No doubt about it; I’m an ice cream lover. But lately, there’s been two things weighing me down about it — and not just the actual pounds stemming from my five-scoop-a-week summer diet (hey, there’s been a heat wave around here):
1) It is nearly impossible to get a ‘small’ in New York City for under $6.
2) Textures have been disappointing; iciness abounds where creaminess should rule.
So imagine how delighted I was to discover the phenomenal-ness (is that a word? It should be.) of Philadelphia’s ice cream scene. No $6 icy scoops here. Instead, a concentration of impeccable options – even just within downtown — that are lush, dense and under $5 for a single cup.
It makes sense, then, that this weekend Philly hosted its sixth annual Ultimate Philadelphia Ice Cream Festival at Reading Terminal Market. But you don’t need a festival to get your ice cream fix in the City of Brotherly Love. Any time is ideal for a self-led tour — so long as you bring cash (most don’t accept cards) and go before 1:30 p.m. to avoid lines. So where to go? Here’s the scoop:
Bassetts Ice Cream
Bassetts isn’t just the oldest stand in Reading Terminal. Established in 1861, it’s also the oldest ice cream company in the country. So yeah, these guys are kind-of a big deal. To wit: locals queued up at 9 a.m. to eat ice cream before going to work. Yes, really. What makes it so good? An unbelievably smooth and creamy texture (thank you, milk fat!); an ideal ratio of ice cream to chunks, chips, ribbons and bits; and lots of flavors with unique stories behind them. Also important: a small comes with two scoops. Two!
Try: Butterscotch Vanilla, Guatemalan Ripple
45 North 12th St., BassettsIceCream.com, 215-925-4315
Ice cream buffs will snub me for including gelato on this list. I don’t care. The two are interrelated in my book. Capogiro is a newer kid on the block (opened in 2002, it now has four locations in the city), but that hasn’t stopped it from getting on every food reviewers ‘places-to-eat-before-you-die’ list. That’s probably because the texture is so light and fluffy you want to cry happy tears. Lots of them. But it’s also got the organic and locally-sourced thing down pat, plus a trove of flavors to try. And try you can; they’re very generous with samples — though, truth be told, you may encounter a miniscule sigh when verging on your, err, ninth.
Try: Thai Coconut Milk, Ciccolato Scuro (dark chocolate), Susina Zucchero (sugar plum). Note: Flavors vary by day and location.
119 South 13th St. (original location), CapogiroGelato.com, 215-351-0900
The Franklin Fountain
You know an establishment is top-notch when local competitors insist you try it. Thanks to Bassetts’ owner Michael Strange, I ventured down near the water, to Philly’s Old City, to check out this 1800s-style soda shop. I was glad I did — and not just because its bespectacled and bearded employees are dressed to style and ridiculously nice. The shop has the nostalgic-hook nailed, and an immense menu to boot: egg creams, ice cream sodas, phosphates, sundaes and handmade hard ice creams galore, all made with dairy from New York’s Long Acre Farms. It eschews food coloring and uses local, organic ingredients whenever possible. But most importantly: the ice cream is unquestionably divine, with 14 percent milkfat that gives it a delectable — but not too rich — texture.
Try: Franklin Mint Chip, Hydrox Cookie
116 Market St., FranklinFountain.com, 215-627-1899
For those who love their ice cream super sweet and chock-full of gooey, crunchy or gummy goodies, this parlor is a must. Try not to get distracted by its fun pink walls loaded with kitschy decor — you’ll need all the focus you can muster to tackle its monster make-your-own-flavor menu. Options are seemingly endless, with roughly a dozen hard ice creams (from Bassetts and Potts) and 50-plus mix-ins and toppings. Although the blends are what it’s most known for, you can opt for plain ice cream, too — new flavors worth a nibble include Red Velvet Cake and Birthday Cake.
Try: Peanut Butter Cookie Crunch (cookies and cream ice cream mixed with cookie dough pieces, peanut butter cups and Cap’n Crunch cereal)
1734 Chestnut St., ScoopDeVille.com, 215-988-9992
Craving a frozen treat but can’t make it to Philly?