Fittingly, July is National Ice Cream Month. Finally! A national food holiday/month that makes at least a modicum of sense.
And because it's National Ice Cream Month, this week's list will round up ice cream only. Although there are plenty of great gelato, shaved ice, snoballs, snow cones, frozen yogurts and raspas in town, those are all posts for another day.
Long before there were such things as artisan ice cream or small-batch, locavore creations, there was Marble Slab (and/or Baskin-Robbins, depending on your childhood preference). I'm still a fan of Marble Slab for two reasons: It allows you to mix crushed candy bars, fruit, nuts -- you name it -- into your ice cream. And it lets you take any ice cream, any "fixing" and blend them into either a shake or a malt. I'm telling you, you ain't lived till you've had a peanut butter ice cream and banana malt from Marble Slab.
Just like Marble Slab, Austin-based Amy's lets you mix it up. My personal favorite is The Montrose: sweet cream mixed with bananas, fluffy marshmallows and -- naturally -- rainbow jimmies.
The Mexican vanilla is also a long-time favorite, but rotating and/or seasonal flavors such as Shiner Bock, Belgian Blueberry and Bourbon Chocolate Walnut keep patrons coming back each week to see what's new.
8. Pollo Bravo
The Pollo Bravo on Richmond at the Beltway is the only place in town I know of that makes homemade lúcuma ice cream. In fact, they're still the only place I know that serves lúcuma ice cream, for that matter.
The flavor is difficult to describe -- caramel custard or flan with a telltale chalkiness at the end -- and in its native Peru, lúcuma is the preferred ice cream flavor over any other.
With flavors like Chocolate Banana Pudding and Brownie Supreme, the aptly named The Chocolate Bar is a chocoholic's paradise. Try the Candylicious Junkyard, which takes six classic candy bars and mixes them into a luscious white chocolate ice cream, transforming them into the ultimate nostalgic treat. The most popular choice is the Creamy Dreamy Truffle, which blends chocolate truffles into an exquisitely velvety chocolate ice cream. It will delight your palate with an intriguing mix of silky textures and decadently rich chocolate.
The Burger Guys make their own ice creams in-house in order to create stunning desserts with them. In this case, it's mega-fun milkshakes made with childhood cereal favorites or ethnic influences: The Burger Guys's cafe sua da milkshake is still my favorite milkshake in town. (The malt award, however, goes to 59 Diner and its massive butterscotch malt.) The last ice cream I tasted at the Burger Guys -- a strawberry jam meant for a simple strawberry milkshake -- tasted like summer preserves straight from the jar. They're good.
It should come as no surprise that twin Indian restaurants run by chef Anita Jaisinghani have excellent ice cream; after all, Jaisinghani was the pastry chef at Cafe Annie for many years. At Indika, try her saffron-pistachio or chikoo (a date-like fruit native to Mexico and Central America, but which is wildly popular in India) ice creams. And at Pondicheri, don't miss the Bournvita-flavored ice cream sandwiches or the kulfi, traditional Indian ice cream with almonds and pistachios that's flavored with cardamom and kewra. You can even get ice cream floats at Pondicheri, including a refreshing ginger soda poured over mango ice cream.
The Eatsie Boys have a traveling assortment of flavors on board their bright-blue truck, including two new ones that I recently tasted during a Great Day Houston segment: Glazed & Confused, which tastes exactly like a fresh Shipley's donut (and is, in fact, garnished with a Shipley's donut hole), and She's Crafty, a salted caramel and bacon ice cream. You can also find the Eatsie Boys' ice cream at restaurants such as Paulie's, Local Foods and Down House. But soon, you'll be able to find it at the restaurant the guys are opening in the old Kraftsmen space at 4100 Montrose. The guys expect to have a "scoop shop" component to the cafe when it opens later this year, with around seven to ten flavors at a time.
3. Cloud 10
This new ice cream venture from Kata Robata pastry chef Chris Leung is reflective of his passion for infusing his desserts with adventurous and eclectic flavors. Sure, he makes a chocolate ice cream, but it's got a donkey kick of spice at the end. And his other flavors range from mild, subtle treats like Toasted Rice to the wild Hay ice cream he makes for Underbelly and Hay Merchant that tastes sweet, grassy, fresh and bright. You might suddenly find yourself understanding what cows see in the stuff after a few bites...
Husband-and-wife team Jarvis and Sarah Johnston make their small-batch ice creams out of the Heights, where they then hand-deliver the pints (in cute, brown wheat straw containers that are highly recyclable) to area businesses such as Revival Market, Black Hole Coffee and Relish Fine Foods. Their ice creams are made with nothing more than whole milk, heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks and natural flavors -- all of it from local vendors such as Way Back When Dairy, The Barry Farm and Railean Rum. And while the standards --Mexican vanilla, milk chocolate stout and strawberry buttermilk -- are available year round, you can also find custom flavors that Fat Cat produces in restaurants like Max's Wine Dive and food trucks like Bernie's Burger Bus.
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This classic ice cream parlor near Reliant Park has run by the late, great Hank Wiggins's family since 1985 (Hank himself sadly passed away earlier this year). The shop's best -- and most popular -- flavors include banana pudding and butter pecan (made with Texas pecans, of course), as well as more interesting options such as sweet corn.