Saturday, July 14, 2012

Celebrating National Ice Cream Day in San Francisco

The minute I became a San Francisco resident, the first thing I wanted to do was go to the Bi-Rite Creamery and have a scoop of their honey lavender ice cream. Besides an affinity for all things lavender, I harbor fond memories of a very strange and rainy evening standing in line at the tiny shop and ultimately getting nothing while my friend ordered a sundae. I will not divulge the sordid details of that experience (and why exactly I didn’t order anything) unless you invite me out for a cup of coffee, and then, in person and in coffee shop privacy, I will tell you anything you want to know. Until then, you’ll have to be satisfied with this: Bi-Rite holds a special place in my heart. On my fumbling quest to establish myself in this City on the Hill, I’ve spent a few days in Dolores Park with an ice cream cone in hand because if I’m going to be underemployed and broke, I might as well spend a few weekday afternoons in the park eating ice cream and observing San Francisco’s hippest young people and their dogs.

Prior to my move to San Francisco, I cared very little for ice cream. Yet amid San Francisco’s moody weather and chilled summer days, I’ve developed an addiction. I’ll walk to the corner store for a pint of Three Twins and a six pack of whatever 21st Amendment beer strikes my fancy and call that a Friday Night, or I’ll grab a burger and a scoop of peppermint stick ice cream from Joe’s Ice Cream after a particularly grueling day. Even though ice cream is cold, it’s rich and it’s filling, which I think makes it more appropriate for keeping warm and satiated on a hilly walk through San Francisco rather than for keeping cool on a glaring concrete hot summer day in Los Angeles.

Not on the list: the avocado ice cream from Miyako Old Fashioned Ice Cream in NOPA.

When I was tipped off to National Ice Cream Month and then found out that National Ice Cream Day is Sunday, July 15th, I saw it as an excuse to eat nothing but ice cream and begin fulfilling a personal aspiration of mine: to try all the ice cream in San Francisco. Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream Month in 1984 to celebrate ice cream’s popularity in the United States and more specifically, pronounced the third Sunday of July National Ice Cream Day. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

After a little Google research, I decided I am going to begin my Ice Cream Mission with these popular shops in no particular order:

1. Joe’s Ice Cream

Joe’s Ice Cream is not among San Francisco’s more popular ice cream destinations, but it is my neighborhood ice cream shop, and so I am compelled to stop in for my favorite there: the peppermint stick in a waffle cone. Joe’s ice cream is not particularly artisanal, but it is good, solid, dependable ice cream, and every week they feature a unique flavor. One week they carried a wasabi flavored ice cream that was not as bad as you would think. With a grill bar alongside the ice cream, this is the spot where parents bring their kids or teenagers bring their dates on a Friday afternoon after school. Opened in 1959, Joe’s the ice cream shop where you feel like everyone knows your name.

Joe’s Ice Cream is located at 5420 Geary Blvd. in the Richmond. Hours are Sunday 12pm-10pm, 11am-10pm Tuesday through Thursday, 11am to 11pm Friday and Saturday, and closed Monday. Cash only.

2. Bi-Rite Creamery

On warm, sunny days, Bi-Rite’s line can sometimes extend beyond the store and wrap around the corner of 18th and Dolores. If you ask anyone where to get ice cream in San Francisco, they will direct you to Bi-Rite (or Humphry Slocombe, but we’ll get to that in a minute). Besides my own particular penchant, the ice cream is handmade in small batches right on the spot with locally sourced ingredients, culminating in flavors and textures that are rich and decadent, and their sundaes include combinations like honey lavender ice cream, hot fudge, blood orange olive oil, and Maldon Sea Salt (it’s called the Dainty Gentleman). For quality ice cream, Bi-Rite is the place to start, and will change your palate forever. And so far it’s the only place where I can get fresh lavender ice cream.

Bi-Rite Creamery is located at 3692 18th St. in the Mission. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 11am-10pm, and 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday. Credit cards accepted and make sure to get a punch card!

3. Humphry Slocombe

I’ve been here once and had the hibiscus beet, the bright color of which the woman at the counter joked matched my hair. That alone made the experience worthwhile, especially after she’d patiently acquiesced to all my sampling requests. Again, if you ask anyone in San Francisco where to get a good scoop of ice cream, they will say Bi-Rite or Humphry Slocombe. Featuring more exotic, experimental flavors than Bi-Rite -- like Peanut Butter Curry, Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip, and Foie Gras (?!) -- Humphry Slocombe is like an ice cream excursion where it’s expected to sample a few different flavors before settling on one that surprises and delights your taste buds. They offer 10 to 12 different daily flavors that rotate frequently, so every visit is an adventure. I’ve heard that the Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes) is the most popular flavor so I might have to check it out.

Humphry Slocombe is located at 2790 A Harrison St. in the Mission. Hours are 12pm-9pm Monday through Thursday, and 12pm-10pm Friday through Sunday. Cash only.

4. Smitten Ice Cream

I’ve also been here too, and I would categorize it as a boutique novelty ice cream experience. In 2009 Smitten founder Robyn Sue hit the streets with a Radio Flyer wagon and a device now called the Kelvin. Her whimsical mission was to create the richest, smoothest ice cream possible, and to do so right before your eyes. Employing the properties of liquid nitrogen, your Smitten ice cream transforms from milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring to delectable ice cream in less than a minute for the freshest dessert possible. Once a mobile vendor, Smitten now operates out of a little stand in Hayes Valley. The menu is limited to a handful of seasonal flavors, but that’s not what Smitten is about.

Smitten Ice Cream is located at 432 Octavia St. in Hayes Valley. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 10:30am-10pm, and Friday and Saturday 11:30am-10:30pm. Credit cards accepted.

5. DeLise Dessert Cafe

Located near Fisherman’s Wharf, this shop is going to be a totally new experience for me! After seeing the name a couple times in a few best of lists, I am intrigued by their emphasis on quality over quantity. Their ice cream servings and dessert offerings are supposed to be as dainty and delicate as they are delicious, and since ice cream is a pretty heavy treat, I’m sure this will be a refreshing stop. Their offerings change daily, but according to founders Eloise and Dennis Leung, the shop tries to offer at least one Asian flavor, one tea flavor, and one coffee flavor everyday. They also serve coffee, baked goods, and sandwiches.

DeLise Dessert Cafe is located at 327 Bay St. near Fisherman’s Wharf. Hours are 8:30am-7pm Tuesday through Friday, and 10am-6:30pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday. Credit cards accepted.

6. Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous

It was a toss up between Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous and Mitchell’s Ice Cream, and I’ve decided to try the former. They change their flavor offerings everyday, so I am curious to see what Sunday’s menu will include, and I’ve never been to the Dog Patch part of town, where Mr. & Mrs. is located, so it’s a chance to expand my geographical knowledge. It’s also apparently some of the best ice cream in the city, with some Yelp reviews casting it above Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe, and it was named consistently in best of lists. A good old story about a husband and wife team pursuing their ice cream shop dreams doesn’t hurt either -- after working in restaurants in LA and San Francisco, pastry chef Ian Flores decided to do his own thing with his wife when she became pregnant. Makes me wonder if pickle is one of their signature flavors.

Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous is located at 699 22nd St. in the Dog Patch/Potrero Hill area. Hours are 11:30am-6pm Tuesday through Friday, 11:30am-5pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday. Credit cards accepted.

Follow me on Twitter throughout the day this Sunday, July 15th as I celebrate National Ice Cream Day trying different flavors at different shops throughout San Francisco!

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