For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
But Katharine, you may be saying. It's December. I don't want ice cream right now.
To which I say: Tough. Here are some ice cream places for you anyway. Because I just ate four Snickers ice cream bars last night and a pint of Graeter's black raspberry last week and I am here to tell you that it is never too cold for ice cream. Especially in Houston. Especially this year. It's December! is never an excuse.
And you know what? I bet you anything you'll want some ice cream too when this is all said and done. If it makes you feel better, winter your scoops up by pouring hot fudge on top. You're welcome.
[Note: For purposes of this list, I included only ice cream and frozen custard. There is now enough great gelato in Houston to merit a list of its own one day...]
10. Petite Sweets
At this River Oaks-area confectionery, you can get cake balls, mini cupcakes and macarons, but it's the custard we like best. Get it in dipped cone form -- an old classic -- or mixed up with owner Susan Molzan's mother's hot fudge recipe (as seen above), which combines the chocolate with vanilla and Kahlua.
Anita Jaisinghani's two modern Indian restaurants have always made their own ice creams in house to garnish Jaisinghani's clever desserts (recall that she was once the pastry chef at Cafe Annie). At Indika, you'll find it in dishes like saffron ice cream with pistachios seen above, while at Pondicheri you can dig into a Bournvita ice cream sandwich in the summer.
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.
7. La Paletera
The creamy dulce de leche ice cream bar at La Paletera was one of Robb Walsh's perennial favorites: "The mango and coconut ice creams at La Paletera are both excellent, but the dulce de leche paleta is stunning," he wrote. "The caramel ice cream bar tastes like the middle of a Milk Dud, only richer and creamier. Try one of these on a hot day."
The house-made pistachio ice cream is one of the components responsible for making Chef David Grossman's sticky toffee pudding one of the country's best desserts. The impossibly smooth, light green ice cream doesn't have a hint of air in it, and it manages to be both decadently heavy and spun like silk at the same time.
Like Branch Water, the Burger Guys also 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.
An ice cream parlor for the modern age, Amy's slings waffle cones and shakes in a blur of tattoo-sleeved arms and successive waves of hungry customers who form daily lines out the door. Although it's an Austin import, Houstonians -- especially Montrose residents -- have embraced Amy's as their own. Flavors change daily, and you can always count on at least one booze-infused blend.
The texture of this locally-made-and-packed ice cream is a little unusual at first -- but remember that this is ice cream made from only the most basic ingredients: milk from Way Back When Dairy, eggs from Barry Farm and other seasonal ingredients that owners Sarah and Jarvis Johnston obtain from local growers and producers. The strawberry buttermilk is a current favorite, and you can score it for yourself at area markets like Georgia's Farm to Market, Revival Market, Antidote Coffee, Black Hole Coffee and Relish Fine Foods.
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.
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In many ice cream shops, the choices are so overwhelming that most people either take forever to order or just order vanilla, chocolate or strawberry so as not to hold up the line. At Hank's, the choices are not overwhelming -- there's a manageable 16 flavors in all, which they rotate based on the availability of seasonal fruit, and every one is out-of-this-world delicious. What's nice about the ice cream here is not only the price (two scoops for $2.31) but also that there are big chunks of fruit or cookies in almost every flavor. Each is made with love at this one-of-a-kind, small, family-owned business. The blueberry cheesecake with whole blueberries and chunks of cheesecake, the butter pecan with huge pecans, and the banana pudding with large chunks of cake are all favorites. And for even more variety, they're happy to mix in your favorite add-ins or toppings.