It's not just you. There really is an explosion of new places to get sweet, cold, creamy treats in the Bay Area. But why the new interest in this classic American dessert? Neil Gottlieb, founder of Three Twins in the Lower Haight, considers the trend the newest place the slow food movement is having an impact. "There's a renaissance of making ice cream the way it should be made with fresh ingredients." Jake Godby, chef/owner of Humphry Slocombe, agrees. "Ice cream is the new cupcake," he said. But does that mean the market will become oversaturated soon? Mitchell's manager Linda Mitchell doubts it, explaining that people simply love ice cream and have a seeming insatiable desire for new and interesting flavors. Plus, Godby adds, each specialty ice cream shop has its own niche. "We're all kind of different from each other, and we all get along," he said. After extensive testing (and just a few ice cream headaches), we've discovered six of our favorite flavors from both new and long-beloved creameries. Pinkberry who?
You may scream for ice cream, but the yelling in my house came from my mother when I tried to nibble a block of Mexican baking chocolate: "That's not candy!" Bouncing off the walls, I begged to differ. Now Mitchell's, the family-run parlor that's been open more than 50 years, has turned the spiced chocolate of my childhood dreams into a bona fide creamy dessert, rich in flavor and accented with blasts of cinnamon. Not even Mom can argue.
Mitchell's, 688 San Jose, SF. (415) 648-2300, www.mitchellsicecream.com
This orgasmic flavor is what inspires people to wait in tangled lines, even in the middle of a rainstorm. Is it the first lick, when salt puckers your taste buds, that's so enticing? Or the luscious sweetness of caramel that kicks in next? Or the pleasant surprise at the way the two meld into one perfect after-experience? It doesn't matter. Thanks to flavor combinations like these, Bi-Rite's ice cream, always made with organic dairy products from Straus Family Creamery, already feels like a San Francisco classic after only three years.
Bi-Rite Creamery, 3692 18th St., SF. (415) 626-5600, www.biritecreamery.com
DOMAINE CARNEROS SORBET
Three Twins carries only eight flavors of its organic ice creams and sorbets at its tiny shop on Fillmore and Haight (and its several other locations, including one in Napa), so you never know what special flavors will be available. But if you can get the Domaine Carneros sorbet, made from unfermented pinot noir grapes, you won't want to miss it. The delicate hint of wine mixes with ripe bursts of tangy, tart berries for an unexpectedly balanced flavor, pleasing your child-like and 21+ palate alike. (If the sorbet's not available, you also can't go wrong with Lemon Cookie, a Three Twins staple flavor.)
Three Twins, 254 Fillmore, SF. (415) ITS-TWIN, www.threetwinsicecream.com
Following the lead of spicemasters like Bombay Ice Cream, Mission District newcomer Xanath has turned the savory spice of saffron into a creamy, lush, and ginger-filled frozen treat. The young, family-owned parlor also offers an array of organic ice creams and vegan sorbets, including options like coconut, strawberry, and peanut butter. And we love the staff, not only because they're extraordinarily friendly, but also because they let you try as many flavors as you like (before you inevitably settle on Saffron Ginger).
Xanath, 951 Valencia, SF. (415) 648-8996
I'd like to thank the crazy person who first made goat cheese gelato.