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  • Ice Cream All Over The City

    Best Ice Creams Of The Upper East Side, Upper West Side, And Downtown

    By New York Family

    By Megan Bungeroth, Annie Denes, Alissa Fleck, Nick Gallinelli, Rebecca Harris, Whitney C. Harris,  Regan Hofmann, Jon Lentz,  Marissa Maier, Adel Manoukian, Amy Michelle Smith and Amanda Woods

    In honor of the scorching heat and National Ice Cream month, we spent the month of July scouting out frozen treat purveyors on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Downtown to find out who’s got the best sweet and cold desserts. Going off the beaten path of national chains, our tasters sampled an array of types—ice cream as well as gelato, sorbet, and frozen yogurt–as well as flavors both classic and wacky to give our readers the inside scoop.

    UPPER EAST SIDE

    Golosi Artisan Pizza & Gelato
    1304 2nd Ave., 212-772-1169, golosi.com
    Blueberry sorbet and cookies & cream gelato; small, $4
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 4
    Value: 5
    Brain Freeze Factor: 4
    Melt Factor: 5
    Presentation: 4
    Creaminess: 3

    Golosi is a small Italian deli-style restaurant on the Upper East Side with artisanal pizzas and an array of desserts. We tried the blueberry sorbet and cookies & cream gelato, and were impressed with both. The gelato was not hugely flavorful, but it had a light quality aided by the sparseness of cookie chunks, giving it a virtuous feel. The gelato seemed a little icier, for lack of a better description, than other gelatos, but was still smooth and tasty. The blueberry sorbet was delicious and had a fresh fruit flavor with bits of blueberry, reminiscent of a natural fruit pop. It had a stronger flavor than the gelato without seeming too sweet or artificial. Golosi has a variety of yummy-looking sorbets and gelatos, which makes choosing a difficult task.

    Serendipity 3
    225 E. 60th St., 212-838-3531, serendipity3.com
    Strawberry Fields Sundae, $15
    Flavor: 3
    Inventiveness: 3
    Value: 2
    Brain Freeze Factor: 3
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 4
    Creaminess: 3

    For those of you willing to spend 30 minutes waiting for a slice of a John Cusack movie, Serendipity is certainly for you. We decided to indulge out fruity side and try out the Strawberry Fields sundae. With rich strawberry ice cream, chunks of creamy cheesecake, strawberry topping and a fist-sized dollop of whipped cream, you would think that this would be a heavenly confection, right? Alas, the ice-cream-to-whipped-cream ratio played too far in favor of the latter, and the sticky strawberry topping wasn’t quite the refreshing treat I was hoping for. Considering the wait time and the curmudgeonly staff, this sundae really wasn’t worth the wait.

    Emack & Bolio’s
    1564 1st Ave., 212-734-0105, emackandbolios.com
    S’moreo: One scoop vanilla ice cream with marshmallows and chocolate swirl on a sugar cone with chocolate sprinkles; $4.50
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 5
    Value: 4
    Brain Freeze Factor: 2
    Melt Factor: 3
    Presentation: 2
    Creaminess: 5

    This Boston-based parlor is a fan favorite on the Upper East Side, known for its unique flavor and topping combinations and super-premium ice cream free of genetically modified hormones. The shop is fun, colorful and clean, with quick, friendly service and quirky flavor boards. On the downside, its cramped space leaves something to be desired for big families or customers hoping to linger and eat. Emack & Bolio’s offers a wide variety of flavors with mixed-in toppings and wacky names, from Twisted Dee-Light to Space Cake to Grasshopper Pie. The ice cream itself is extra-creamy, and while $4.50 may seem a bit steep for a single-scoop cone, the product has a notably high-quality taste. This spot is definitely worth a try if you find yourself craving a sweet, satisfying dairy snack.

    Yogo Swirl
    1585 2nd Ave.
    Self-serve: chocolate and cookies & cream with mini M&Ms, cookie dough, banana slices and hot fudge; $0.49 per ounce
    Flavor: 3
    Inventiveness: 1
    Value: 3
    Brain Freeze Factor: 4
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 3
    Creaminess: 3

    If you’re looking for a light alternative to ice cream, the Upper East Side is home to a handful of popular frozen yogurt joints. Unfortunately, this particular local shop boasts neighboring storefronts Pinkberry and 16 Handles, both of which—unlike Yogo Swirl—consistently have customers lined up out the door. Yogo Swirl offers extremely limited, traditional flavors and minimal toppings; plus, the banana slices were browning and the cookie dough was chalky. The store has comfortable, colorful, abundant seating, the yogurt itself tastes as good as any and you get your money’s worth at a decent price. Not to mention that if you want to avoid throngs of yogurt-crazed teenage girls, the place offers a far more relaxed environment than its neighbors. Still, with quality self-serve alternatives just next door, Yogo Swirl would not be our first choice.

    Lexington Candy Shop
    1226 Lexington Ave., 212-288-0057, lexingtoncandyshop.net
    Vanilla sundae with chocolate sauce; $7.95
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 2
    Value: 2
    Brain Freeze Factor: 5
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 5
    Creaminess: 3

    This old-timey drugstore is about as authentic as it gets—they’ve been serving up sundaes, floats and shakes made with a vintage Hamilton Beach mixer at their Formica counter since 1925. It’s a great place to take kids, as they can watch the friendly staff put together sundaes in glass dishes and revel in the hot fudge of it all. We tried a classic sundae with vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate sauce, topped with a cherry (they were out of whipped cream). The ice cream, while a bit frosty, held up incredibly well against the hot sauce, melting just enough to make a delicious concoction. It’s a bit pricey for basic ice cream, but considering that you’re helping an outstanding Upper East Side establishment stay in business and absorbing a slice of old New York in the process, it’s well worth it.

    Sedutto
    1498 1st Ave., 212-879-9557, sedutto78.com
    Medium birthday cake ice cream with crushed Oreos; $6.25
    Flavor: 5
    Inventiveness: 3
    Value: 4
    Brain freeze factor: 4
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 3
    Creaminess: 4

    Sedutto calls its birthday cake ice cream one of its most popular choices, and it’s no wonder why. The ice cream, loaded with multicolored sprinkles and small pieces of white cake, will satisfy any sweet tooth. We stepped it up a notch by adding a pile of Oreo cookie crumbs on top, and if we closed our eyes, we thought we were eating cake and cookies. This is a hard ice cream selection, but that didn’t prevent it from being creamy. The ice cream stays solid for a while and didn’t melt significantly, even when we were almost finished with it. Other popular flavors at the shop, which also has a branch in Staten Island, include chocolate mint chip, cookies & cream, chocolate peanut butter hard yogurt and mocha chip fat-free hard yogurt. Sedutto even has an option for its older snackers: wine ice cream.

    UPPER WEST SIDE

    Screme Gelato Bar
    2030 Broadway, 212-362-2111, screme.com
    One scoop coconut gelato; $5
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 3
    Value: 4
    Brain Freeze: 5
    Melt Factor: 1
    Presentation: 2
    Creaminess: 4

    This gelateria uses whole milk instead of the usual cream gelato is made with, a good note for those conscious about their weight. The tiny café holds a minimal amount of flavors that occasionally change and are all unique. If you want a refreshing mojito, look no further: The place has a virgin mojito sorbet. It tastes identical to the drink, with flecks of spearmint leaves. Other interesting flavors include butter cookie, chocolate chip cookie, Snickers and Madagascar vanilla. Screme’s most popular flavor is the chocolate sorbet, probably because it tastes like ice cream but with fewer calories. Their coconut flavor had a nice hint of vanilla. Better save this place for a hot day, as the ice cream is very chilly—yet still creamy as it melts in your mouth. Take your gelato to go; the place has limited seating and no tables.

    Emack and Bolio’s
    389 Amsterdam Ave., 212-362-2747, emackandbolios.com
    Small salted caramel chocolate pretzel ice cream; $4.50
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 5
    Value: 5
    Brain freeze factor: 3
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 4
    Creaminess: 5

    Emack and Bolio’s is a tiny shop, but that didn’t stop many customers, young and old, from stopping in on a Sunday afternoon to grab a few bites of their award-winning ice cream. Emack and Bolio’s has received a Best Dessert in New York City title and a Fruit Smoothie of the Week designation, among others. We tried the salted caramel chocolate pretzel ice cream—though it may seem unusual to combine the sweet and the salty, this is a must-try. The flavors of the chocolate-covered pretzel and the caramel swirl mix well together, and the creaminess of the ice cream doesn’t take away from the pretzel’s crunchiness. No need to worry about melting—this ice cream remained solid and cold, yet perfectly creamy, several minutes into eating it. Try the shop’s popular “Sundae in a Slice,” which looks like a pizza slice, made with a brownie crust, vanilla bean ice cream, hot fudge and marshmallow. If you’re visiting with a group, be sure to try the Emack Attack, a gigantic 20-scoop sundae.

    Grom
    2165 Broadway, 212-362-1837, grom.it/eng
    One scoop each of dark chocolate, tiramisu and espresso bean gelato; one scoop of pink grapefruit sorbet; $8.25
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 4
    Value: 4
    Brain Freeze: 5
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 3
    Creaminess: 5

    The stark, clinical aesthetic of this Italian gelato emporium stands in odd contrast to the earth-hugger vibe the company brags about on the wall, proudly proclaiming their organic farm sourcing and recyclable and compostable materials. The flavors, too, belie the cold setting in their ingenuity and similarity to their namesakes. The dark chocolate gelato tastes exactly the way a premium chocolate bar would if it were somehow melted and frozen at the same time, with just a hint of bitterness. It’s best enjoyed along side a creamy, sweet flavor like tiramisu. The espresso gelato delivers a welcome jolt, and the egg-custard-based Crema di Grom flavor is delicious, if a bit too rich for a whole heaping cup. The sorbet selection is fantastic if only for its verisimilitude—the pink grapefruit is spot on and incredibly refreshing.

    Épicerie Boulud
    1900 Broadway, 212-595-0303, danielnyc.com/epicerie
    Pistachio-black cherry swirl, one scoop; $3. Dark chocolate and blue lemonade, one scoop of each; $6
    Flavor: 5
    Inventiveness: 3.5
    Value: 4
    Brain Freeze Factor: 5
    Melt Factor: 4.5
    Presentation: 3
    Creaminess: 5

    Start to finish, Épicerie Boulud is everything you would expect from Daniel Boulud. The décor is clean and modern, with the sleek gelato counter accessible from the sidewalk. The staff was friendly and, most importantly, the gelati were well-executed—creamy, flavorful and made with fresh ingredients. The pistachio-black cherry swirl, one of the most popular options, had the right balance of sweetness and nuttiness. Most surprising was the value. At $3 a scoop, you receive a sizable portion of excellent gelato at the same price as an ice cream bar from a street vendor, making Épicerie Boulud well worth the trip.

    16 Handles
    325 Amsterdam Ave., 646-861-1281, 16handles.com
    10.7 oz of a Chocolate Love Affair-Coffee Break-Cookies & Cream blend, topped with brownie bites, cheesecake bites, chocolate-covered pretzels, cookie crumbs, Reese’s Pieces and milk chocolate caramel chunks; $6.05
    Flavor: 4
    Inventiveness: 4
    Value: 3
    Brain Freeze Factor: 4
    Melt Factor: 3
    Presentation: 5
    Creaminess: 2

    If you’re a control freak when it comes to frozen treats, rest assured: 16 Handles allows you to be the master of your own dessert destiny. This self-serve, pay-by-the-ounce frozen yogurt paradise lets you decide what, how much and in what delicious design your cold concoction is prepared. Not one to normally mix and match, I flew “off the handle” and combined three froyo flavors with myriad toppings, creating a symphony of chocolate, caramel, peanut butter and beyond. If you’re a fruit fanatic, 16 Handles offers green apple tart and pomegranate raspberry, begging to be topped with blackberries, kiwi, mango and more. But the urge to indulge needn’t be tempered—nutrition info is displayed above each flavor. Plus, without having to wait for some college kid to muscle your scoops into a cup or cone, you’re in and out of the store faster than you can calculate the calories.

    Momofuku Milk Bar
    561 Columbus Ave., 347-577-9504, milkbarstore.com
    Pink lemonade soft-serve; $4.50. Pretzel milk shake; $6.
    Flavor: 2
    Inventiveness: 4
    Value: 2
    Brain Freeze Factor: 4
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 4
    Creaminess: 3

    Momofuku Milk Bar, known for its inventive baked goods and addictive pastries, also serves a limited menu of soft-serve ice cream and milk shakes. Sadly, the Upper West Side outpost of the much-talked about East Village original did not live up to the hype. The pink lemonade soft-serve was far too sweet and tart, tasting more like a powdered mix than real lemons and sugar.
    The pretzel milkshake, made with cereal milk soft serve, pretzels, salt and chocolate, was too thin and tasted like a melted fudge pop, with just a hint of the cereal milk flavor.

    DOWNTOWN

    Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
    48 1/2 E. 7th St. (at 2nd Ave.), 718-701-1630, vanleeuwenicecream.com
    Flavor: 9
    Inventiveness: 7
    Value: 5
    Brain Freeze Factor: 6
    Melt Factor: 6
    Presentation: 9

    One of the many food-truck-to-shop conversions of the past few years, Van Leeuwen’s cafe in the East Village is a lovely place for a cup of coffee and a pastry. All cream walls and gold filigree, it’s reminiscent of an aristocratic sitting room—nothing like an ice cream parlor. But the ice cream is there, in all of its impeccably sourced, seasonal (hoping for the currants and cream flavor? Try again next year) glory. While big-ticket varieties like Maker’s Mark bourbon caramel and Ceylon cinnamon might steal the show, our favorite is the palm sugar, a luxuriously caramelized, almost molasses flavor that, somehow, isn’t too sweet. Top it with cacao nibs (unsweetened, roasted cacao beans) for a decidedly grown-up experience fit for a duke.

    Grom Gelato
    233 Bleecker St. (betw. Leroy & Carmine Sts.), 212-974-3444, grom.it
    Flavor: 9
    Inventiveness: 7
    Value: 6
    Brain Freeze Factor: 8
    Melt Factor: 5
    Presentation: 5

    One NY Press reader recommended we try nocciola and tiramisu, which is what we ended up getting. We weren’t going to eat the whole thing, but then we couldn’t help ourselves. Grom’s gelato is understated and delicious, and the flavors blended well, though we wish they would have been a bit more distinct. The nocciola boasts Italian hazelnuts, while the tiramisu blends espresso, wheat biscuits and Colombian chocolate chips. A sign on the wall at Grom advertises “no preservatives, no colorants, no flavorings,” which comes across in the subtle flavor. We have nothing but praise for Grom’s gelato, even at $7.25 for two scoops.

    Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
    65 Bayard St. (betw. Mott St. & Bowery), 212-608-4170, chinatownicecreamfactory.com
    Flavor: 10
    Inventiveness: 9
    Value: 8
    Brain Freeze Factor: 7
    Melt Factor: 8
    Presentation: 5

    The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory’s mascot is a dragon laughing gleefully over a dish of ice cream. He may be laughing at the number of tourists who come in there and stand, agape, trying to build up their courage to get the durian or taro ice cream—or maybe he’s just on a sugar high. The “exotic” flavors are the draw for a reason—if you want mint chip you can have it, but you really ought to go for the black sesame or the almond cookie. The place is covered with hand-written notes about new treats that are littered with exclamation marks; move fast and you might still be able to get Linsanity, blue and orange sprinkles and mochi balls, on your scoop.

    L’Arte del Gelato
    75 7th Ave. (betw. S. 7th Ave. & Bleecker St.), 212-924-0803, lartedelgelato.com
    Flavor: 8
    Inventiveness: 9
    Value: 8
    Brain Freeze Factor: 6
    Melt Factor: 9
    Presentation: 5

    With flavors like olive oil and frutti di bosco (forest fruit), this little artisan shop offers extremely creamy gelato that is surprisingly handmade in their store with whole milk instead of the usual cream. This doesn’t take away from the creaminess factor, however. The ice cream tastes fresh and may make customers wonder if actual ice was ever used at all in the recipe. The pistachio flavor offers a light, nutty aroma with few actual nuts. The interesting olive oil flavor seems rich with oil, making the gelato taste heavy. Two flavors will set you back $4.90—with all the traditionally Italian choices, make sure to stop by more than once.

    Emack & Bolio’s
    73 W. Houston St. (betw. Wooster St. & W. Broadway), 212- 533-5610, emackandbolios.com
    Flavor: 9
    Inventiveness: 10
    Value: 7
    Brain Freeze Factor: 2
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 10

    A huge hub of different full-fat (yum), low-fat (kind of yum) and frozen yogurt (no yum), Emack & Bolio’s boasts an array of quirky-named flavors based on common oldies. We were recommended grasshopper pie by the shop’s well-informed employee, and the new variation on mint chip was satisfying and just creamy enough to taste rich but somewhat light. If you give it a try, its variety will keep you coming back for more. How could you doubt the people who were, supposedly, the first to mix Oreos into ice cream?

    DBGB Kitchen & Bar
    299 Bowery (betw. Houston & E. 1st Sts.), 212-933-5300, danielnyc.com
    Flavor: 9
    Inventiveness: 10
    Value: 7
    Brain Freeze Factor: 8
    Melt Factor: 4
    Presentation: 9

    DGBG Kitchen & Bar is maybe not the place you would expect to go for ice cream, as their menu boasts 14 varieties of sausage, jazzed-up burgers and other fancy, meaty French fare. Nonetheless, their ice cream did not disappoint. We ordered the Apricot-Honey Sundae (two scoops ice cream, cookie crumble, candied pine nuts, honey-roasted apricot, thyme sauce, whipped cream; $9), but because they accidentally brought out a miniature size, they brought us a sampler including miniature versions of all three of their sundaes. The Chocolate-Hazelnut was a favorite (praline gelato, chocolate truffles, hazelnut cookies, chocolate fudge, whipped cream), but only held a narrow margin over the Raspberry-Mascarpone (anise meringues, ladyfingers, raspberry compote, whipped cream). These sundaes scored a solid 10 for creativity, and the wait staff didn’t even seem to mind that we were mostly there for a sugary fix.

    Lula’s Sweet Apothecary
    516 E. 6th St. (betw. Aves. A & B), 646-481-5852, lulassweetapothecary.com
    Flavor: 8
    Inventiveness: 10
    Value: 6
    Brain Freeze Factor: 7
    Melt Factor: 5
    Presentation: 9

    Remember when a soda fountain was basically a pharmacy—those glory days when Coca-Cola was a wonder cure and ice cream was health food? OK…us neither. But Lula’s Sweet Apothecary does, and this tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shop in the East Village is kitted out with all the glass jars and tiny-drawered cabinets of an old-fashioned drugstore. And while we know now that ice cream isn’t exactly a superfood, the offerings at Lula’s come as close as you can get—everything there is vegan. The ice creams, which rotate often, are made with soy, nut or coconut milks, as flavor dictates; anything with coconut is your best bet for an unbelievably creamy, slightly tropical escape. Build it into a sundae, flurry or banana split with sauces to choose from like gluten-free marshmallow and peanut butter, and tell yourself it’s all for your health.

    Momofuku Milk Bar
    251 E. 13th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.), 347-577-9504, milkbarstore.com
    Flavor: 8
    Inventiveness: 8
    Value: 5
    Brain Freeze Factor: 5
    Melt Factor: 7
    Presentation: 6

    Hailed by some as a gamechanger on the dessert front, Momofuku Milk Bar—an offshoot of David Chang’s Momofuku empire—was the brainchild of pastry chef Christina Tosi. With Milk Bar, Tosi has refined her amazing knack for making the lowbrow high in a subtly delicious way. The two flavors of soft serve in their East Village location change regularly; of the Blueberry Miso and Cereal Milk we tried, the latter is truly the standout. While the Miso interestingly mixes sweet and sour, Cereal Milk can only be summed up as tasting like childhood—familiar, yet surprising. It recalls countless mornings as a kid slurping down the sugary milk in your breakfast bowl after the Frosted Flakes had been devoured. We suggested pairing your soft serve with the cornflakes topping, which is more salty than the cereal you are accustomed to. Our only caveat of this truly heavenly dessert experience: the slightly too-small-for-comfort cups the ice cream is served in.

    Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
    125 E. 7th St. (betw. 1st Ave. & Ave. A), 212-533-9333, biggayicecream.com
    Flavor: 7
    Inventiveness: 8
    Value: 5
    Brain Freeze Factor: 4
    Melt Factor: 8
    Presentation: 7

    With the moniker Big Gay Ice Cream Shop and offerings called the Salty Pimp and the Bea Arthur, what’s not to love about this East Village sweet shop? The shop pairs a sense of humor with winning soft-serve combinations, giving each cone character. A citrus lover might opt for the Mermaid, vanilla ice cream, key lime curd, crushed graham crackers and whipped cream, while a chocolate connoisseur will reach for the Monday Sundae, twist ice cream, nutella lined cone, dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream. We went for one of the shop’s most popular flavors: The Salty Pimp. On a hot day, a melting sugar cone of soft serve is usually an unwelcome byproduct of the heat. With the Pimp, however, the hard chocolate exterior perfectly mixed with ravines of caramel and vanilla ice cream.  While the ingredients are fairly standard, the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop has found its strong suit in unique flavor pairings.

    Il Laboratorio del Gelato
    188 Ludlow St. (betw. Houston & Stanton Sts.), 212-343-9922, laboratoriodelgelato.com
    Flavor: 9
    Inventiveness: 9
    Value: 10
    Brain Freeze Factor: 7
    Melt Factor: 7
    Presentation: 7

    This “laboratory” offers unique flavors that change almost every week. The toasted almond is full of bits of nuts, making you crunch through every tasty bite. The mint is delicate, with flecks of mint leaves. Although the shop offers a wide variety, all their flavors have one thing in common: they’re not very strong or overwhelming. This isn’t your average Breyer’s, though—the gelato is chilly without the sting of ice and is good enough to cool you off without skimping on cream.

    For these delicious ice cream stories and other articles, visit nypress.com.

     

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