News & Politics

Ice Cream

A summer guide to the creamiest, tastiest, richest ice cream, frozen custard, and gelato in DC, Maryland & Virginia.

We All Scream

Flip-flops, baseball, going out for ice cream–that's what summer's about.  It's also about nostalgia. About a slower, sweeter way of life. Evenings on the front porch counting fireflies and licking a double-dip cone. Piling into the car to go for a scoop, we reclaim a piece of our childhoods. Here's where to get the best–from old-fashioned ice-cream parlors to new-wave creameries. Critics' picks (*) are the ones we go back to time after time.

The District

Dickey's Frozen Custard, DC, 202-293-7100; Bethesda., 301-652-1100; Arlington, 703-418-0700; Crystal City, 703-416-2700; and two locations in Bethany Beach. Fans of Dickey's velvety smooth frozen custard insist it's creamier than Kohr Brothers'. Choices are simple: vanilla, chocolate, a swirl of the two, and at some stands fruit flavors like strawberry, raspberry, and peach.

Ice Cream Station, 3528 12th St., NE; 202-526-7419. Students flock to this Catholic University hangout for coffee, smoothies, and old-fashioned Hershey's ice cream in flavors like butter brickle and Dutch-chocolate almond.

Dolcezza, 1560 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4646. This brand-new stop, scheduled to open this summer, plans to dish up ultra-smooth Argentine ice cream, which is similar to gelato.

Max's Best, 2416 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-3111. A longtime Glover Park favorite with some 250 house-made flavors, 35 of them available at any given time. Think outside the cone with the likes of chocolate pecan (great in the shop's signature brownie sundae), fresh ginger, coffee oreo, and OC3 (orange chocolate chocolate chip). Max's also makes frozen yogurt.

*Thomas Sweet, 3214 P St., NW; 202-337-0616. Bittersweet, a dark chocolate with chocolate shavings, gets raves from chocolate lovers. But flavors like banana, caramel, and peppermint stick have fans, too. Gooey hot fudge and great chocolate malteds (made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup) are other claims to fame at this Georgetown favorite. Eat at one of the wrought-iron cafe tables on the patio or inside, which is low on charm–but who needs charm when you've got ice cream this good?


Anne's Dari Creme, 7918 Richie Hwy., Glen Burnie; 410-761-1231. This small, '50s-style diner has sassy waitresses, footlong hot dogs, and retro soft-serve ice cream, shakes, and sundaes. Most customers take the ice cream to go.

Arctic Circle, 3046 Churchville Rd., Churchville; 410-734-7692. If you're after nostalgia, Arctic Circle dishes up lots of it. Besides soft-serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream to eat at picnic tables outside, the stand, acquired in 1966 by the same family that runs it today, is within a stone's throw of a drive-in theater and a mini-golf course. And it's in Churchville.

Bob's Famous Ice Cream and Gourmet Express, 4706 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 301-657-2963. A funky Bethesda cafe that serves deli sandwiches and coffee drinks. But the big draw is the fine house-made ice cream in flavors like gingersnap-vanilla studded with gingerbread.

*Cherry Hill Farm and Orchards, 12300 Gallahan Rd., Clinton; 301-292-4642. Soft-serve ice cream made on the premises with large hunks of orchard-ripe seasonal fruit–strawberry, blackberry, peach, and apple pie–is worth the trip. Added bonus: house-made doughnuts, fruit picking, and farm stands.

The Dairy, University of Maryland, B079 Turner Hall, College Park; 301-405-1415. It's open only from 11 to 4 Monday through Friday, but the 26 flavors made in-house with milk from the university's herd of Holsteins are popular with kids and students. Eat indoors or out.

Durding's Store, 5742 Main St., Rock Hall; 410-778-7957. Dating from the 1920s, Durding's has all the makings of a movie set: vintage soda fountain, tin ceiling, and red stools. Ice creams are from Edy's, Jack and Jill, Kemps, and others. Flavors range from the zany, like cotton-candy confetti, to the classics. A rotating lineup of exotic shakes is the big thing here: coconut, chocolate macadamia, hazelnut, and the new Baby Ruth sundae.

Gifford's Ice Cream & Candy Company, 7237 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-907-3436. Its location–next to the Landmark movie theater and across the street from a Barnes & Noble–keeps Gifford's crowded. All the ice cream and chocolate sauce is made in Rockville, then transferred here. Flavors tend toward the traditional, like Swiss chocolate.

*Ice Cream Factory & Cafe, 13700 Old Brandywine Rd., Brandywine; 301-782-3444. Formerly a general store and post office dating to circa 1867, this lovingly renovated ice-cream parlor dishes up fabulous old-fashioned frozen custard made on the premises in the usual vanilla, chocolate, and swirl, plus custom flavors like lemon, banana, and peanut butter. These flavorings are added while you watch and creativity is encouraged, so you could end up with something like coffee-maple nut. Shakes and sundaes are also made with the custard. There's a roomy porch and umbrella tables for lingering.

Jimmie Cone, 26420 Ridge Rd., Damascus; 301-253-2003. The appeal here is soft ice cream in vanilla, chocolate, and orange or strawberry to adorn with chocolate or rainbow-hued sprinkles or Jimmies. Picnic tables shaded by an old-timey green awning add to the appeal.

Justine's Ice Cream, 106 N. Talbot St., St. Michaels; 410-745-5416. This longtime favorite has moved across the street from the old shop. The ice cream, Jack and Jill, is as good as ever. So are innovative shakes like the Creamsicle and sundaes like the Dusty Road with marshmallow cream, hot fudge, a shake of malt powder, and whipped cream.

Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shoppe, 9150-17 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City; 410-480-2856. Offbeat flavors and sundae combos provide a change from the ordinary at this lively shop with seating inside and a bench outside. Ice cream comes from Lee's and Edy's. Death by Chocolate and Arbuckle's Delight (vanilla with chocolate melted into it) are the big hits, though oddities like coconut-pineapple, Peanut Butter Blitz, and Malt Ball 'n' Fudge With Whoppers have followings. The mint sundae–with mint ice cream, hot fudge, and Andes mint candies–is like a cool summer breeze.

Old Towne Creamery, 9B Goldsborough St., Easton; 410-820-5223. Vintage toys and ice-cream cartons in the window add a touch of nostalgia to this parlor with candy-striped walls and tables indoor and out. Forty flavors, from Jack and Jill, among others, range from to caramel praline to Moose Tracks with peanut-butter cups. The chocolatey low-carb chocolate is a dieter's dream.

Summer Delights, 6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park; 301-891-2880. Chocolate lovers will find much to crow about at this neighborhood cafe/hangout where the cocoa bean is celebrated with Nutty Doula, chocolate raspberry truffle, mocha, and Mary's fudge, among other flavors. Beyond chocolate, there's a world of flavors like banana, praline, and peach. The cafe also is notable for its Elvis memorabilia on the walls.

York Castle Tropical Ice Cream, 9324 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-589-1616. All-natural tropical-island flavors like soursop, banana, piña colada, and papaya are among the gems at this friendly shop run by a Jamaican family. There are a couple of tables, but most people get their cones, dishes, or hand-packed pints and quarts to go.


*Carl's Frozen Custard, 2200 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg. On the Virginia Register of Historic Places, Carl's is a throwback to the 1940s. Owned by the descendants of Carl Sponseller, who opened the place, Carl's still makes its custard with 1940s Electro-Freeze machines, which, aficionados insist, turn out a richer custard. Unlike other softserves, the vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors are scooped, not swirled.

*Del Ray Dreamery, 2310 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-683-7767. The picnic tables and picket fence are indoors at this engaging frozen-custard shop that's become a local hangout. Ultra-creamy Wisconsin-style hand-dipped frozen custard is served here. Vanilla is a given, and there's always a flavor of the day: coconut cream, lemon meringue pie, blueberry cheesecake. There are frozen dog treats, too.

Da Da's, 29 Weems La., Winchester; 540-678-4289. Grab an outdoor picnic table and enjoy one of Da-Da's 36 flavors of ice cream, even better with homemade shortcake, and a dollop of fruit. Try the banana or black-raspberry soft serve.

Kingsbury Chocolates, 1017 King St., Alexandria; 703-548-2800. This elegant chocolate shop and cafe, known for its exotic truffles, has added ice cream, sorbet, and frozen custard. Flavors rotate from the likes of chocolate gelato to vanilla frozen custard to combos inspired by truffles, such as citrus with tangy lemon bits and white chocolate frangelico. It's not unusual to find chunks of truffles in the mixture.

Kline's Freeze, 8200 Centreville Rd., Manassas; 703-368-2013. Home of the Pecan Turtle Delight featuring fresh-roasted pecans from Alabama, caramel, and hot fudge, Kline's has been turning out soft-serve since 1965. Flavors are chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and you can have a chili dog beforehand if the spirit moves at one of the umbrellaed picnic tables out back. The Kline family also owns Kline's Drive-In (11013 Nokesville Rd., Manassas; 703-361-8835), which serves the same soft-serve.

*Lazy Sundae, 2925 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-4960. An offbeat sense of humor is at work at this funky, casual cafe with its vintage booths, art-deco ice-cream sign, and old-fashioned candy counter. How else to explain flavors like licorice, Earl Grey, key-lime pie, and ice-cream cake with hunks of yellow cake and chocolate frosting mixed in? There's vanilla, chocolate, and cafe con leche, too, plus thick hot fudge for sundaes.

Milwaukee Frozen Custard, locations in Chantilly, 703-263-1920; Herndon, 703-467-0900; Manassas, 703-393-9990; Woodbridge, 703-497-5511. Made from premium Wisconsin cream and egg yolks, this smooth custard is closest to ones you find at state fairs all over the Midwest. The flavors are fabulous vanilla and chocolate–not worth the cholesterol–plus a flavor of the day such as malted cherry, dark cherries mixed in malted vanilla custard. Recently added: low-carb custard. You can sit and eat your custard there and watch the choo-choo train make its rounds, or get some to go.

Nielsen's Frozen Custard, 144 Church St., NW, Vienna; 703-255-5553. Families and high-schoolers crowd Nielsen's for the buttery, ultra-thick frozen custard made in-house. Mix-ins like crumbled Oreos and crushed candy bars liven up the basic chocolate and vanilla flavors.

Pack's Frozen Custard, two seasonal stands in Winchester, 540-667-1301 and 540-667-6625; and in Stephens City, 540-869-4199. This is the real thing: eggy, rich, and delicious. Available in purist vanilla, chocolate, and a twist.

*Sinplicity, 507 S. 23rd St., Arlington; 703-892-1400. Former restaurant chef Leland Atkinson, who makes ice cream for restaurants 15 Ria and Taqueria Poblano, serves ice cream and sorbet sparkling with flavor at his homey Crystal City cafe. Try the margarita sorbet or the silken cappuccino crunch with candied hazelnuts.

Thelma's Country Store, 10200 Colvin Run Rd., Great Falls; 703-757-2800. Thelma may no longer be with us, but her ice cream lives on: tutti frutti, butterscotch, black raspberry, and orange pineapple. This old-timey general store was built in the 1930s from vintage barn boards, and it's been a popular stop for travelers and locals ever since.

Sorting Out The Ice Cream Chains

Baskin-Robbins, 51 area locations. Dig a pink plastic spoon into one of the 31 classic flavors like Rainbow Sherbet, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Jamoca Almond Fudge. Kids love the ice-cream layer cakes and clown cones.

*Ben & Jerry's, 17 area shops plus supermarkets. Ben & Jerry's great ice cream–combined with its savvy marketing and environmental consciousness–have made it the leader in the super-premium ice-cream market. The witty flavor names like Chunky Monkey and Chubby Hubby help, too.

*Cold Stone Creamery, 13 area locations. For fans of mix-ins, Cold Stone is mecca. Super-sweet ice creams in flavors such as cake batter and white chocolate are slathered across a granite slab, then mixed with treats like yellow cake pieces, brownie chunks, and fresh berries. The results–and the singing employees–may be too cloying for some, but kiddies love it.

*Häagen-Dazs, five area locations. This 84-year-old Bronx ice-cream maker still produces the gold standard for rich, intensely flavored ice creams. Another reason to head for a Häagen-Dazs store: delicious, extra-thick shakes.

Kohr Brothers, nine area locations. What started as a booth on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1919 has evolved into a chain of stands everywhere from local malls to the Delaware beaches. The swirl cones and Snowstorms (custard with mix-ins) will satisfy a craving, but some think that the taste isn't what it used to be.

Maggie Moo's, 14 area locations. A recent entry in the local super-premium market, Maggie Moo's makes its ice cream fresh in each location every day, then adds mix-ins to order on a marble slab. Maggie's vanilla ice cream with cookie dough is a treat that any adult will love.

Learning To Love Gelato

*Aromi d'Italia, 8 Dock St., Annapolis; 410-263-1300. On the waterfront, this shop dishes up house-made gelato in classic Italian flavors like tiramisu and stracciatella along with tangy lemon, coffee, chocolate peanut butter, and chocolate hazelnut. The owner and ice-cream maker are both from Italy, giving the place a whiff of authenticity. There are tables and chairs indoors and out.

*Cafe Gelato, 4823 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda; 301-913-0050. The ice-cream sandwich has gone upscale at this color-splashed gelateria with fabulous house-made chocolate-chunk cookies sandwiching gelato fillings. There are shakes and sodas, cones and cups, too. Sit at one of the marble tables inside or out and savor peach, chocolate, hazelnut, and espresso gelato, made with Italian flavorings and a custom dairy base. Owner Mark Dosik studied the art of gelato-making in Italy.

*Dean & DeLuca, 3276 M St., NW; 202-342-2500. It's easy to miss the small ice-cream case of gelatos at the outdoor cafe of the Georgetown store. Twelve rich, ultra-creamy flavors, from banana to classic gianduja, with chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and strawberry in between.

Magruder's, 3527 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-237-2561. Yes, the mixed berry is overly sweet, but if you order wisely–namely the pistachio or hazelnut–you'll experience gelato the way it was meant to be. New this summer and available only in the Cleveland Park outpost, Magruder's gelato is made in a gelato machine in the back of the store. Foam-plastic containers keep it cool for patrons who want to take a pint home.

Sam's Cafe and Market, 765 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-424-1600. Gelato is the last thing you'd expect to find in this shop crammed with Middle Eastern foodstuffs and dried fruit, but there it is, right in the front of the store, 27 flavors at a time from a roster of around 85. Most unusual are fig and Persian vanilla laced with rosewater and saffron. But there are more-familiar picks too–rich chocolate, French vanilla, and zabaglione.

Sutton Place, 10323 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-564-3100. You can get much-touted Ciao Bella gelato from New York's Little Italy in flavors like peaches and cream, caramel, hazelnut, butter pecan, and pistachio from the counter at the Bethesda outpost–in cones or cups, or hand-packed to go.

*Sweet Nina's, 37 E. Dover St., Easton; 410-763-9272. This sliver of an espresso bar/bakeshop gets its gelato "from a little old lady who makes it from scratch in Baltimore," according to the owner. Try lush chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut, mint chocolate chip, or orange, all authentically displayed in metal canisters. About 15 flavors rotate, with around half a dozen available at any given time.

Ice Cream By The Truckload

Want to rent a Good Humor ice cream truck or cart for your next children's party or office picnic? Berliner Specialty Distributors in Hyattsville (301-927-4444) can provide Good Humor trucks from the '60s, servers in uniform, and a menu of ice-cream specialties, from Klondike bars to ice cream sandwiches.


Real ice cream must have at least 10 percent butterfat. Ice cream with additions–fruit, nuts, chunks of chocolate–needs at least 8 percent butterfat.

Gelato is Italian-style ice cream, generally made from eggs, milk, and intense flavorings and frozen so it has less air than American ice cream.

Frozen custard contains at least 10 percent milkfat and 1.4 percent egg yolks and is frozen in a machine that beats little air into the mixture. Because frozen custard and gelato usually are made fresh, they are served at a higher temperature than ice cream, which may be stored at very low temperatures for long periods of time.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.