An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Jun 23, 2014
08:45 AMThe Connecticut Table
Summer Guide to Best Gourmet and Homemade Ice Cream in Connecticut
Editor's Note: In honor of the official arrival of summer June 21, we're scooping back in time to revive a June 2012 story on the best ice cream shops in Connecticut to help sweetly guide your travels around the state. Our friends at CTbites had the same idea (first) and just posted Connecticut's Best Dairy Farm Ice Cream: 2014 Edition. Let us know if anything has changed at any of our favorite places, or tell us about new spots with gourmet homemade ice cream and we'll add them to the list.
Summer just isn’t summer without ice cream—and fresh, homemade ice cream from a local stand or shop is the best way to enjoy it. With that in mind, here are 25 great places to get you started.
The Collins Creamery
Enfield • (860) 749-8663 • thecollinscreamery.com
As you drive along a quiet side road and up Powder Hill, passing red barns, grazing Holstein cows, open fields and picnic tables, and then turn into the dirt parking lot of The Collins Creamery, you may feel as if you’re being transported to a bygone era; once you taste the ice cream made here, your journey is complete. Even though it was founded only 15 years ago, the family-run creamery has been a huge hit, with people lining up to try the 20 different flavors of hard ice cream including fan favorites black raspberry and coconut chocolate chip. You can also take it home in half gallons, quarts and pints, as well as ice cream sandwich six packs.
Big Dipper Ice Cream Factory
Prospect • (203) 758-3200
Big Dipper was once the very special province of Harry Rowe, the quintessential ice cream man who, beginning in 1986, made his product fresh every day and scooped it for customers with the undisguised glee of a bachelor uncle. Rowe has passed on, but his legacy continues in this freestanding little house on Waterbury Road. The flavors change from day to day, but the true stars, like the justifiably celebrated toasted almond, never leave the menu. Our recent double scoop of toasted almond and chocolate (the cost is determined by weight) remains a very pleasant memory.
Bridgeport • (203) 366-7496 • timothysicecream.weebly.com
This no-nonsense ice cream shop is an institution in the Black Rock section of town. Its classic rich ice cream is made right here by Timothy himself in a multitude of flavors. French vanilla, sweet cream, Dutch chocolate, Oreo, strawberry, chocolate-chip and coffee are always available along with alternating flavors like caramel crunch, peach, toasted almond and mint chip. The Black Rock, a combo of French vanilla and chocolate-covered almonds, is a neighborhood fave. Crispy waffle bowls and whipped cream are made fresh at the counter all day.
Praline’s Ice Cream
Wallingford • (203) 284-8847 • pralinesownmade.com
Other Locations: Berlin, Farmington, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Milford, Plainville, Rocky Hill, Southington
How can a local ice cream parlor have so many locations? Here’s the scoop: The first Praline’s Ice Cream was opened in 1984 in Wallingford by owners Donna and the late Joe Torre who churned fresh ice cream every day in the small store’s back room. But the Torres were thinking big: Two years later, they began offering franchises. Now a dozen Praline Ice Cream shops in nine Connecticut towns serve the same dreamy treat that’s still made in Wallingford—and in 53 flavors including its signature Beez-Neez.
Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream
Mystic • (860) 572-7978 • mysticdrawbridgeicecream.com
What’s great about Mystic Drawbridge is that it’s merely one of many diversions to be found in the center of town—close enough to the Mystic River’s iconic bascule bridge for you to watch the boats come and go, steps away from countless quirky little shops, a few minutes’ drive from Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport. We love the “Drawbridge Originals“ flavors—particularly Lemon Chocolate Kiss, Kahlua mocha fudge and a new concoction, Seaport Salty Swirl (with peanuts, peanut butter and “soggy resistant“ chocolate-covered pretzels). For full gustatory satisfaction, start your visit with selections from the full café menu (paninis, salads, wraps)—or simply take on the Brownie Overload sundae.
New London • (860) 443-2464 • michaelsdairynl.com
Managed by students from Mitchell College, Michael’s is hosting a summer with plenty of value added: family-friendly First Friday Sock Hops through Sept. 7, Local Flavor acoustic music concerts at 6:30 June 22 and Aug. 17, and a Kids Fest July 20. Also, this year the dairy has expanded its off-site event catering, which means you can have enough of your favorite flavors—Milk & Cookies, white pistachio, Cowabunga Crunch—to serve up to 2,000 people at a birthday party or corporate event. We envision an ice-cream wedding with scoops of extreme chocolate so large you need two hands to lift the cups/cones. But we also appreciate the “extra small“ serving for $2.25, which allows one to savor the goods (almost) guilt-free.
Bantam • (860) 361-6600 • arethusafarms.com
In 1999, George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, the owners of Manolo Blahnik USA, bought a dairy farm in Litchfield and began breeding champion Jersey, Holstein and Brown Swiss dairy cows. In time, they began marketing the milk, and now they have their very own dairy shop in a thoroughly renovated old brick building in the center of Bantam. With the cows contentedly grazing five miles away and the very up-to-date ice cream-making machinery in plain sight in the rear of the store, the freshness and richness of the product is impeccable. We had a chocolate-coconut combo and marveled at its deliciously dense, almost chewy, consistency.
J. Foster Ice Cream
Simsbury (860) 651-1499 • Avon (860) 676-2663 • jfostericecream.com
One time IBMer John D’Archangelo opted for the sweeter world of ice cream in 2003, opening a shop (named after his grandfather) in Simsbury. He had a knack for the business, and soon there was a J. Foster in Avon, too. The shops purvey 32 ice cream flavors as well as a handful of gelatos and sorbets, including such D’Archangelo creations as Cashew Caramel, Oreo Bomb gelato (a 1st-prize winner from the Connecticut Food Association) and Graham Central Station (graham cracker-flavored ice cream, crystallized-graham swirl and chocolate-covered graham pieces). Aficionados will also be forever grateful for innovations such as the chocolate-chip cookie slider and the carrot cake sandwich—two “slices“ of carrot cake with cream cheese icing ice cream in between.
Ashley’s Ice Cream
New Haven • (203) 776-7744 • ashleysicecream.net
Other locations: Hamden, Branford, Madison, Guilford
Named for famous Frisbee-catching dog Ashley Whippet, Ashley’s Ice Cream originated in 1979 in New Haven and has since expanded to Hamden, Branford, Madison and Guilford. Proudly using only natural flavors, natural colorings, and, when possible, local ingredients, this former “Best of Connecticut“ winner offers premium award-winning ice cream in an astounding variety of flavors. From tried-and-true standbys, like butter crunch and chocolate chip, to more unique offerings, such as Amaretto chip and Havana Banana, and seasonal favorites like Egg Nog and Pumpkin Latte, it’s no wonder that Ashley’s has been satisfying New Haven County’s sweet tooth for over 30 years.
Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream
Griswold • (860) 376-4081 • buttonwoodfarmicecream.com
Always pretty (we’re convinced that “Griswold“ is the Native American name for “land of crisscrossing stone walls“), Buttonwood Farm truly blossoms in July with its annual fund-raiser “Sunflowers for Wishes.“ Head there mid-month and you’ll see 14 acres ablaze with towering golden blooms—better still, attend the actual event, July 21-29, and buy a cut bouquet for $5. Since 2004, Buttonwood has raised more than $500,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut. Add tractor-drawn hayrides, 40 homemade flavors—from Forbidden Silk Chocolate to Purple Cow (we’re partial to the brand-new Monkey Business, banana ice cream with mini-peanut butter cups), a dose of blue-sky summer—and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect outing.
Oxford • (203) 881-1040 • richfarmicecream.com
A former “Best of Connecticut“ winner, Rich Farm ice cream continues to take its inspiration from the Rich family who runs the operation—it’s certainly “rich“ (and creamy!), as the hundreds who trek to Oxford to wait in line for the oversized cones and cups can attest. Twenty-six flavors are available daily, including German chocolate cake, Cookie Monster and Razzmanian Devil, plus other specialty flavors that are rotated in on a regular basis, such as Orange Dreamsicle (orange cream ice cream with crushed pineapple), English toffee (vanilla with Heath Bar pieces) or Full Moon Chocolate (double chocolate ice cream with fudge swirl, only available on days with a full moon).
Cheshire • (203) 272-4237 • sweetclaudes.com
There’s a whole lot of sweet in this little red house on the hill. Now in it’s 25th year, Sweet Claude’s of Cheshire makes all of its wonderfully refreshing ice cream as well as its hot fudge on the premises. In addition to the two dozen ice cream flavors available daily, including caramel cashew, black raspberry and Claude’s Cupcake, Sweet Claude’s offers a variety of tofutti, frozen yogurt, and sorbet flavors. Flavors of the week, such as chocolate raspberry truffle, highlighted banana concoctions, such as Banana Heath Bar, and ID-required “adult“ flavors, like Bailey’s Irish Cream, round out the sweet offerings from this quintessential ice cream shop.
West Hartford • (860) 233-8483 • acpetersenfarms.com
This West Hartford landmark, located in its original art deco building, is the place to sip an old-fashioned malt. Milk shakes still made in the vintage blender come in two-, three- or four-scoop sizes. And we dare you to finish the Petersen Royal, a seven-scoop, two-topping (one of which must be the hot fudge) banana split covered in hand-whipped heavy cream. Select ice cream flavors, like the original divine creamy vanilla, are made on site.
Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream Shop
Bethel (203) 792-4388 • Monroe (203) 452-0499
It’s not quantity but quality that matters at Dr. Mike’s. The small shop, located slightly out-of-the-way off Main Street in Bethel, is where Dr. Mike’s cranks out some of the most heavenly ice cream around, and they keep it simple by offering only about eight flavors each day. The extra-chocolaty Rich Chocolate is known worldwide (Gourmet magazine called it “best chocolate in the world“) and the chocolate lace cream—the most popular flavor—is a mix of sweet cream with pieces of Hauser chocolate that’s made right across the street. Sundaes consist of large scoops of your favorite flavors covered in molten hot fudge and freshly whipped cream—eating one is a life-altering experience.
Walnut Beach Creamery
Milford • (203) 878-7738 • walnutbeachcreamery.com
We wandered into Walnut Beach Creamery one day in early spring when owner Susan Patrick just happened to be finishing up a fresh batch of Banana Bread ice cream. How could we say no to the offer of a cup? We couldn’t, and by our second or third spoonful we could see the whole summer arrayed before us, a succession of sunny days spent by the beach with a different flavor of ice cream every evening just before the sun goes down. And what better place for that than this charming spot (it’s on the cover), where the mission is “to make every batch by hand with a single-batch freezer and the freshest ingredients we can find.“ Oh, and that Banana Bread flavor? Very nice.
West Simsbury • (860) 658-1430 • tulmeadowfarmstore.com
Tullers have been farming this 265-acre plot since 1768. That’s staying power. A big factor in their continuing success in recent years is the gourmet 16 percent butterfat ice cream they’ve made here since 1994. There are more than 50 rich and creamy flavors—tasty confections like coconut chocolate chip, Birthday Cake, coffee Oreo and top-seller Red Razz Chocolate Chip (along with ice cream pies, sandwiches and ice cream on a stick). And while you can now get Tulmeadow Ice Cream by the quart at Whole Foods and lots of smaller stores in the area, we recommend a stop at the farm for a cone or cup—and a trip back to a simpler time.
Salem Valley Farms
Salem • (860) 859-2980 • salemvalleyfarmsicecream.com
Is the presence of a hula-hoop playground on the property a not-so-subtle hint to “work it off?“ (Only if that means we can eat more ice cream.) Rotating nearly 80 flavors at their seasonal peak, the folks at Salem Valley make everything in-house—from 16 percent butterfat to low fat and vegan—with the exception of sugar-free ice cream (they still offer two flavors every day). Favorites include bubble gum, mocha almond and peppermint stick, but we were drawn to a special European-style experiment this April: basil ice cream. Yep, we likey, well enough to order it again. Bigger appetites—hula-hoops be damned—will love the Salem Sampler, three to four substantial scoops for $5.15-$6.15.
Il Bacio Ice Cream
Danbury • (203) 794-1184
Don’t be put off by the tiny strip-mall digs—Il Bacio delivers a lot in a very small space. Tony and Gina Nascimento have been making ice cream here for 24 years, and it’s definitely the ice cream you dream about, made with a blend of fresh creams from local dairies and fresh fruits and other ingredients. Creative wizard Tony has come up with 400 flavors over the years, and features an ever-changing roster of 30 on a daily basis—yummy handmade concoctions like banana chocolate chip, pineapple cheesecake, chocolate-covered strawberry and Devil Dog. In addition to an array of fine Italian ices, there’s a caseful of ice cream cakes and sandwiches, chocolate-covered bananas and pre-packed pints.
Mortensen’s Ice Cream
Newington & Cromwell • (860) 666-8219
Decades ago, Elmer Mortensen delivered milk by horse and wagon from his dairy farm; today, his sons deliver their own handmade ice cream. On any given day, 50 of Mortensen’s 125 different specialty flavors are available at either of its locations—the one on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, which has been open for 35 years and is also a year-round restaurant, or the 13-year-old ice cream-only shop in Cromwell. Favorites include Amaretto cherry chip, toasted almond fudge, Vermont maple walnut and wicked chocolate, but for those who can’t get enough of Mortensen’s (and a few dozen of their hungry friends), there’s the gut-busting Wheelbarrow Sundae: 200 (!) scoops of ice cream with nuts, bananas and whipped cream, all served in a 4-cubic-foot wheelbarrow. (Call ahead!)
Wentworth Homemade Ice Cream Company
Hamden (203) 281-7429 • Wallingford (203) 265-2814
Need a refreshing break after a hike up Sleeping Giant Mountain or a round of golf? Or maybe you just need to satisfy a sweet craving with some of the richest, creamiest ice cream around. If so, look no further than Wentworth’s. Huge portions of homemade flavors await you in this Victorian-era house with a gazebo and seating area in the spacious back yard. Whether you’re looking for a classic flavor, such as cookies and cream or something more unique, like Black Velvet (a dark chocolate confection that tastes exactly like a fudgsicle), you’ll find it amongst the dozens of flavors offered here. Don’t forget the doggie bag—Wentworth’s also offers K-9 Crunch (vanilla with bits of kibble mixed in) for your four-legged friends at home.
Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe & Cafe
Old Lyme • (860) 434-6942 • oldlymeicecream.com
We’d be poor candidates for the O’LICS Challenge, which requires one to consume two scoops of each of the 16 flavors on hand laden with every topping the shop offers—from candy and nuts to whipped cream with cherries on top. (Since Old Lyme’s opening in 2000, only one group of six intrepid high-school students have even come close to polishing it off.) We met our match with a combo of the superrich Caramel Macchiato and Beer Brittle—the latter made by Connecticut’s own Brewer’s Cow—which, we suppose, allowed us to raise our blood-alcohol level and sober up at the same time. That’s far more than a mere cheap thrill when enjoyed while strolling along Old Lyme’s quaint and verdant Main Street.
UConn Dairy Bar
Storrs • (860) 486-2634 • dairybar.uconn.edu
Since 1953, the University of Connecticut has been churning its own ice cream at the Dairy Bar, the product of its herd of cows and the labor of its students. You can also visit those cows and watch the ice cream being made in the creamery, which is right behind the dairy bar. Oh, and the delicious end result: a minimum of 24 flavors available for cones, sundaes, sandwiches, shakes, floats and more. Husky Tracks—vanilla ice cream with fudge swirl and Reese’s peanut butter cups—is always popular, as is Jonathan Supreme, featuring vanilla, peanut butter swirl and chocolate-covered peanuts. (UConn prez Susan Herbst orders the coconut when it’s available.) You can always take home a half gallon to enjoy later, too!
Ferris Acres Creamery
Newtown • (203) 426-8803 • ferrisacrescreamery.com
Ferris Acres has everything you could possibly want in a homemade ice cream spot. It’s located square in the middle of a working dairy farm (the last one in Fairfield County), with tractors rumbling by and views of stone walls and pastures to enjoy; there’s a full menu of sundaes, cakes, shakes, ice cream sodas and even soft-serve on offer; customers are taken care of in a friendly, heads-up manner; and the ice cream is delicious. We were tempted by the vanilla with caramel and chocolate-covered pretzels, and the chocolate with peanut butter sauce and mini Reese’s cups, but finally took a scoop each of black cherry and maple walnut, a terrific combo that we will have again—and again.
Fish Family Farm
Bolton • (860) 646-9745 • fishfamilyfarm.com
As Fish Family Farm is one of the few dairy farms in the state that bottles and pasteurizes milk from its own herd of Jersey cows, you know the ice cream made here is truly fresh. As it’s a small, family-run operation—daughter Sandy does the scooping—there are no sundaes (or any other ice cream) on Sundays. Still, you can enjoy them—in addition to cones and, new this year, shakes—the rest of the week. Also new are longer hours: ice cream will now be scooped from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fifteen of a possible 30 flavors are always available, including favorites chocolate chip cookie dough, coffee, black raspberry and vanilla. Fish Family Farm ice cream is also packed in cartons and available in the dairy shop to take home.
Brown Cow Cafe
Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm, Sterling • (860) 564-0248 • ekonkhillturkeyfarm.com
Part of Ekonk Hill’s farm store—which also offers farmstead cheeses, baked goods, heritage turkeys, maple syrup and gourmet snacks from everywhere—the Brown Cow offers at least one treat that’s in a class by itself, the Very Berry Pie Sundae. Take (in our case) a slice of blueberry pie, top it with black currant ice cream, strawberries, raspberries and a cloud of whipped cream, and you’ve reached Nirvana (everything is grown/made on the farm except the cherry on top). On any given day 15 out of 25 total flavors are on hand, including seasonal favorites like cucumber and corn, and Blossom’s Delight (butter pecan with butterscotch bits and crumbled vanilla cookie), named after Ekonk’s signature Jersey cow. While visiting, be sure to greet the lambs, ducks and chickens penned next to the barns.
Peaches 'N Cream Ice Cream
632 Torrington Road, Litchfield • (860) 496-7536 • peachesncreamicecream.com
This modest shop on Route 202 near the Litchfield/Torrington line makes all its ice cream on site, along with its own hot fudge, fresh fruit toppings in the summer, whipeed cream and waffle cones. But they don’t make anything boring, especially when it comes to flavors; think Mango Sorbet, Pina Colada, the signature Peach, along with Blueberry, Red Raspberry and so much more. Try the milkshakes and banana splits, and the waffle bowl sundaes.
Obviously, we couldn’t include every ice cream shop in Connecticut—did we miss your favorite? Tell us whose treats you’d you drive across the state for on our Facebook page or via Twitter @connecticutmag.