On any blissful summer’s day in Portsmouth, NH, stroll by the harbor and you’re likely to come upon 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.
July is national ice cream month—not that we need any additional encouragement to indulge. And every area of the country has a legendary ice cream parlor or two, welcoming refuges that provide a cooling escape, along with some serious culinary pleasure.
Often these places are infused with nostalgia. 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.
In Seattle, Molly Moon Ice Cream proudly supports local purveyors; even its famous Scout Mint is made with Thin Mints purchased from the Western Washington Girl Scouts.
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. In early 2014, pastry chef Nicholas Morgenstern also traded high-end restaurants for his own eponymous New York ice cream parlor, where he whips cream to order and fills cones with burnt honey vanilla and Szechuan peppercorn chocolate.
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. And the influence of these gourmet groundbreakers can be felt nationwide at spots that champion 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.