Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
It may seem strange to be thinking about ice cream in November, right when we're about to get a few months of chilly weather. But I guarantee you that there will be plenty of warm temperatures this winter that will have you craving a big bowl of ice cream.
And there's no shortage of great ice cream to be found in this great city of ours. From crazy flavors in Montrose to a good old fashioned parlor in Galveston, we've got it all. So put on your stretchy pants and grab a friend (ice cream is best when shared), cause you're going to want to try all of these spots.
Note: This list contains ice cream only. No gelato, no paletas, no froyo and no snow ice. We'll get to those, but ice cream is so great it deserves a list all its own.
10. La King's Confectionary We all know Blue Bell has been making ice cream for a long time, but did you know that ice cream from the oldest producer in Texas can be found in Galveston? Purity Ice Cream, the first ice cream manufacturer in Texas, was founded on Galveston Island in 1889. The King family, which owns La King's Confectionary, bought Purity a while back, and now La King's is the only place in Texas where you can get ice cream made with some of the original recipes. It's made on-site, a few floors above the retail area at La King's, and it comes in dozens of different flavors, from the traditional chocolate, vanilla or strawberry to more extravagant offerings like apple pie ice cream with chunks of apple pie strewn throughout. Old-fashioned ice cream combined with the antique soda fountain atmosphere of La King's makes it easy to take a trip to another time, if only for a few minutes.
9. Pollo Bravo When you go into Pollo Bravo and request ice cream, no one brings you a menu or asks what flavor you want. There is only one flavor at Pollo Bravo, and they do it so well there, no one cares that there aren't more options. The owner of Pollo Bravo, Enrique Bravo, makes the helado de lúcuma himself, and he and the servers are all very proud of the product. And why shouldn't they be? The lúcuma ice cream has a sweet but unusual flavor, like caramel or vanilla with a hint of sweet almonds, with a bit of chalkiness that comes from the lúcuma fruit, which is native to Peru. If you've never tried lúcuma, this is the perfect way to start.
8. The Chocolate Bar All of the ice cream at The Chocolate Bar is good, but the chocolate is, of course, the best. And by "the chocolate," I mean one of the dozen or so variations of chocolate available at the decadent shop. There's Chocolate Malt, Creamy Dreamy Truffle, Let's Go Oreo and Brownie Supreme; but my favorite is the simple French Silk, which tastes just like a good old fashioned milk chocolate ice cream. There's nothing too rich or too complicated about it, which means it's easy to accidentally consume far more than anyone should. But don't worry; The Chocolate Bar also has Lemon Velvet ice cream, which serves as a cool palate cleanser before you go back for round two.
7. Amy's Ice Cream This funky ice cream shop first opened in Austin in 1984 (using a hot check to pay the first month's rent), but since then it's expanded to San Antonio and Houston as well. Part of the schtick at Amy's is the ice cream acrobatics employed by the servers to make your trip to the ice cream parlor a little more exciting. They'll toss scoops of ice cream in the air behind their back or across the counter to another server, who will then catch it in a cup before handing it over. Theatrics aside, Amy's makes some darn good ice cream in unusual flavors like Irish Coffee (booze included) and Strawberry Amaretto (booze not included).
6. The Burger Guys They may be better known for their burgers (and duck-fat fries), but these guys also make some creamy and delicious ice cream in-house. Because it's made in small batches just for the burger joint, owners Jake Mazzu and Brandon Fisch are able to experiment with funky flavors like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cafe Sua Da (Vietnamese iced coffee). The Burger Guys love throwing cereal into their ice cream or into their crazy milkshakes, so look for Captain Crunch, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and other sugary breakfast treats you loved as a child. Ah, nostalgia.
5. Whipped and Licked Ice Cream Whipped and Licked (don't Google that without "ice cream" after it) opened this year, and though it's sold only out of other businesses like Antidote, Boomtown and Black Hole, it's already made quite a splash, thanks to the fun and funky flavors and prominence of booze in many of the recipes. In Whipped and Licks' "about me" section on Facebook, the only description is "It's fun and it's fucking ice cream." But really it's so much more than that. The flavors are constantly changing and evolving, but recently I was able to try the Banana Royal Dip, a cone filled with banana rum ice cream with a brown sugar caramelized banana swirl. Oh, and then the whole thing is dipped in a chocolate shell. And then there's the Urban Cowboy, with peanut butter and bourbon ice cream and a salty peanut butter and Coca Cola swirl. Oh, and the roasted plum sorbet "bitch slapped with ginger, lemon and pimento dram liqueur." I'm sorry, I can't pick a favorite.
4. Hank's Ice Cream Parlor Hank's has been a Houston institution since 1985, when Hank Wiggins opened up the shop with his wife, Okemah. Hank passed away last year, but he lived to see his humble shop get praise from every news outlet in town. Robb Walsh named Hank's ice cream number 46 on his list of 100 favorite dishes, writing, "While Okemah Wiggins was scooping my ice cream, I asked her about the butterfat level. She wouldn't disclose the secret recipe, but she assured me the butterfat content is much higher than the standard commercial stuff. "It's a premium ice cream," she said, smiling." The butter pecan remains the best-selling flavor, but Hank's also scoops more unusual treats like sweet corn, and banana pudding with big chunks of vanilla wafers strewn throughout.
3. Eatsie Boys The boys used to make all their ice cream in-house, but now the demand is so high that they've had to outsource. But don't worry, the producer still uses Matt Marcus's famous recipes for treats like A World Gone Mad, a Maker's Mark and vanilla ice cream mixed with Golden Grahams ('cause who doesn't want bourbon and cereal for breakfast?) and Glazed and Confused, an ice cream with a Shipley's donut base. No, not chunks of donuts. Those would get chewy when frozen. Eatsie Boys actually blended the donuts so fine that all you get when you eat the ice cream is the taste of donuts. It's a miracle of science. Eatsie Boys is now selling all of their great flavors by the pint, so you no longer have to request seconds and thirds of frozen bourbon and cereal.
2. Cloud 10 Creamery Chris Leung started his dessert business by selling to restaurants and chefs, but eventually demand for his stunning sweets became so great that he decided to open up his own place. Cloud 10 Creamery launched in October, and there's been a steady crowd lining up for Leung's unique flavors and whimsical creations ever since. The banana split is a thing of beauty that re-examines all that a banana split should be (ice cream, bananas and toppings) with a gourmet twist. The ice cream flavors themselves are impressive in both texture and because they all taste exactly like what they're supposed to. That may sound like obvious criteria for good ice cream, but never have I had smooth, creamy peanut butter and jelly ice cream in which I could actually taste the toast. Bravo, Mr. Leung. Bravo.
1. Fat Cat Creamery While the soon-to-open storefront is new to the scene, Fat Cat Creamery is no stranger to serving its crave-inducing homemade ice cream all over town. Using fine-quality local ingredients, these cats dream up and scoop out flavors like Maple and Candied Bacon, the eggnog-flavored Railean Rum and Brandy, and the not-so-old-fashioned Cat's Meow Mexican Vanilla. The storefront should be opening in late November, but until then you can find Fat Cat at more than a dozen shops around Houston. Also, the ice cream cups are made of leftover wheat straw and are fully compostable, which means eating Fat Cat ice Cream is good for the environment. From Pumpkin Cheesecake to Gettin' Figgy With It, no matter what you get it'll be ultra-creamy and ultra-delightful.
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