Regional Frozen Treats You Have to Try Before Summer Ends

Start adding these to your bucket list.

July 25, 2022
By: Patty Lee

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Michigan: Superman Ice Cream

From deep-dish pizza in Chicago to beignets in New Orleans, the United States is teeming with regional foods, each with its own special history and culinary tradition. The same is true when it comes to frozen treats — each part of the country has its own local favorite, some with roots in other nations, while others are uniquely American innovations. No matter how different they are, there’s one thing America’s regional icy desserts have in common: They’ll keep you deliciously cool.

Story has it that Stroh’s Brewery in Detroit started churning out ice cream instead of beer during the Prohibition era, leading to the creation of the Midwest’s most colorful treat: Superman ice cream. Despite the moniker, there’s no direct relation between this scoop and its namesake comic book hero. It supposedly got the name because its bright blue, red and yellow color scheme matched the Man of Steel’s uniform, but since the flavor has never been officially endorsed, it’s also referred to by an array of other titles: Super Scoop, Super Hero and Scooperman, to name a few. No matter what it’s called, the ice cream is typically made from the same three flavors: lemon, Red Pop (a strawberry soda) and Blue Moon, another Midwestern creation of uncertain origins that many say tastes like a combination of vanilla pudding, marshmallow and citrus.

Hawaii: Shave Ice

Shave ice came to Hawaii by way of Japan, where its original form — called kakigori — had been enjoyed since the 11th century. Japanese immigrants who came to labor on the islands’ pineapple and sugar fields in the 1800s started producing a form of the frozen treat by shaving ice with their work tools and dousing them in sugar or juice. Since then, shave ice has taken on its own unique identity and style. The Hawaiian version features ice that’s shaved to create soft, snow-like mounds. They’re topped with a variety of syrups and depending on the vendor (and your tastes), capped with mochi, sweetened red beans, condensed milk or even ice cream.

Rhode Island: Awful Awful

Though it’s now considered a Rhode Island specialty, Awful Awfuls were actually created in New Jersey by the now-shuttered Bond’s Ice Cream. The milkshake-like concoction got its name from a customer, who dubbed it "awful big and awful good." A combination of flavored syrup and ice milk (a low-fat form of ice cream), the Awful Awful made its way north when the Newport Creamery licensed the name and recipe (they later bought the trademark when Bond’s went bankrupt) and it still sells it in an awfully big 32-ounce size. Another ice cream shop with a much bigger reach had also licensed the Awful Awful: Friendly’s. But since the contract mandated their licensees had to stop selling if they expanded into New Jersey, the chain adopted a new name that’s still in use today, the Fribble.

San Francisco: It’s-It

There are ice cream sandwiches and then there are It’s-Its, a sweet treat that was invented in San Francisco by amusement park owner George Whitney. He came up with the now-iconic Californian confection — featuring a scoop of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between oatmeal raisin cookies, then dipped in chocolate — and sold it at one of his beachside shops until it closed in the 1970s. The It’s-It recipe and name eventually made its way to the Shamieh family, who started mass producing the decadent ice cream sandwiches for sale across the U.S. and online. There are now five variations available: the original vanilla, along with chocolate, mint chip, cappuccino and strawberry.

Wisconsin: Frozen Custard

It’s no surprise that Wisconsin, also known as America’s Dairyland, would have a favorite ice cream treat. While frozen custard is now synonymous with the Midwest, it’s not its birthplace. The Kohr brothers had invented the richer, creamier cousin to ice cream for selling on New York City’s Coney Island boardwalk — adding egg yolks to a traditional ice cream base helped it melt more slowly — and Wisconsinites adopted it as a way to keep local breweries running during Prohibition. With ready access to both milk and ice, frozen custard became a natural fit. Stands started popping up across the country selling frozen custard and continue to be a beloved destination by Wisconsinites and visitors alike.

New Orleans: Sno-Balls

In 1934, New Orleanian Ernest Hansen invented the first motor-run shaved ice machine, making it easier than ever before to make NOLA’s signature frozen dessert, the sno-ball. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Hansen and his wife started slinging shaved ice topped with syrups at their stand, Hansen’s Sno-Bliz — yes, the same Hansen’s Sno-Bliz that still exists today (now run by a third generation of Hansens). Unlike snow cones, sno-balls feature finely shaved ice, not the pebbly kind, which better absorb the vibrant syrups that are layered on. They’re a quintessential treat for cooling off during New Orleans’ sweltering summers.

Pennsylvania: Water Ice

No trip to Pennsylvania would be complete without cheesesteaks, pretzels and water ice. Known more widely as Italian ice, the frozen treat made from water, sugar and flavoring (usually fruit) is ubiquitous across the state. Rita’s, one of the most recognizable makers of water ice, actually got its start in Pennsylvania — it was founded by retired Bensalem firefighter Bob Tumolo. While Rita’s may be the most well-known outside of the state, Pennsylvania is home to a number of mom-and-pop operations who specialize in the icy confection, each with their own special flavors.