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Updated: March 27th, 2020
The weather might not realize it but, yes, summer is right around the corner, which means if you haven’t started making your July 4th plans yet, you really ought to get to it (just kidding, sort of.) And for every extra sunbeam breaking through the cloudy skies of spring, we’ve got our eyes on the top ten independent ice cream shops in America. Sure, our supermarkets might be stocked with Haagen Dazs, Edys and yes, even the reluctantly corporate Ben and Jerry’s, but there is still a wealth of real life dairy kings and queens in every state, ready to indulge your inner sweet tooth. The American scoop shop is no flavor of the week – its here to stay.
Cliff Freund set up shop on the side of New Jersey’s Route 46 in 1975 and hasn’t stopped scooping since. Just as much an ice cream “stand” as it is a shop, this roadside attraction has become a staple for families, little league teams, and lucky passers by who congregate in the historic picnic area to feast on Cliff’s over 70 unique homemade flavors and homemade cakes. Any true rocky road trip runs through Route 46!
CLUMPIES ICE CREAM (CHATTANOOGA, TN)
Any scoop shop with a flavor called “Firecracker” complete with pop rocks to “ensure maximum crackling” deserves a spot on this list. Welcome to Clumpies, Chattanooga’s premiere destination for handcrafted homemade ice cream. Clumpies has brought small batch culture to the next level with their signature “micro-batch” process, working with fewer than ten gallons at a time. Is your brain frozen yet? Well, then head on down for some truly sweet Southern home cooking.
CREOLE CREAMERY (NEW ORLEANS, LA)
The Big Easy goes big when it comes to ice cream, and with a slogan like “Eat ice cream. Be Happy.” The Creole Creamery is no exception. With flavors including White Chocolate Truffle Popcorn and Creole Cream Cheese the menu is more colorful than a beaded neck on Mardi Gras. Some Yelpers even claim they were offered free samples without even asking – how’s that for an inside scoop?
HODGMAN’S FROZEN CUSTARD (NEW GLOUCESTER, ME)
While it fancies itself a “frozen custard shop” rather than an ice cream store, one bite of Hodman’s vanilla will quickly distract you from any syntactical differences. A quaint roadside house in picturesque Maine, Hodgman’s makes for the perfect sweet treat after a lobster dinner. Thicker and creamier than traditional ice cream, Hodman’s custard doesn’t melt as quickly as whatever’s filling your average cup or cone, making the custard last longer on your tongue and in your memory.
LICK ICE CREAMS (AUSTIN, TX)
Lick’s motto is “honesty is the best policy, even when it comes to ice cream,” and boy do they mean it. This Austin creamery pledges to never use artificial colors or flavors, high fructose corn syrup or preservatives, believing that “what doesn’t go into our ice creams is just as important as what does.” Inspired by seasonal Texas flavors, Lick goes way beyond vanilla and chocolate, offering gems like Cilantro Lime, Sweet Persimmon and Dewberry Corn Cobbler. Its two co-founders, born and bred Texans who met in New York, bonded over their shared “small town minds in the big city.” Our stomachs sure are glad that Anthony and Chad met and moved back home!
MARGIE’S FINE CANDIES (CHICAGO, IL)
Margie’s is a Chicago institution and has been for over 90 years! As ingrained in Second City culinary culture as deep dish pizza and overloaded hot dogs, when it comes to ice cream, Margie’s does it big! With a client list boasting everyone from Al Capone to the Beatles, Margie’s uses all natural and Kosher ingredients in its Sears Tower sized sundae bowls complete with every topping you could ever ask for.
ULULANI’S HAWAIIAN SHAVE ICE (KIHEI, HI)
Ok, its not technically ice cream, but its an excuse to take a trip to Hawaii and its still damn good! Shave ice is one of the most popular desserts in the Aloha State, combining, you guessed it, shaved ice, with a variety of flavored syrups to create the perfect post surfing treat. Ululani and her husband David, were longtime shave ice lovers, before deciding to use some of their retirement money to purchase a shave ice machine and supplies in the Pacific Northwest. As the islands called for them, Ululani and David moved back to Hawaii and have risen to the top of the shave ice market on their experimental flavors and hard work. Aloha to that!
TOSCANINI’S (BOSTON, MA)
Bostonians may want to consider changing their city’s nickname to Vanilla Benton after Toscanini’s was named “The World’s Best Ice Cream” by, gasp, The New York Times. Yes, only Toscanini’s delicious homemade flavors are capable of melting the centuries long rivalry between Boston and New York. Just a few blocks from MIT, Toscanini’s flavors would satisfy any engineer or brainiac with names like bourbon-gingersnap and b3 (“a monstrously rich combination of brown butter, brown sugar, and fat chunks of fudge brownie.”) Toscanini’s puts the sweet in Boston’s unofficial anthem “Sweet Caroline.”
MOOmers Homemade Ice Cream (Traverse City, MI)
When an ice cream shop is located on a real-life dairy farm, that’s probably a good sign that its worthy of inclusion on this list. Located on the grounds of former first-grade-teacher Nancy Plummer’s Michigan dairy farm, MOOmers (pun very much intended) opened in April of 1998 and has been scooping with a smile ever since. With over 150 flavors and a brand new creamery (opened in 2011), a trip to MOOmers is much more than your typical ice cream counter interaction – and hey, you might even meet a few cows!
Homer’s Restaurant and Ice Cream (Wilmette, IL)
Opened in 1935 as a two-table parlor, Homer’s has become one of the number one scoop shops in the Second City area. Some may be disappointed to hear the founder of Homer’s name was Gus Poulos, and not a certain Simpsons-patriarch namesake, but one bite of the dozens of flavors of ice cream, sherbet and sorbet will take your mind off that in no time. And if a trip to the Windy City isn’t on your schedule, then you’re in luck – Homer’s prides itself on overnight delivery nationwide – now that’s pretty sweet.
Michael Jones is a Senior Editor for Funding Circle, specializing in small business loans. He holds a degree in International Business and Economics from Boston University's Questrom School of Business. Prior to Funding Circle, Michael was the Head of Content for Bond Street, a venture-backed FinTech company specializing in small business loans. He has written extensively about small business loans, entrepreneurship, and marketing.