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America's Best Ice Cream Shops

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Columbus, OH

Jeni Britton Bauer’s eponymous ice cream company launched in Columbus, OH, in 2002 and now includes scoop shops in Cleveland, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Charleston, SC, and a pop-up at New York’s Gotham West Market. The secret to her success begins with premium milk and butterfat from grass-fed Ohio cows. Add in high-quality ingredients like whiskey from local distillery Middle West Spirits or Askinosie dark milk chocolate, plus one-of-a-kind combinations—pineapple frozen yogurt with red cherries, pineapple lady cake, and salty caramel sauce, for example—and the result is ice cream that’s as creamy and satisfying as it is inventive.

—Geraldine Campbell

Mini Bombes from Ici Ice Cream in Berkeley, California.

Courtesy of Ici Ice cream

Ici Ice Cream, Berkeley, CA

Ici is run by a former pastry chef from Chez Panisse, Mary Canales, and is balanced between the past—hearty root-beer floats and all that—and the gourmet future, with such flavors as brandied cherry and burnt caramel. Each day, 11 flavors—drawn from whatever might be fresh, creative, and generally happening that day—are offered, made with organic Soul Food eggs and milk from Clover Organic Dairy.

—Tom Austin

A summer crowd at Gray’s Ice Cream, a Rhode Island mainstay.

Ball & Albanese

Gray’s Ice Cream, Tiverton, RI

Gray’s has been an institution in Tiverton, across the river from Newport, since 1923, when Annie Gray turned her house into a casual ice cream parlor in the historic Four Corners section of town. Current owner Marilyn Dennis keeps the standards on the menu for the old-timers, while adding such newer hybrids as strawberry cheesecake. Frozen pudding, a rum-based ice cream loaded with apricots and raisins, is a Gray’s tradition and not something even die-hard ice cream fanatics encounter every day.

—Tom Austin

Lindsay Stump

Lick Ice Cream, Austin, TX

There aren’t any shakes, sundaes, or sugary add-ins at this artisan shop on South Lamar. It’s all about the ice cream, made using grass-fed, single-source dairy from Mill-King Market & Creamery in McGregor, TX. Best known for savory, often vegetal scoops like roasted beets with fresh mint, cilantro lime, and goat cheese, thyme, and honey, the outfit also has tamer flavors, like the latte-like Texas au lait—as well as plans to expand to San Antonio in August 2014.

—Geraldine Campbell

Homer's Homemade Ice Cream.

Courtesy of Homer's Homemade Ice Cream

Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream, Wilmette, IL

The Chicago area has plenty of couture ice cream operations—like Ruth and Phils Gourmet Ice Cream, with such arcane flavors as sour cream cinnamon—but a big, hearty city demands the kind of hearty ice cream that Al Capone used to enjoy. In 1935, Gus Poulos made up his first batch of ice cream at this very location in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, and it’s an obligatory pit stop for visitors and Chicagoans alike. Capone might have been a bad guy, but he knew good ice cream. And since Chi-town is the American heartland, dig in to the Americana-fest with a heaping bowl of Rocky Road, chocolate ice cream combined with almonds and marshmallows, a staple of parlors across the country.

—Tom Austin

Annabelle’s Ice Cream in New Hampshire.

Ball & Albanese

Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream, Portsmouth, NH

On a narrow street along the Portsmouth harbor is Annabelle’s, where the owner, retired doctor Lewis Palosky, thinks of himself as “an artist, not a businessman.” His credo is evident in the thick (difficult to pierce with a spoon) and intensely flavorful ice cream. Black raspberry, a New England staple, is rich with flavor. And the French vanilla is a revelation, a symbol of ordinariness that has been made, through some magical culinary alchemy, extraordinary.

—Tom Austin

Liz Cantu

Angelo Brocato Ice Cream & Confectionary, New Orleans

In New Orleans, ice cream is taken as seriously as any other sensual pleasure, and since 1905, Angelo Brocato has been serving up Italian delights in an Old Palermo–inspired parlor. The selection includes lemon ice, gelato, Sicilian flavors like amaretto, cannolis, almond biscotti, and nods to New Orleans, with peach ice being particularly popular in the summer. For something molto italiano, try the Spumoni, a wedge of tutti-frutti, lemon, and pistachio ice cream, topped off with homemade whipped cream.

—Tom Austin

Leela Cyd Ross

Salt + Straw, Portland, OR

Salt & Straw, which began as a food cart, makes quirky, cult combinations like Stumptown coffee and Burnside bourbon or pear and blue cheese five gallons at a time using Oregon cream from Alpenrose Dairy. The percentage of butterfat—17 percent—is basically the highest you can get, and the slow churn process creates a low air-to-cream ratio. In other words, this is seriously rich, creamy stuff. For a classic salty-sweet summer combination courtesy of the Italians, try the melon and prosciutto flavor, with charcuterie sourced from Portland’s Olympic Provisions.

—Geraldine Campbell

Guy Ambrosino

The Bent Spoon, Princeton, NJ

Gab Carbone and Matt Errico have been challenging the taste buds of Princetonians and visiting ice cream fiends since they opened their farm-to-scoop shop more than 10 years ago. Inspired as much by travel, cocktails, and memorable meals as by the bounty of produce from nearby purveyors, the duo has created flavors such as strawberry Earl Grey, Old Bay sweet corn, and beet streak, a beautiful pink blend of local, organic beets and 61 percent dark chocolate. They also recently introduced frozen treats, a.k.a. “spoon pops,” in combinations like raspberry lemon thyme and milk chocolate hazelnut.

—Geraldine Campbell

Molly Moon Ice Cream in Seattle, Washington.

Courtesy of Molly Moon Ice Cream

Molly Moon Ice Cream, Seattle

This multishop operation is as local as it gets. Washington milk and cream are the base for ice cream flavors like balsamic strawberry and cherry chunk (made with Theo chocolate chunks and cherries from Alberg Orchard near Yakima Valley), and 90 percent of ingredients are sourced from area purveyors. Even the famous Scout Mint is made using Thin Mints purchased directly from the Western Washington Girl Scouts.

—Geraldine Campbell

See the slideshow: America's Best Ice Cream Shops

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