Hooray, a new series! *throws confetti*
Say hello to Bites + Brews, a series that I’m dedicating to the best food, coffee, and beer that I encounter, both in Cincinnati and elsewhere. I’m kicking things off with some of my favorite ice cream in Cincinnati.
Ice cream has long been my favorite dessert. It’s perfect for summer, obviously, but the temperature could be 20 below and I’d probably still choose it when a sweet craving strikes. It’s a perfect, creamy canvas for all kinds of flavor and texture combos. And Cincinnati has some fantastic places to get your ice cream fix.
Graeter’s Ice Cream
I don’t think I can call myself a Cincinnatian (Cincinnati-ite?) and fail to include Graeter’s in my round-up. Graeter’s was started in 1870 and their ice cream is still made much the same way as it was back then; they work in small batches using a method called the French pot, which churns ice cream in 2 1/2-gallon drums. They are famous for their “signature chip flavors,” which are created by pouring a thick chocolate shell over the ice cream as it churns. The shell is broken up and folded into the ice cream, resulting in huge chunks of chocolate that are surprisingly soft, not crunchy and hard. Their non-chip flavors are dreamy, too. Try their bananas foster gelato, or, over the summer, their peach ice cream. For chip flavors, mocha chip and Buckeye chip (Buckeyes are a chocolate peanut butter candy and an Ohio staple, if you didn’t know) are wonderful, and their cookie dough chip is loaded with huge chips and a generous portion of cookie dough bits. Graeter’s started in Cincinnati but they have scoop shops in other cities around and outside of Ohio. Check the scoop shop listing to find one near you! If there isn’t a shop near you, fear not; they sell their ice cream in pints in stores throughout the country. Use their “Where to Find Us” page to find your nearest Graeter’s vendor!
United Dairy Farmers
Headquartered in Cincinnati but located throughout Ohio (with a few locations in Kentucky), United Dairy Farmers started as (obviously) a dairy shop and has since grown into a convenience store/gas station chain with a unique feature: a hand-scooped ice cream counter that does cones and cups, sundaes, shakes, and more. UDF makes standard flavors like chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and cookie dough, but some of their more unique offerings include caramel pretzel crunch, blue moo cookie dough (blue sugar cookie ice cream with sugar cookie dough), dinosaur egg (green vanilla ice cream with candy-coated cake pieces), monster cookie, and peanut butter cookies n’ cream. It might not be as high-end as Graeter’s, but UDF is still quality stuff. Their ice cream is available in quarts and pints in their convenience stores and in other stores as well.
Aglamesis Brothers is named for brothers Nicholas and Thomas Aglamesis, who left Greece in the late 1800s seeking opportunity in America. They settled in Cincinnati, worked downtown to learn the tricks of the ice cream trade, and eventually saved up enough money to open their own venture. Now with two locations in the Cincinnati area, Aglamesis Brothers is owned and operated by third-generation members of the Aglamesis family and offers a variety of fine candies in addition to ice cream that’s been made the same way for decades. Walking into the shop is a trip back in time to a vintage ice cream and candy parlor; pastel pink, white, and black are the dominant colors, music reminiscent of a sock-hop dance plays over the speakers, and cups of ice cream are served not the the standard plastic or paper dishes but in petite silver ones with real silverware. They even do table service, offering guests menus and complimentary glasses of water. If you want to feel REALLY old-school, order a scoop of their pineapple pecan flavor, which was apparently a hit in the 1940s (let’s face it, anything with crushed pineapple is kind of retro). I ordered it when I went for the first time and it was unexpectedly delightful. You can also pick up pints of ice cream and sorbet in-store. I grabbed a pint of champagne sorbet, which has a not-too-sweet, not-too-tart lemon flavor with just a hint of an alcoholic, wine-y aftertaste.
Now with three locations just north of the I-275 loop in Butler County, Flub’s is a soft serve shop that opened in 1965 in Hamilton, Ohio. They offer a few flavors of sherbet and a different flavor of Italian ice and frozen yogurt each day, in addition to soft serve. They do cones, shakes, and sundaes, but two items set them apart from your standard soft serve stand: glaciers, which is your choice of slush flavor poured over vanilla soft serve, and cyclones, soft serve blended or layered with tasty combinations of sundae toppings. Their menu currently offers more than 40 cyclone flavors. Try the #36 if you’re an Oreos and peanut butter fan (it’s vanilla soft serve blended with the beloved combination), or the #23 if Rice Krispie Treats are your thing (vanilla soft serve blended with marshmallow topping and Rice Krispies cereal). If you want to break free from the menu, go for the #15, which allows you to create your own cyclone treat. I tried the #14, vanilla or chocolate soft serve (I went with vanilla) blended with chocolate dip topping and real banana, topped with even more sliced banana and chocolate dip. Delicious. I went to the Fairfield location, which is in a strip mall, but I hope to make it up to the original Hamilton shop one day; from what I’ve seen in pictures, it doesn’t look like it’s changed much since the 1960s.
Loveland Dairy Whip
Loveland Dairy Whip is a family-owned soft serve stand in the northeastern suburb of Loveland. The stand opened in 1955 and served hamburgers and ice cream in the 1970s and 80s. It no longer serves burgers, but the Loveland Dairy Whip is still a seasonal favorite for soft serve. They do your standard cones (rainbow sprinkle-dipped, please!), shakes, and sundaes, but if you want something a little different, try one of the specialty desserts sitting in the display window. Among them are a variety of parfays (their spelling of “parfait”), layered desserts made not with yogurt and fruit but soft serve and sundae toppings. Their Reese’s Parfay is a peanut butter lover’s happy place–chocolate soft serve layered with a generous portion of peanut butter topping, topped with sprinkles, chopped peanuts, whipped cream, and a mini Reese’s Cup.
Not a Cincinnati company but deserving of a shout-out:
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni’s is based in Columbus, Ohio and has scoop shops in only a few cities across the country, none of which are Cincinnati (*cry*). But you can buy pints at select stores in the area, and I felt the need to include it because Columbus is fairly close to me. I first heard of Jeni’s when I saw some folks I follow posting about it on Instagram, and when I saw an ad for them on Facebook. I checked out their website and was intrigued by their somewhat outlandish but delicious-sounding flavors, like sweet corn and black raspberry, churro, marshmallow birch, and honey pistachio. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for Jeni’s; I bought a pint of their Darkest Chocolate flavor and it cost $9.99 (!!!). But it was worth it; it was the deepest chocolate flavor I’ve ever tasted in ice cream, not too different from biting into a bar of dark chocolate. I had a hard time putting it away when I ate it for the first time. I hope to make it to Columbus so I can visit a Jeni’s scoop shop, but until then, pints will have to do. And even then, because of the price, Jeni’s will be a rare treat.