Growing up, we were the healthy house that did not eat sugar. In kindergarten, my lunchbox contained umeboshi-centered rice balls wrapped in seaweed. (I was not popular.) On Halloween, we went trick-or-treating, then got to keep five pieces of candy from our bags and were kindly asked to give away the rest to other kids. (I was fleetingly popular.) My sister and I had an abundance of leafy greens—but we did not have dessert.
So when I chanced upon ice cream at a friend’s house, it was like finding water in the desert. I would have done anything to make it last. I still feel that I-may-never-have-this-again excitement when I get ice cream today. And when I see kids shrug off an ice cream offering, I think they’re something wrong with them.
In my adult life, I’ve tasted a lot of ice cream. I’m not a connoisseur, but I appreciate it—deeply.
Here are my top choices for ice cream, frozen custard and gelato shops in DC.
Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee
Now with many locations across the city, Dolcezza is doing booming business in fresh, dense, Italian-style ice cream. Flavors are ever changing and always interesting: Black Sesame, Mascarpone & Berries, Valrhona Chocolate Amargo, Brown Butter, Cappuccino, Crème Fraiche, and Maldon Sea Salt, to name a few. They’ve also got sorbets like Avocado Honey Orange, Coconut Sorbetto, Grapefruit Campari and Orange Honey Cardamom.
Dolcezza uses very fresh dairy (they pick up milk and cream the same day it is bottled at a farm in PA), they do their juicing and crafting by hand, and they use only in-season, fresh fruit. With all that fresh goodness, your also getting about half the fat and calories as regular ice cream. Which sounds like a trick…but apparently it’s not.
This place is an ode to America, with its delicious burgers, cheesy fries, cold beers and thick, sweet frozen custards. Here, custard comes in several forms: cups or cones, floats, shakes or concretes (which combine custard with mix-ins like cheesecake blondie). Shake Shack custard ice cream is hand spun on location daily. They don’t use corn syrup and they get milk from dairy farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones (which is actually rather non-American in style). And flavors include the basics, chocolate and vanilla, and a flavor of the week for variety.
Check out the custard calendar and find Shake Shack locations online here.
Larry’s Homemade Cupcakes and Ice Cream
This is a Dupont neighborhood mainstay with a classic ice cream parlor vibe. It’s so classic, in fact, that it operates like it’s 1980, with virtually no online presence (save a neglected blog)—just word of mouth. This is a business that relies on its product.
Look for the neon ice cream cone window sign at about knee height. Then, walk down the stairs to the cool, dessert sanctuary. You will have lots of rotating and interesting flavors to choose from—just don’t hesitate for long. This place is known for it’s gruff service. They will not coddle you, and you’ll pay a premium price, but the ice cream is great.
Larry’s Ice Cream and Cupcakes is located in Dupont Circle at 1633 Connecticut Ave NW. If you have questions, give Larry’s a ring at 202-234-2690.
Love n’ Faith Community Café
I just recently gave Love n’ Faith Community Cafe a go. You wouldn’t guess from the name, but this café has a pretty top-notch ice cream operation, involving not-overly-sweet, creamy flavors that are cooled and smoothed to perfection with liquid nitrogen. Bonus: When the baristas are in action, they look like mad scientists in the lab. Plus they have great coffee and muffins.
Trickling Springs Creamery @ Union Market
This stuff is organic, fresh and wholesome. From the producers of milkman-nostalgic jarred milk, Trickling Springs Creamery makes creamy, micro-batch, hand-packed ice cream too, and you can get it scooped at Union Market. Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, grapenut, coffee bean frappe, peanut butter, peppermint, salted caramel and many more.