If there were ever a time we needed ice cream, this would be it. Nothing chases the blues away like a long lovely luscious lick of your favorite flavor at a neighborhood ice cream shop/stand. Many ice cream businesses have stayed open the past three months, and seem destined to despite the uncertain economic future, with much less overhead (staff, ingredients, equipment, etc.) than most other food businesses.
July is National Ice Cream Month, but isn’t every month ice cream month? This list is based on my widespread ice cream travels around New Jersey; my most recent ice cream road trip covered 900 miles and 18 (mostly newer) stops. I’ve visited every place on this list. The list is not ranked.
Love soft-serve? We’ll have a separate list on August 19, National Soft-Serve Day.
Das’ Creamery, Budd Lake
A father-daughter team — Pankaj and Komal Das — run Das’ Creamery, a bright. cheery strip mall store. Komal uses her culinary school background to test and push ice cream boundaries. Black licorice ice cream? It’s in the Black Knight Rises. There’s pomegranate ice cream and and fresh basil/Junior Mint ice cream and Kulfi toasted coconut almond and excellent vanilla and chocolate, too. Insider tip: there’s a “secret” flavor every day. It’s not on the store menu board or its Facebook page; you have to ask for it.
Cookman Creamery, Asbury Park
Star-strewn lavender walls, and a compact but wide-ranging flavor board: Cookman Creamery is a far cry from your usual 50-flavor neighborhood ice cream shop/stand. It’s about a mood and mellowness here, but there’s passion behind the laid-back vibe. Cookman Creamery was started by a mother-daughter team — Norah and Melissa Marler — and now it’s owned by a father-son duo, Jimmy and Mike Johnson. There are traditional and vegan flavors, and if you think vegan ice cream equates flavorless ice cream, you need to stop here. My favorite flavor may be the Almond Joy vegan ice cream. A recent addition to the menu: cashew cherry bourbon, the latter from Asbury Distilling.
Conrad’s Confectionary, Westwood
Conrad’s opened in 1928 as a candy store. Even today, the chocolates, hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream, even the syrup are made from scratch in small batches. Check out the vintage artifacts and newspaper clippings in the window. Line forms to the right at the takeout window and make sure that mask is on! The chocolate ice cream is thick and fudgy, but the winner here is the black raspberry, sweet, silky and oh-so-good. And, oh by the way, black raspberry is way down the list of my favorite flavors.
Milk Sugar Love, Jersey City
She started with a simple hand cart, taking her ice cream to local farmers’ markets. Now Emma Taylor, owner of Milk Sugar Love, runs a store across from Hamilton Park, another one in the Heights, and an ice cream truck besides. Her journey to ice cream enlightenment began as a kid eating Kohr’s soft-serve on the Ocean City boardwalk; her genre-bending flavors now include Thai tea, lemon olive oil, and honey lavender. Her chocolate peppermint ice cream, sublime and sensational, was the best thing I ate in 2013. Not just best ice cream, best thing, period.
Royale Crown Homemade Ice Cream, Hammonton
Hammonton is the blueberry capital of the world, so it comes as no surprise that Royale Crown makes blueberry ice cream. Make that unbelievably good blueberry ice cream. The diner-shiny ice cream stand opened in 1953 on the White Horse Pike; the waitresses wore white majorette boots, short skirts and gold crowns. There are about 40 kinds of hard ice cream and eight flavors of soft ice cream. Another must-try: the black raspberry soft-serve. Owner Lou Graziano is not afraid to push the envelope, especially with such flavors as Italian pizzelle, Southern pecan and chocolate Milano.
Nicholas Creamery, Atlantic Highlands
It would take exceptional ice cream to knock Cookman Creamery off its previously-held perch as Monmouth County’s best ice cream, but newcomer Nicholas Creamery has done just that. Nicholas is Nicholas Harary, owner of Restaurant Nicholas in Middletown. Small-batch ice cream “using natural dairy and working directly with local farmers and food artisans to source the freshest, seasonal ingredients” is the mission statement here. The ice cream is uber-rich and impossibly creamy. In the photo are the Jersey blueberry and the Chocolate Valrhona. The Monster Mash is a killer mint ice cream. There is another location in Fair Haven.
You can go home again, especially when ice cream is involved. Jaclyn Ilacqua, originally from Alloway, Salem County, was making ice cream wholesale in North Carolina. But she wanted more control over the creative side, missed her family, and moved back home to open Latteria in Swedesboro. About 30 flavors rotate on and off the big chalkboard behind the counter, everything from Mr. Vanilla Chip and cheesecake Oreo to strawberry cake batter PopTart. There is no ice cream shop interior in New Jersey quite like Latteria — the tables and wall are painted in swirly kaleidoscopic colors – think Cezanne, Van Gogh and Peter Max meeting over ice cream.
Cranberry Junction, Hackensack
The new kid on the ice cream block, Cranberry Junction sits on a massive lot alongside the railroad tracks, with seven picnic tables outside. Inside the little red house you’ll find about 20 flavors, including banana pudding, dulce de leche and vanilla chocolate chip. If you love chocolate ice cream, this place makes one of the state’s best — seriously rich and deep. If I didn’t have more stops the day I visited, I would have polished off the whole darn cup, and maybe ordered another. The coconut ice cream tastes like the real thing; there’s a lot of fake-tasting coconut ice cream out there.
The Bent Spoon, Princeton
Call Gabrielle Carbone and Matthew Errico the mad scientists of New Jersey ice cream. The owners of The Bent Spoon (named after an object in “The Matrix’‘) are constantly fiddling and fussing with ingredients before unleashing another crazy flavor on the world. (An ice cream, named Dad’s Hat, made from rye whiskey? Why not?) The tiny ice cream shop is a frequent visitor on statewide — and nationwide — best ice cream lists. Recent flavors include blueberry mascarpone, blackberry, and strawberry sorbet.
Ice Cream by Mike, Ridgewood
Bergen County’s best ice cream? Many would say longtime favorites Bischoff’s in Teaneck or Van Dyk’s in Ridgewood, but I’ve been to both, and think Ice Cream by Mike is better. Mike Elias moved from a tiny, narrow space in Hackensack to a bigger, brighter spot in Ridgewood. He uses high-end ingredients and is always creating creative if not crazy flavors. You’re not going to find 40-50 flavors here; more like ten. Try the French vanilla or lemon ice cream; you’ll thank me later. His soft-serve is splendid.
Owowcow Creamery, Lambertville
Winner of our N.J.‘s best ice cream showdown in 2016, Owowcow is a high-ceilinged ice cream hangout in New Jersey’s best small town. OwowCow started in Ottsville, Pa.; there are four other stores, in Easton, Pa., Chalfont, Pa., Wrightstown, Pa. and Lambertville. There are three kinds of high-end vanilla: Madagascar, Indonesian and Tahitian; and I Hate Chocolate, despite its name, is a chocolate lover’s vision of paradise. They push the ice cream envelope here; flavors include lime cilantro; chocolate jalapeno and I Hate Chocolate, a sweet, rich chocolate overload that fortunately doesn’t live up its name. The mint chocolate chip is not the usual bright green and boasts mint leaves, and may be the best I’ve had anywhere.
Halo Pub, Hamilton
Halo Farm’s main store is next to the Trenton Farmers Market in Lawrenceville, but right now it’s just pints and quarts there, so if you want a cone or cup, head to their sister locations in Princeton or Hamilton. The chocolate chocolate almond is delightful and delicious. Vanilla is the world’s most popular — and most boring — flavor, but the Tahiti vanilla bean here is slightly spicy and tangy and altogether delicious.
Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream, Ledgewood
My single favorite Jersey ice cream flavor: The double dark chocolate fudge crunch at Cliff‘s, shown in the photo. It’s a choco-holic’s vision of the sugar-coned pearly gates. There are about a dozen flavors of soft serve and 60 flavors of hard ice cream, so good luck picking one. Cliff’s made my list of 20 Essential Jersey Food Experiences.
Polar Cub, Whitehouse
“I was always looking for an ice cream place,‘’ the owner of Polar Cub told me on a recent visit. “I saw an ad (for the Polar Cub’s sale) in The Star-Ledger.‘’ He laughed. “I’ll always be thankful for the Star-Ledger.‘‘ He makes about three quarters of the 12 flavors of hard ice cream; the rest comes from Welsh Farms. He also makes the ices.
Springer’s, Stone Harbor
Springer’s is one of the Jersey Shore’s two or three best-known ice cream shops. Taylor Swift knows it well. From age 2 to 14, her parents owned a summer house in Stone Harbor. Springer’s was a mainstay of her Jersey Shore summers. The original owners apparently changed it from a bar to an ice cream store during Prohibition. If you like creamy ice cream, Springer’s is your place; all those I’ve sampled in recent visits were surpassingly smooth. My favorites: Dark Nite, Prohibition Tradition.
Dairy Swirl, Vernon
Dairy Swirl is the northernmost ice cream spot on this list, proof you can find great ice cream all over the state. Hard ice cream, soft-serve, yogurt, shakes, smoothies, floats — they’re all here, beneath the peach-colored walls.
Scoop to My Lou, East Brunswick
Scoop to My Lou opened this Valentine Day (how sweet!) and is proof there’s always room for ice cream on the American roadside. When the owner, Lou, told his wife he wanted to open an ice cream stand, she replied, ”I’ll scoop for you, Lou,‘’ thus the business name. There are about 40 flavors, including lemon poppy, orange pineapple, and espresso bean. The chocolate is creamier than most, but the standout here is the rum raisin, a great alternative to plain old vanilla and one of the three favorite flavors on my most recent ice cream road trip.
Rich’s Ice Cream, Toms River
Rich Gutwein’s first ice cream store was a Carvel in 1955, when Route 37 was one lane in either direction. Twenty years later, he opened Rich’s. The store closed in 2014 when the property was sold, and now his grandson, Hunter Gutwein, owns the new store, which sells a dizzying variety of hard and soft ice cream, flurries, cakes, ice cream sandwiches (known as Richie Bars) and more. The banana-strawberry soft-serve swirl is a must-try, and so is the chocolate chocolate chip.
Vincent’s Ice Cream, Mount Holly
You’ve got to like any place with Train Wreck Rum Raisin on the menu. Vincent’s started in Trenton, opening a location in Mount Holly in 2013. Owner Vincent Amico makes his ice cream in small batches, two and a half gallons each time. The chocolate is nice and creamy, but the must-order is the coconut Almond Joy, with real coconut flakes and almonds.
Luigi’s Ice Cream, Metuchen, Red Bank, Summit
Luigi Beltran, owner of Luigi’s Ice Cream, opened the state’s first ice cream speakeasy inside Ani Ramen in Jersey City in 2018, stocked with “boozy” — alcoholic-infused -— ice cream. Hennessy and pineapple ice cream (my favorite), Patron XO Cafe and chocolate chip ice cream, and Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur and fudge brownie ice cream were the initial offerings. Mint Oreo chocolate chip and Thai tea are among their regular flavors; they also do rolled ice cream and ice cream donut sandwiches.
Classic ice cream rock rules at Sundaes. Flavors include Sympathy for the Devil (chocolate ice cream with brownies, chocolate icing, red jimmies); London Calling (dulce de leche ice cream “clashing,‘’ according to a sign, with caramel and English toffee Heathbar); and Purple Rain (raspberry ice cream). And don’t forget Thunder Road (chocolate ice cream with marshmallow, Oreos and chocolate chips); Sticky Fingers (vanilla ice cream with caramel, marshmallow, cashews, hard-shell chocolate), and U2 Crazy (mint ice cream with fudge, Oreos, M&Ms).
Cow’s Brow Creamery, Fredon
Jack Hunt, managing partner at Windy Brow Farms, where Cow’s Brow is located, is the guy who unleashed Taylor ham ice cream and tomato pie ice cream on an unsuspecting world. But classic ice cream flavors are here, too, and they’re done surpassingly well. The dark chocolate is the stuff of legend, and the vegan coconut blueberry lime is nothing short of sensational.
Summer Ville Homemade Ice Cream, Somerville
Elio DeFranco, owner of Summer Ville Homemade Ice Cream, first thought about opening a bakery, then switched to ice cream because he didn’t want to put in the backbreakingly long hours a bakery would demand. He could work his computer tech job during the day, and make ice cream at night. One of his most popular flavors is Somerville Mud, a mix of chocolate chip cookies, M&Ms, Reese’s pieces and Oreos. ”I have little kids crying when they can’t get their Mud,‘’ DeFranco told me. Also recommended: the Earl Grey and the tart Key Lime.
Nasto’s Ice Cream Co., Newark
One of the great food institutions in Newark’s Ironbound, Nasto’s opened in 1939 in a former brewery. Secret to its success and long life? “Put the good stuff in and get good stuff out,‘’ Frank Nasto III once told me. The blue-awninged shop supplies ice cream to about 750 restaurants around New Jersey. Try the key lime if they have it.
Fajji’s Homemade Ice Cream, Perth Amboy
There’s no Fajji at Fajji’s Homemade Ice Cream — that was an employee of the former owners — but current owner Tom Griffin doesn’t mind if you call him Fajji. “They buy my ice cream, they can call me anything they want,‘’ he says. The staff wears tie-dyed t-shirts, and many of the flavors are Caribbean-accented, including coconut (Griffin cracks the coconuts himself), pineapple and passion fruit. The Thin Mint ice cream tastes just like the real thing.
Torico Homemade Ice Cream, Jersey City
In 1968, Pura and Peter Berrios started making slushes and sorbets in a former deli on Erie Street. Their ice cream shop was initially called Tropical Delight; it was later changed to Torico, a contraction of “todo rico” — everything is delicious. Today, the couple’s daughters, Christine and Denise, run the casually stylish ice cream store. The store’s tropical roots are still in evidence; the 40 or so flavors include ube (purple yam), jackfruit, soursop and mamey.
Ummm Ice Cream Parlor, Burlington City
Maybe the state’s most gorgeously retro ice cream parlor, with wooden booths and chairs, UMM Ice Cream Parlor is housed in what was once a detective agency, hearing aid store and maybe a bookie joint. My favorite flavors are the chocolate-covered espresso bean and Rosanna Banana Dana, a tribute to Gilda Radner’s character on Saturday Night Live. And this is the place to try Boost! — a lemony cola little-known outside Burlington and Camden counties.
Last Licks, East Hanover
Say hello to the cow out front and walk up the inclined stairs to the ice cream window at Last Licks. They offer 32 flavors of hard ice cream, 12 flavors of Italian ice, plus vanilla and chocolate soft-serve. Along with some dazzling-looking ice cream cakes. The peach ice cream is nice and fruity-tasting, and the Triple Chocolate, astoundingly thick and fudgy, is one of the top two or three chocolates I’ve had all year.
Gabriel’s Fountain, Martinsville
Lemon lavender blueberry. If the sound of that doesn’t make your heart flutter, you need to check for a pulse. It’s my favorite flavor at Gabriel’s Fountain, which offers burgers, sandwiches, wings and salads in addition to ice cream. Like chocolate? You’ll love the Milk Chocolate here, smooth and creamy.
Van Dyk’s Homemade Ice Cream, Ridgewood
From the outside, it looks like just another house on the block, and the interior isn’t much to look at, but Van Dyk’s has been scooping out cups and cones for nearly 50 years. Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, those three ice cream standards, top the menu board, but you’ll also find cappuccino Oreo, lemon vanilla and Bailey’s Cream. It’s cash-only.
Point Creamery, Point Pleasant
“What’s your favorite flavor?‘’ was a question I often asked of ice cream shop employees during my most recent ice cream road trip. It worked out well at Point Creamery; she suggested the Almond Joy, and it does the candy, and flavor, proud. I liked it so much I hid it in my freezer to keep it from prying eyes, and mouths. The Death by Chocolate could have been richer, but more than satisfied my chocolate cravings. They also offer a variety of Dole Whip flavors.
Arctic Freeze Creamery, Collingswood
Never had Thai-style rolled ice cream? What are you waiting for? Arctic Freeze does it, and well. First of all, it’s quite a production: Milk, cream and sugar are poured, pounded and scraped on a flat surface, then fashioned into a half dozen rolls. Choose your flavor of ice cream first (vanilla, chocolate, coconut), add your choice of toppings later, and you’re good to go. I tried the Mint Dip, a mint sandwich cookie and brownies, with vanilla ice cream and jimmies; and the Brownie Overload, brownies and chocolate chips, with chocolate ice cream, then bananas and coconut flakes (a perfect combo if say so myself). Rolled ice cream may not be for everyone, and it may be gimmicky, but give it a try.
The biggest difference between Beenies and just about everyone else? “We’re one of the few places that makes our own dairy base,‘’ informs the web site. “What this means is we actually buy gallons of fresh milk and heavy cream, hundreds of pounds of granulated sugar. . . ‘’ The owner is Tony Franco, who opened the shop in May 2017 in between art classes and a stint as a professional drummer. There are 38 flavors year-round; Columbian Coffee, Rice Krispie Treat and Nutella Pretzel are among the unique ones. The chocolate is rich, rich, rich, but the standout here is the honey lavender, fragrant and pretty close to fantastic.
Penguin Ice Cream, Bernardsville
With its red awning, mock picket fence and American flag flying out front, Penguin Ice Cream is the very picture of ice cream Americana. Not-so-ordinary flavors include Gracie’s Ginger Snap Cookie, Pink Peppermint Stick and Bourbon Vanilla Bean. The Double Chocolate lives up to its description, and the lemon lavender blueberry makes for a terrific trio of flavors.
Alaura Kitchen, Pitman
Newest flavor at Alaura Kitchen: Blueberry bourbon smash. ”We took Jersey blueberries and cooked them in butter, brown sugar, bourbon, and a dash of cinnamon,‘’ reads their Facebook post. “Smash! Lastly we topped it off with graham crackers mixed throughout.‘’ Yes, please! This candy/ice cream shop, founded in 2015, grew out of a family tradition of making caramels. About 20 ice cream flavors are available at any one time; the more adventurous ones include lemon basil, guava and blueberry Nutella swirl.
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