Let's Talk Ice Cream

I found myself in Santa Cruz the other weekend, eating a fat bowl of Marianne's ice cream at 11 in the morning when it hit me: San Francisco ice cream sucks.  In fact, whenever I dive into a waffle cone in other cities, I find myself wondering where San Francisco went wrong.

That's not to say San Francisco doesn't have any good ice cream.  Anyone who claims Mitchell's sucks, especially when it's done up as a sundae at St. Francis, is a damn fool.  Berkeley Farms is pretty legit for an ice cream that's stored next to frozen pizzas in- Safeway.  And It's-Its are the retired jersey of ice cream sandwiches: untouchable.  But the bulk of the ice creameries in SF just don't cut it.

Let's consider this graph:

In short: most SF ice cream is pretentious, some of it is good, much of it is only marginally better than dog feces, and I have too much time on my hands.

I don't mean SF ice cream is pretentious as in you see people gripping their cones with their pinky sticking out in the air and holding a monocle to their eye.  Rather, it's more about how needlessly 'weird' our ice creameries are.  Would a 6-year-old eat Humphry Slocombe's balsamic vinaigrette ice cream?  No, because it tastes like ass.  This is the beauty of children: they come with absolutely no pretenses.  Kids won't eat something because it was 'creative' or challenging to make; they eat what tastes rad.  Any child that finds themself tugging at their mom's hips for a scoop of “Boccalone Prosciutto” has clearly lived in this town for far too long.

So what the fuck is up? Why is San Francisco a decent ice cream black hole?  I'm no expert on this subject, I cannot help but feel the Straus base is to blame.  Something about locally-sourced, organic ingredients appears to make ice cream makers lose their goddamn mind and start filling their scoops with shit that just doesn't belong in ice cream.  Whereas Mitchell's and Marianne's is just a delicious concoction of sugar mixed with candy and other flavoring agents, Humphry Slocombe, Bi-Rite and Xanath mix goose liver and olive oil into their ice cream and caters to people who think eating food on the sidewalk is a “movement.”

Why can't I just find a place that will serve me 5 scoops of moose tracks in this town?  It's keeping me up at night.

(Marianne's photo by Liralen Li)

Comments (51)

that is because Farrell’s is no longer around ( I think).

Good ice cream but bad service. I will never go there again. Rude kids that work there went there on ½7/2012 a girl named Ariel was very rude and there was guy there to was not friendly. I give 5 stars for food 0 for service

I would mention that I’ve heard some pretty awful things about the owner of Marianne’s.

I’ve heard similar things, although the owner recently put the place on the market for something like $1.5million. Maybe the new management won’t be such assholes?

I agree about humphries, they have 80% plain crazy flavors. But Birite? Nothing pretentious at all. Mint chip, toffee, chocolate. Maybe one or two odd flavors, but all delicious. And the nicest owners ever.

As a lifelong restaurant swabbie, I have a certain aversion to the Humphrie Slocombes of the ice cream universe for the same reason that I disdain new-school “cocktailians” with their twee “cocktail programs”–it all seems so studious, precious and overworked. It reminds so much of a brown-nosing goody-goody student trying oh-so-hard for that A+. I’ve worked with “chefs” and “bartenders” (I use the terms loosely with these types) who prize novelty and technique over palate-pleasing results.

More often than not, the “chef” or “bartender” in question is a newly minted grad from a private East Coast university with zero years of restaurant experience under their belts, and mummy and daddy to bankroll their business ventures. When you get a mind-bendingly trendy menu coupled with ungracious, sullen customer service, it’s from kiddies like these playing restaurant. We restaurant vets who find ourselves employed in places like these roll our eyes for about a week then leave–it’s just too painful.

If I understand your graph correctly, dog turds are not only more delicious than cat puke, but less pretentious as well?

I’d have to agree, dog turds are way lower brow than those pretentious cat pukes.

Cat puke transcends pretentiousness: it’s both unpretentious as it’s puke and pretentious as it’s a cat.

I generally don’t like eating hair. I also generally don’t like eating Slocombe (exceptions made for their sundaes and maybe secret breakfast), but if you held a gun to my head, I’d probably pick the “ice cream.” The dog pictured is defecating plops of ice cream, which definitely tastes better than cat puke and frozen goose liver.

A dog shitting ice cream is also more pretentious than many other alternatives, mainly because this is San Francisco and dogs are fashion accessories.

This graph should be revised to depict the dog shitting rainbow ice cream. Chocolate ice cream was visually a very bad choice. Right now it looks like he’s shitting ON ice cream. Please re post, thanx.

Ferrell’s is still around.

And you should have gone to the Penny Ice Creamery if you are going to eat ice cream in Santa Cruz.

Marianne’s is the only thing about Santa Cruz I could tolerate aftre living there for a year. Their peppermint stick ice cream is sublime. Game recognize game.

You clearly don’t know shit about ice cream or good food in general. Keep writing about what you know, “rich white boy desperately trying to be cool in the city” type things and we may keep reading…or not.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

You’re right. Trying new things is crazy pretentious.

An article judging San Francisco ice creameries with no mention of Swenson’s? Like it, hate it, or just indifferent - one can hardly claim any authority on the subject without even mentioning it.

Swensen’s is in Russian Hill, so the blogger probably doesn’t know about it. Joe’s and Polly Ann also deserve a mention, and Double Rainbow (available at 16th and Valencia) is based here.

I forgot Double Rainbow still exists, since the many shops that once dotted the City have all disappeared. Too bad; they make some good unpretentious ice cream and it was a lot more enjoyable hanging out in their shops than in a *$$ or Peet’s.

You can get Double Rainbow in many independent ice cream shops around the city, like Toy Boat on Clement, which will make custom ice cream cookie sandwiches from Double Rainbow scoops!

Oh man, when I lived in Santa Cruz I used to get Marianne’s all the time. GREAT ice cream.

In SF, I truly miss Bombay Ice Creamery, and I miss St. Francis Fountain’s ice cream even more. But Mitchell’s is still damnfine.

Agreed, Bombay was one of my favs.

I especially liked the cockroach flavor. Oh wait… that was all of them.

Maggie Mudd’s on Cortland is pretty decent, also.

What a waste. A poorly researched piece from an author with a strange perspective on food. The author alludes to the beautiful simplicity of ice cream; that a child should be the arbiter of what is good. So it is curious that the author seems to prefer ice cream laden with chemicals and preservatives. As though ice cream in its simplest, most basic and original form - the way I child would appreciate it - is made with twenty-to-thirty ingredients instead of four-to-six ingredients. Also, the weirdness of Slocombe’s flavors is something to be written about (although it’s already been done) and criticized, but you shouldn’t make up flavors (‘balsamic vinaigrette) in order to make your point.

I’m not clear on what you’re trying to say. Are you suggesting that Marianne’s and Mitchells’ are “laden with chemicals and preservatives”?

you hit the nail on a head in pointing out the lame assumption “that a child should be the arbiter of what is good.” childhood is beautiful, but i’m an adult, and i enjoy adult pleasures like sex, whiskey, and weed. it’s a good thing that ice cream shops in san francisco cater to adult palates, and it’s not like kids here can’t find a decent cone themselves. this argument is enough to refute the original post, chemicals and preservatives aside.

I also enjoyed all those things as a child. What’s your point?

I am shocked. I assumed you were a child.

I’d expect there aren’t as many plain-jane ice cream places because I’m gonna buy that shit for a few bucks a pint at the corner store, instead of trekking across town for yet another nearly identical cookies’n’cream.

Polly-Anne’s? Bill’s? No-nonsense, no yuppie bastardizations (and apparently, thankfully, no you). Add those to a list of places worth getting a scoop. Congratulations on spouting off Newbie. Controversy sells? Take the time to get to know and LOVE SF instead of rolling in from the land of sellout Ben Dreyer and Jerry Dreyer and bashing away.

Bro, ice cream places in the Outer Sunset and the Outer Richmond? We’re talking about San Francisco here.


Oh yeah, Joe’s on Geary is pretty good, too.

While I mourn the loss of Rory’s on Castro, I find solace in Mitchell’s. A lot of solace sometimes. Like three scoops’ worth. Avocado with chocolate dip, mmmmerci Mitchell’s….

LOVE Bud’s, too. And Joe’s on Geary, yum! The owner’s kid went to my high school, but I never got invited to his birthday parties, which is probably a good thing…

Like others have mentioned, Maggie Mudd’s and Polly Ann’s do the trick.

this thread is pretty hella. bombay’s sesame was also hella. but seriously why not as many replies on the canoodling post gah brah.

It’s never hot enough to enjoy ice cream here. That’s my theory. I found that our fair city lacked many things that I was used to growing up. Where are the grits and ham, where are the decent kaiser rolls, where are the grinders and cheese steaks, how bout a decent slice, can’t find it. California had a bunch of new and wonderful things like Anchor, and steak burritos. Over time some of these holes became filled. There is some sort pizza awakening going on. Brenda’s makes some damn fine grits and her oyster po boy is pretty great. I’ve even found a decent grinder unfortunately it’s from a depressing yuppie bar. I guess the thing is when you leave the east coast and come here, as the author and I did. Shit is different, you got to get use to it. And your childhood is over. The Big Rock Candy and Sugar Mountains were only a fantasy and a longing for a simpler time of being a kid. Being a kid was wrapped up in watermelon, corn on the cob and ice cream – simpler and purer I guess.

where did you grow up that had grits, grinders, AND a good slice?

Pretty easy to do when you summer in the north and winter in the south. Snowbirds is the term of art.

Your “too cold for ice cream” theory is flawed. Next time it snows here there will still be a line at Mitchell’s. But it drops below 60 and no line at BiRite (which I love (both BiRite and no line)).

Fair points in the rest of your ¶ however. I can’t imagine moving out east and no longer having ready access to quality burritos.

I miss Bombay too. Rose and Cardamom…

Yeah, the cardamom was my fav.

There’s tons of decent thin-crust pizza in SF. Real Chicago-style pizza, less so. But thin crust is definitely better than nothing.

I’m from the Midwest originally and I always preferred eating an ice cream cone in sub-freezing weather. Call me weird, but it doesn’t melt all over the place that way. And there’s something about putting all that coldness in your insides that makes your outsides feel warmer.

Haha “new” things like Anchor! Or maybe that’s in the “wonderful” category? Antecedents are a bitch.

As for this whole grinder and pizza thing, I visited the boyfriend’s hometown in the middle of nowhere, CT last winter and found out that those things are good there. But it proved once again that you just crave what you grew up with. So, while gorging on grinders and “proper” pizza for a weekend was tasty, I still wanted a burrito from El Gran Taco Loco and a cone from Mitchell’s (with a half-gallon to take home).

Speaking of ice cream and weather, it had never occurred to me that ice cream went along with any certain kind of weather until I left the City for college. Seemed like winter always should mean Mitchell’s eggnog ice cream in the blender with rum.

Don’t worry about Marianne’s ice cream. It’s terrible.
In fact, Santa Cruz is a pretty fuckin awful place with terrible people.
The best thing for you guys to do is to just never visit.
Just stay in SF where it’s awesome all the time!

This graph is awesome!

I love that everyone gets upset about a east coast yuppie trying to break down anything in SF. Have you seen this guy…he is trying to reinvent himself in SF as a hip city kid. Posts about graffiti, bikes, PBR, and bars, how cool. Go back east.

You figured out my life story!

no doubt. i also know you. interesting how you can use the internet to be so hip, but in person you are the exact same as the people you judge.

Epic burn!

I know this is an old post, but I have to say … I have five kids ranging in age from 5 to 15, and they absolutely *love* Bi-Rite and Humphrey ice cream. They rave about it for days and are always asking to go back. They like regular ice cream too, but things like brown sugar ice cream and salted caramel? They adore them.