Best Ice Cream Shops in NYC
Get the scoop on where to find great cones, shakes, sundaes and beyond in New York City.
Photo By: Alan Gastelum ©2014 Alan Gastelum ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Photo By: Alan Gastelum ©2014 Alan Gastelum ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Photo By: Donny Tsang
New York City's Best Ice Cream Shops
Summer in New York City can feel like a perpetual steam room with its heat and humidity. Luckily, there are ample opportunities to cool off, with jingling ice cream trucks and ice cream parlors all over town. The city is home to some of the world’s best ice cream; storefronts throughout the boroughs (and New Jersey) proffer a wide range of flavors, from upscale takes on classic vanilla to exotic, unexpected flavors like black sesame. Whether you want an old-school cone or pastry-chef-inspired treats, here’s the scoop on where locals go to cool down.
Photo by Alan Gastelum
This Brooklyn-based ice cream shop does the artisanally minded borough proud, with locally sourced hormone- and additive-free ice cream that is pasteurized in-house. The Williamsburg flagship offers 12 flavors of ice cream and sorbet as well as a selection of banana splits, sundaes — particularly excellent with Mast Brothers hot fudge or the signature Salted Caramel — an ice cream sandwich and the Cotton Candy Cone. Choices range from time-honored Tahitian vanilla, strawberry and Neapolitan to innovative, exotic choices like Cornbread, Miso-Cherry, Foie Gras and Maple-Bacon-Pecan. The new East Village storefront is slightly smaller, with eight alternating ice creams and sorbets.
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
This Lower East Side shop has brought the traditional ice cream parlor into the 21st century. A classically trained pastry chef and successful restaurateur, Nick Morgenstern highlights variations on individual flavors. Though simple Madagascar vanilla is available, the flavor appears elsewhere on the menu paired with bourbon, burnt honey, apple brandy, angel food or peppermint. Chocolate can be scooped as regular, bitter, salted or spiced with Szechuan peppercorns. Straying from the classic bases, Salt-and-Pepper Pine Nut and Fernet-Black Walnut are wholly inventive and refreshing. Go for a simple scoop or try the Salted Caramel Pretzel, a heaping pile of salted caramel ice cream mixed with caramel cakes and pretzel crunch, topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce.
Photo by Alan Gastelum Photography
Davey's Ice Cream
The excitement of this East Village shop starts at the street, with a brightly colored, vintage-style sign. The retro vibe continues to the exposed-brick walls, wooden counter and marble floors inside. Yet the product is anything but old-fashioned. There’s Asian-inspired Black Sesame, Whiskey Cinnamon Bun, with booze-glazed breakfast pastries and a blackberry swirl, and Ultra Babka, featuring baked chocolate and cinnamon bread from Moishe’s Bake Shop down the street. Everything on the menu can be converted into the customizable ice cream sandwiches, each rolled in your choice of topping. If you aim for nostalgia, sundaes and banana splits come piled high with all the right ingredients to have a good time. Each batch is made 100 percent from scratch, with dairy from local Battenkill Valley Creamery, in a four-day-long production process.
Big Gay Ice Cream
What started off as two guys and a soft-serve truck has since morphed into two NYC storefronts, a cookbook, and planned openings in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The company has built a reputation for its excellent, modern interpretations of classic soft-serve, and for its interesting and well-named topping combinations. Expect to see treats like the Bea Arthur: vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche and crushed Nilla wafers. Monday Sundae plunks a swirl of chocolate and vanilla swirl into a Nutella-lined cone with dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream on top. Shakes and floats come in flavors like Tang-Creamsicle, Ginger-Curry, Horchata and Chai. Crowds have thronged from day one, but in 2013 owners Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff reinvented the formula with organic, humane and sustainable products from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, for an even better — and ethically sound — end result.
Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Owned and operated by the Seid family for nearly three decades, the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is one of the oldest continually running restaurants in Manhattan’s most-bustling cultural enclave. Though there are classic flavors like Rocky Road, Pumpkin Pie and Strawberry, many take a cue from the shop’s neighborhood and include a Chinese twist. Freshen your palate with sweet lychee, or try Almond Cookie, Black Sesame, Green Tea, Taro Root and the excellent Don Tot (egg custard). If you’re feeling adventurous, go for the durian, the notorious stink fruit that’s so aromatic it’s been banned from Singapore public transportation. It’s a real treat.
Sundaes and Cones
The interior of this East Village ice cream parlor feels like it’s been plucked straight from the pages of a shabby-chic magazine. Dark-gray wainscoting capped with a stark white chair rail gives the place a feminine tea-party mystique. The old-fashioned white benches out front are ideal for alfresco feasting. The cases in the back of the space house a rainbow-colored assortment of goods: deep-hued Chocolate, espresso-swirled Tiramisu, yellow Corn, aromatic Lavender. In addition to the proprietary selections, the shop also features a wide array of Asian-inspired flavors, including Red Bean, Mango, Taro and the highly regarded Black Sesame.
New Jersey gets a lot of attention for its Italian restaurants, but Brooklyn has long lured cannoli cravers who are in the know. In 1976, three Italian brothers opened a bakery in Williamsburg’s Italian district; it became a staple in a sea of change. The neighborhood has grown from a blue-collar hub to the hippest in the city, yet Fortunato’s is still beloved. The shop serves an excellent selection of authentic cookies, cakes and pastries — including standard-setting cannoli. The gelato is much the same: You won’t find any newfangled flavors or techniques, but you will find luscious frozen treats to rival the best in the boot. From Vanilla to Chocolate-Hazelnut and chip-studded Stracciatella, the gelato here is like a true taste of la dolce vita.
Ample Hills Creamery
Named for a passage in Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Ample Hills Creamery opened with the stated goal of creating a community through ice cream. And it worked. At its Prospect Heights shop (and now its locations in Gowanus and Brooklyn Bridge Park), locals converge over scoops of cleverly concocted flavors like Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and the Munchies, a sweet-salty bonanza of pretzel-infused ice cream with Ritz crackers, potato chips, pretzels and mini M&M's. Signature items include the perfectly named Salted Crack Caramel, salted caramel ice cream with chunks of chocolate-covered crackers, and Sweet as Honey, a sweet cream base dotted with honeycomb candy. The heavenly results are ethically conscious, as well: All eggs are cage-free, and dairy is free from hormones or other unwanted additives.
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
If the ice cream man went back in time a half-century — before the hormones, antibiotics and highly processed foods — he would likely serve Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. With six old-fashioned trucks and four apothecary-style stores spread throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, these scoop shops of yesteryear serve products made from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The dairy is the highest quality. All the other ingredients (cane sugar, egg yolks, fruit, chocolates, spices and nuts) are sourced from small-scale producers in NYC and beyond. Options are simple yet sophisticated, with flavors such as Pistachio, Ginger, Earl Grey Tea, and Currants and Cream. A vegan line includes options like Mint Chocolate Chip, Salted Caramel and Coffee Crunch. There are no stabilizers, gums or thickeners, just top-notch organic coconut milk and cashew milk as the base.
The city’s most-authentic Italian gelato fittingly comes from the motherland itself. The West Village outpost of the Turin-based chain uses ancient, time-tested methods to create its authentic scoops, all without any colorings, unnatural flavoring agents, emulsifiers or preservatives — just high-quality milk and eggs. Owners Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti scour the world to find the best ingredients possible, including fresh fruit from the company’s own farm. Nuts, chocolate and coffee come from top-notch producers, meaning a Pistachio that’s nuttier and richer than the competition, and a Dark Chocolate deeply flavored with Venezuelan Ocumare. The coffee tastes like a creamy cup of espresso, a fitting tribute to Grom’s homeland.
Eddie's Sweet Shop
Decorated with antique-influenced tin ceilings, hexagonal floor tiles and early 20th-century-style menus, old-fashioned ice cream parlors are a growing trend in NYC. Eddie’s Sweet Shop, however, is purely original. This Forest Hills, Queens, storefront has been serving scoops for nearly a century. Some new flavors have been introduced, and the prices have certainly changed, but much has remained the same, including the ambiance. And apart from a few new introductions, most of the recipes go back 100 years. Scoops range from Butter Pecan, Vanilla and Rum Raisin to Cherry Vanilla, Coffee Chip and Maple Walnut. The portions are massive, but for even more, try the Banana Royal: three huge scoops of whatever ice cream you like, with sliced banana, your syrup of choice, a lofty layer of homemade whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts and a cherry on top, served in a fluted oblong dish.
Milk Sugar Love
This Jersey City ice cream parlor is named for its three primary ingredients, give or take some Earl Grey and fudge in one, and lemon and olive oil in another. Ginger ice cream, swirled with mandarin sorbet, goes into the Ginger Creamsicle. And then there’s the Honey Lavender. Each unique flavor combination is made by hand from organic milk and cream, as well as the best produce the Garden State has to offer. Twelve rotating flavors are offered daily, along with a handful of mainstays. And the sundaes are flawless. Toppings span from classic chocolate sauce to vanilla cake bites and chocolate cookie crumbles. Build one yourself or opt for the monthly sundae collaborations, available on weekends. Those include selections like the Roman Nose Authentic Italian Kitchen, a combination of Honeyed Ricotta ice cream, amaretto cookie crunch, Mast Brothers dark chocolate shavings, strawberry balsamic sauce, local honey, fresh mint and whipped cream.