On any given blissful summer’s day in Portsmouth, NH, strollers along the charming narrow streets by the harbor are likely to come upon the welcome respite of an ice cream parlor. And better yet, no ordinary ice cream parlor. This is Annabelle’s, whose owner, Lewis Palosky, likes to think of himself as “an artist, not a businessman.” The flavors here are indeed sheer artistry. Black raspberry, a New England tradition, pops on the palate like a Day-Glo billboard. Even the French vanilla, a symbol of ordinariness, has been made extraordinary, far beyond the clichés of “bland vanilla.”
July is national ice cream month—not that we need any additional encouragement to indulge. And every area of the country has its own legendary ice cream parlor or two, welcoming refuges that provide a cooling escape from the heat of a summer’s day—along with some serious culinary pleasure.
Often these places are infused with nostalgia—the Americana of July 4th and other classic national values. South of Portland, ME, for instance, Shain’s of Maine Ice Cream conjures a vintage ambience with red-and-white old-time soda shop banquettes and bygone newspaper ads underneath the glass tabletops.
Then again, ice cream can also be a bold-new-culinary-age proposition. In northern California, Ici Ice Cream in Berkeley, run by a former chef from Chez Panisse, features fresh market flavors like black mission fig, putting a cultivated twist on one of the ultimate comfort foods.
New England, as ever, remains the epicenter of this national obsession; modern gourmet ice cream is widely considered to have been born at the original Steve’s in Boston. Ice cream has its own culture in the region, from visuals to terminology. “Frappe” is the usual New England term for a milkshake, customarily served with a lump of ice cream on the side of the glass. “Cabinets” are Rhode Island vernacular for milkshakes, with the coffee version—coffee ice cream, a dose of coffee syrup, and milk—a constant standout.
The influence of New England’s gourmet groundbreakers can be felt across the country at spots that value high-quality ingredients, freshness, and guilt-free indulgence. These ice cream parlors, America’s best, are all about keeping it real and, of course, homemade.