Ice Cream Time in San Francisco: Get the Scoop on Every Neighborhood
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Summer time is ice cream time here in San Francisco, and there’s a great scoop in every neighborhood. Clearly Mark Twain, who wrote that our summers are more like winters, hadn’t tasted these flavors. As with other foods in the Bay Area, chefs and pastry mavens have taken the form from the classic to the edgy. Local ingredients and new food techniques are what make these shops particularly noteworthy; just don’t get caught up in the labels.
All frozen deserts need the right blend of sugar and milkfat to keep the whole batch from freezing solid. Ice cream is slowly frozen, so it has a lighter texture and typically higher butterfat content but lower sugar. Gelato is not whipped while it is being frozen so it is denser. The texture is created with higher sugar content and lower butterfat content. Sorbet skips the dairy altogether. I don’t think there’s an official FDA term for freeze-dried ice cream yet…
As you go exploring through the city, find these spots to cool yourself with a sweet treat. Most are located close to downtown and near public transit:
Mitchell’s Ice Cream – Noe Valley
You can tell a local from a newcomer to San Francisco based on whether they know about Mitchell’s. It isn’t the coolest or the newest, but this local treasure has been making great ice cream since the 50s. Even people from the outer reaches of the Bay will say they grew up with Mitchell’s. It takes multiple trips to get a taste for the variety of flavors here, but make your scoop a halo halo sometime – a traditional Filipino dessert with a buried treasure of mongo beans, sweet beans, buko, langka, ube, pineapple, palm fruit, evaporated milk and shaved ice. 688 San Jose Avenue, www.mitchellsicecream.com
Smitten Ice Cream – Hayes Valley
When in Hayes Valley, stop at Smitten. It’s a moniker as true as “when in Rome,” or that’s how you’ll feel after witnessing your ice cream being whipped up before your eyes. Smitten is an apt name. With the whir of a nifty freezing machine, the highest quality ingredients are poured together and made to order, yielding a rich, smooth texture and a vibrant fresh flavor. Vanilla and chocolate are standards and seasonal scoops like the mesmerizing Strawberry White Balsamic I had last week change regularly. 432 Octavia Street, smittenicecream.com
Bombay Ice Cream – Mission
This neighborhood, home to the fabulous SF Streetfood Fest, has more choices for top notch coffee, donuts, ice cream and tacos than any other, and is quickly becoming the go-to ‘hood for good eats. Bombay rises to the top of the proverbial heap because I just can’t get enough of the flavors: almond pistachio, saffron, cardamom rose, chai, fig, and cashew raisin…tropical spice fans will go bonkers. To find the shop, make your way toward the highway overpass to what might seem an unlikely spot for a scoop and you’ll discover Indian ice cream bliss. 245 South Van Ness Avenue, www.bombayicecream.com
Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous – Dogpatch
I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to resist anything with lemoncello and candied violets in it, let alone ice cream. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, located in the Dogpatch. These folks may have won the edgy flavor game with their consistently tasty batches of ice cream like “Ballpark” (Anchor Steam beer, peanuts, and chocolate pretzels) and “Pink Squirrel” (Chinese almond cookie and cherry ice cream), both of which are marvelous no matter what you conjure. And standard flavors, such as coffee and mint, are done with panache. 699 22nd Street, no web
Swensen’s – Nob Hill
My old stomping ground isn’t where you would expect to find an ice cream shop. The blocks surrounding are towering deco apartment buildings have an old-world urban feel. Low and behold, this corner has been reserved for ice cream, and for much longer than the many “new wave” ice cream shops around town. Fans of rich chocolate and peanut butter flavors will be especially smitten. Also look for their famous and unique Swiss orange chip. I wonder how their pineapple coconut compares to Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous; I’ll have to compare next time…. 1999 Hyde Street, www.swensensicecream.com
There’s more ice cream spots that are worthwhile! Find them and other deserts in my San Francisco book‘s Sweet Tooth chapter. And for more ice cream-y fun head to Omnivore Books on June 18th for my favorite Seattle ice creamery’s book signing, right here in SF!
It’s It’s Recipe
My favorite way to eat ice cream around here is in the form of an It’s It. Together with the popsicle, the Mai Thai, Chicken Tetrazzini and a few other classics, It’s It’s are one of San Fransisco’s proud food inventions and a hometown favorite. Thankfully they are easy to create from your favorite ice cream, gelato, or sorbet.
Just pick up a pint from one of these local stops and sandwich a few scoops between these rainsin-less oatmeal cookies.
Oatmeal Cookie Recipe
3 c. organic rolled oats
2 c + 2 tb. organic unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardemon
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ c. light brown sugar, pressed lightly into the measure
¾ c. organic cane sugar, granulated
1 1/2 tsp natural vanilla extract
1 tb water
1 tsp. salt
Cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl. Slowly add the eggs and vanilla. In a small bowl mix together the dry ingredients aside from the oats. Combine with the wet ingredients and then gently turn in the oats without over stirring.
I find these cookies come out fine without chilling, but especially if you are making larger cookies they will come out better if you let the dough sit in the fridge for a few hours before baking. Use a tablespoon to divvy out dough on the sheet – depending on the size you want your sandwiches you’ll want to adjust your dough balls. The most important thing isn’t the individual size but that the sum is of relatively uniform size.
Cook 1-inch size balls for 7-9 minutes, and 2-3 inch ones for up to 10 minutes. The quick cooking time requires familiarity with your oven and a close nose and eye.
Cool completely before even thinking of making a sandwich – these cookies may not even look completely solid when they come out of the oven but they are perfectly chewy and hold up to the ice cream filling well.
Leave the ice cream on the counter for 10 or 15 minutes so it isn’t frozen solid when you are prepping the sandwiches. After making them, I put the sandwiches back in the freezer for an hour before serving.