai said. Ice Cream Jubilee pints are sold by several local retailers, but our favorite way to enjoy Lai’s creations is al fresco, with a view of the river just outside her cute shop. Ice Cream Jubilee, 301 Water St. SE. www.icecreamjubilee.com.
— Becky Krystal
Soft-serve ice cream
When you hear “soft serve,” your thoughts may wander to sepia-tinted ice cream parlors with paper-hat-adorned gents swirling up towers of just-firm ice cream. Or maybe you just think of Dairy Queen. Turn your thoughts now to Trickling Springs Creamery, based in Chambersburg, Pa., which has been selling soft-serve ice cream from its Union Market shop in Northeast since 2012. Made from the same all-natural, additive-free milk sold in Trickling Springs’s store, the ice cream is pumped through a soft-serve machine to achieve its signature fluffy texture. Although people may gravitate to soft serve in hopes of it being lower in fat than other ice creams or custards, Trickling Springs retail managers Daniel and Jessica Burdge said their soft serve is actually “extremely high” in fat compared with typical soft serve, clocking in at 10 to 12 percent (vs. 3 to 6 percent found in most versions). Don’t let that stop you, though. This is how you want every soft serve to be: smooth, creamy and just chilled enough to inhale before sticky drops begin to slip down your arm. Available in cups or cones, Trickling Springs offers the classics: vanilla, chocolate and vanilla-chocolate twist. Trickling Springs Creamery, 1309 Fifth St. NE. www.tricklingspringscreamery.com.
— Kara Elder
Ice cream parlor indecision is a diagnosable condition. What flavor to choose? The pressure, the pressure! The 1950s-inspired Goodies Frozen Custard serves exactly one flavor: vanilla. (Possibly coming soon: chocolate.) But you won’t be disappointed by owner Brandon Byrd’s rich and silky version of the Midwestern dessert he enjoyed while living for almost a decade in Wisconsin. Frozen custard stands apart from ice cream thanks to its enriching eggs and/or egg yolks, as well as the smaller amount of air beaten into it, which leads to a denser texture. “We make it fresh every day, hourly,” Byrd said. “The machine is constantly running.” While the custard is outstanding enough on its own, it’s incorporated into a variety of desserts on the menus of his two vans and at his National Harbor kiosk: Think red velvet doughnut sandwiches, root beer floats, turtle pecan sundaes and banana shakes. Goodies Frozen Custard & Soda Bar, 150 American Way, National Harbor. Mobile locations announced on Twitter: @Goodiesdc. www.mmmgoodies.com.
— Becky Krystal
There’s a reason the soft-serve fro-yo beat goes on, block after city block: We think we’re ducking in to enjoy a healthful alternative to those rich ice creams cranked out by local artisans. But once we pick up a cup and see the come-ons — 98-percent fat free! Nutella crunch! Hot caramel sauce! — we commit to creating Instagrammable helpings. At FroZenYo, a fast-growing chain that got its start in the District, you can typically find 14 to 16 flavors; recently, we liked the aptly named tart and the dulce de leche. But cake batter yogurt tasted too much like the boxed-mix stuff and melted disturbingly faster than its fellow cup swirls on a 93-degree day; the watermelon flavor was watery and overly sweet. That Nutella crunch, one of more than 20 toppings, is just the chocolate-hazelnut spread mixed with Rice Krispies, by the way. You’re welcome. FroZenYo, eight locations in the D.C. area. www.frozenyo.com.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
The sorbet at Killer ESP (espresso, sorbet, pie) in Old Town Alexandria is proof that you don’t need dairy for a smooth, refreshing frozen treat. Owner Rob Shelton uses an Italian gelato machine to churn his fruit-based sorbet and, of course, gelato. The sorbet’s texture is dense and almost chewy, thanks to the low amount of air incorporated into the mixture and the carob gum Shelton adds to help thicken and stabilize it. What you won’t taste: sugar, although it’s there. “I’d rather it be more fruit-forward than sweet-forward,” Shelton said. “The sweetness is only there to enhance the flavor.” Six to eight sorbets are available daily, depending on what is available at stores and the nearby Old Town Farmers Market. Examples: soursop, pineapple basil, coconut and wild blueberry. On a hot evening, we enjoyed a refreshing duo of the lassi-like mango and white peach-tea. Vegans, and vegan-curious, rejoice. Killer ESP, 1012 King St., Alexandria. www.killeresp.com.
— Becky Krystal
More than 10 years after being founded by husband-and-wife team Robb Duncan and Violeta Edelman, Dolcezza has become synonymous with gelato in the Washington area. The chain has opened six shops and a factory complete with tasting counter, in addition to stands at local farmers markets and Union Market and shelves stocked with their pints at local stores. Gelato is Italian in origin, with less air whipped into it than traditional ice cream. (It’s lower in fat, too — less than 10 percent, compared with ice cream’s 10 to 16 percent.) The couple took inspiration from the gelaterias in Edelman’s native Argentina, but many of the flavors cooked up by Duncan are closely tied to what local producers are growing: roasted strawberry in the spring, blackberries and cream in summer and crookneck pumpkin in the fall. Not to be missed: salted caramel. Dolcezza also makes dairy-free sorbetto, which is part of its approximately 300-flavor roster. For Duncan and Edelman’s favorite way to eat their signature treat, swing by the factory in Northeast, where you can dig into a flight of soft-serve gelato fresh out of their machines. “What we have is good — it’s great,” Duncan said, “but this is that times 10.” Dolcezza factory: 550 Penn St. NE. Shops: 904 Palmer Alley NW; 1418 14th St. NW; 2905 District Ave., Fairfax; 1704 Connecticut Ave. NW; 7111 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda; 1560 Wisconsin Ave. NW. www.dolcezzagelato.com.
— Becky Krystal
We didn’t live through the first half of the 20th century, but we like to imagine it tasted something like the milkshakes at Ted’s Bulletin. Three scoops of premium ice cream (the brand is a secret) and a little half-and-half go into each shake. They are made to order using a triple-spindle mixer in combination with employees who move the shakes up and down under the agitators. The result is a rich, thick and creamy dessert, punctuated by crunchy add-ins (cookies, candy, etc.) that are broken into different sizes by the machine. Shakes come in a vintage-style glass along with the large metal cup used to blend it so you can scrape out the extras using an impossibly long spoon. You’ll want every last bit. Popular flavors include chocolate, vanilla and Oreo (there are adult shakes with alcohol, too), but we fell hard for the Heath almond. Diners can choose to add malted milk powder, and we recommend you do for the true old-fashioned experience. Ted’s Bulletin, 1818 14th St. NW; 505 Eighth St. SE; 220 Ellington Blvd., Gaithersburg; 2911 District Ave., Unit 160, Fairfax; 11948 Market St., Reston. www.tedsbulletin.com.
— Becky Krystal
Ice cream sandwiches
Too often, ice cream sandwiches are just MacGyvered confections, assembled with wafers and frozen dairy products that you could have purchased separately and, well, assembled yourself. But the cookie-hugging ice cream sandwiches at Baked & Wired in Georgetown are engineered to deliver maximum pleasure. Take the cookies: The bakers tinkered with their usual offerings until they arrived at thin-but-muscular biscuits that cling tightly to the ice cream, providing a visceral chewiness while never breaking apart into a craggy mess. The Boy Blue presses two bronzed oatmeal cookies against a thick slab of vanilla ice cream tinted pastel purple with fresh blueberries, some still in semi-natural form. Likewise, the Bakedwich starts with vanilla ice cream — microscopic vanilla beans sweep across its creamy tundra — and then sandwiches the frozen mass with waferlike chocolate chip cookies before finally encrusting the outer edge with a spiky dog collar of miniature chocolate chips. Both sandwiches have texture, creaminess, sweetness (but not too much) and grace. These are state-of-the-art snacks, at $5.45 a pop. Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW. www.bakedandwired.com.
— Tim Carman
We may have grown up eating Drumsticks, but Gianluigi Dellaccio of Dolci Gelati has one-upped the summer pool standby with a mini version featuring his luscious gelato. With chocolate coatings on the inside of the cone and around the gelato — pistachio, chocolate or strawberry — we challenge you to eat just one. Actually, you might want to so you can save room for the other desserts that Dellaccio created for his Shaw cafe, including gelato-filled, chocolate-coated cannoli. The cannoli are available in two sizes, with two flavors piped in per shell (chocolate and vanilla or salted caramel and chocolate). Throw in a mini gelato pop, and you’ve got yourself a winning trio. “Those are things we’ve been doing in Italy for a long time,” Dellaccio said. “I wanted to create . . . small bites of pastry but with the gelato.” If you’re looking for something bigger, consider customizing a large gelato pop, a gelato cookie sandwich or, yes, a gelato panini. Dolci Gelati, 1420 Eighth St. NW. www.dolcigelati.net.
— Becky Krystal
The Pleasant Pops team blends more than 4,200 popsicles every week, sold from two storefronts and three farmers markets. Founders and owners Brian Sykora and Roger Horowitz use the seasons as a guide — the popsicles are artisanal, after all! — to create about a dozen original flavors that include Strawberry Ginger Lemonade, Grapefruit Rosemary and Blueberry Pancake. Our favorite on a recent popsicle binge was the Blackberries & Cream. A simple base of whole milk blended with blackberries and just a kiss of sugar, the pop strikes a perfect balance between tart and sweet, while the milky base provides enough fat to achieve an ideal texture free of those annoying icy shards that often plague popsicles. (The industrial-strength freezer, which hardens the pops in a mere 30 minutes, also helps to create that perfect consistency.) It’s now “peak pop time,” said Emily Platt, marketing manager, and with the new downtown location, you have even more opportunities to bite into one of these very pleasant pops. Pleasant Pops, 1781 Florida Ave. NW; 731 15th St. NW. www.pleasantpops.com. Also available at the Mount Pleasant and the FreshFarm Dupont Circle and White House markets.
— Kara Elder
Sure, it’s just frozen water topped with flavored syrups, but don’t call this a snow cone. Or a snowball. Or Italian ice. Or water ice. Or any other regionalism that describes one of summer’s simplest pleasures. This is Hawaiian shave ice, but to anyone who grew up in Montgomery County in the past 20 years, its point of origin is Clayboys, a pull cart regularly parked during the summer months in front of the Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda. So what makes shave ice different from its cold contemporaries? A texture more akin to the stuffing of a pillow than the stuff that makes your car skid on wintry roads. The Fujimarca shave ice machine fills each cup ($3, $4 or $5, but stick with the medium) with feathery bands of snow scraped from wheels of ice that are as thick as phone books. Now comes the fun part: Pick your flavors — blue raspberry, lime and a coconut-strawberry mix called Tiger’s Blood are always popular — from an array that will paint the ice with electric shades of neon. There’s a Swedish Fish hidden in each serving, and if it doesn’t end up on the end of your wooden popsicle stick, you’ll find it swimming in its natural habitat: a sugary pool of melted ice at the bottom of the cup. Clayboys Hawaiian Shave Ice, Bethesda and Woodmont avenues, Bethesda.
— Alex Baldinger