I’m not talking about what you can get by the carton at the grocery store, I’m not talking about gelato, and I’m surely not talking about frozen yogurt. When Mainers and visitors to Vacationland want to cool off with a cone of the good stuff, they pull over at one of the dozens of ice cream stands that are only slightly less frequent than antique shops along the state’s touristed roads. Since there’s arguably no such thing as bad ice cream, picking the five best stands requires an evaluation of more than just texture and taste. This shortlist was compiled with an additional eye towards variety of flavors and the romance and pedigree of the ice cream stand itself. Purists may gripe, but true Maine coneheads know that ice cream tastes better when it comes through a walk-up window and better still if happy families have been patronizing that window for generations.
A whopping 90-year tradition of serving homemade ice cream out a barn in the village of Damariscotta earns Round Top top honors. It’s also great ice cream, with 50-something flavors from vanilla to frozen pudding and rum raisin. With a view of a green hillside and tidal river out back, the Round Top deck is a great place to eat a cone.
Kettle Cove Creamery & Café
Just down the road from one of Maine’s most popular stretches of sand, Kettle Cove’s line is all board shorts and beach wraps, and the picnic tables are often a little damp with the last patron’s saltwater runoff. A vast flavor list (all churned in-house) includes peanut butter oreo and Needhams—an only-in-Maine coconut and chocolate candy.
Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream
A relative new kid on the block, Bar Harbor’s buzzy ice cream stand goes all in on experimental flavors and counterintuitive pairings—think nectarine Prosecco, blueberry basil, and chocolate bergamot (a bergamot being a green Italian orange). Some may say the secret is fresh ingredients and organic cream, but really it’s MDIIC’s “why not?” attitude.
Dorman's Dairy Dream
Family run for over 60 years (the owners live out back), Dorman’s has a flavor list that’s a little on the pedestrian side, but the winding line out front speaks to the quality. Coffee and pistachio are the locals’ favorite, and Dornan’s is quite liberal when laying on the jimmies (non-Mainers may know these as “sprinkles”).
Brown's Old Fashion Ice Cream
Adjacent to the postcard-perfect Nubble Light lighthouse, Brown’s is an institution. When you’ve been around for half a century, you can lay claim to being “old fashion,” correct grammar be damned. The scoops are immense and the flavor list respectable, although Brown’s is maybe best known for its simple, rich vanilla. Bring cash.