There are few things that can’t be improved by ice cream. Whether celebrating a birthday or nursing heartache, ice cream is arguably one of the most dependable foods, brought out for both comfort and celebration. When it comes to certain fares — pies, wafer cookies, brownies, sweet crepes — ice cream is practically a staple. And then there are cuisines in which ice cream is absolutely necessary in order to make the dish: sundaes, banana splits, milkshakes, soda floats. Yet, despite its versatility, part of ice cream’s distinctiveness is also its limited portability: because ice cream needs to stay cold to be, well, ice cream, it’s often restricted to freezer-adjacent situations. This is perhaps why we associate ice cream with comfort. Home is literally where the ice cream is.
As such, going out for ice cream becomes its own treat. Most of us have experienced the distinct joy of walking down a sweltering street with ice cream cone in hand, or indulged in ordering an ice cream sundae for dessert. In such scenarios, we’re willing to pay more for less cream than we’d get at our local grocer because what we’re also buying is the experience.
These days, ice cream shops have become even more committed to making ice cream consumption an adventure, offering a large selection of increasingly surprising flavors. Not only is ice cream as a food exceptionally versatile, but so too are its flavors. In scouting out some of the best boutique ice cream vendors in America, we also noted some trends: caramel is almost always salted, herbed fruit is a popular combination, as is fancy and weird mixings in more traditional ice cream flavors. Here, we feature some of our favorites — sampled from a plethora of weird, zany, and, of course, delicious flavors.