Distinctive Ice Creams in Northern California

Five ice cream shops serve up inventive concoctions using local, organic ingredients.

Small girl eating ice cream at Penny Ice Cream in Santa Cruz, Calif., image

In Santa Cruz, three-year-old Rosalie Hassett taste tests a classic flavor: Tahitian vanilla bean.

Ice cream isn’t what it used to be—or at least not around trendy Northern California. Just ask Kendra Baker, who grew up on 31 flavors but serves something altogether different at her Penny Ice Creamery, a sweet new shop on Cedar Street in Santa Cruz (831-204-2523, thepennyicecreamery.com). Her ever-changing menu features such flavors as English pea, fig leaf, and beet.

Baker sees herself as part of ice cream’s third wave, the first marked by such brands as Breyers and Baskin-Robbins, the second by the likes of Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, who introduced green practices and inventive, cheeky varieties. Third wavers are now pushing things even further, emphasizing seasonal and local ingredients and flavors so exotic they’d make Ben and Jerry blanch.

You can order kumquat–poppy seed, peanut butter curry, rhubarb, or prosciutto ice cream from Jake Godby at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco (415-550-6971, humphryslocombe.com). The city’s Robyn Sue Goldman makes single scoops of her Smitten Ice Cream (415-863-1518, smittenicecream.com) with a device that chills the ingredients using liquid nitrogen. She’ll serve such flavors as lemon gingersnap and apple streusel at a shop opening in Hayes Valley early this year.

Extraordinary flavors also light up the menus at Ici in Berkeley (510-665-6054, ici-icecream.com), Tara’s Organic Ice Cream in Oakland and Berkeley (510-923-1567, tarasorganic.com) and Fairfax Scoop in Fairfax (415-453-3130).

Although Baker got her start in high-end restaurants, where goat cheese and olive oil ice creams were standard fare, she hasn’t spurned all things old-fashioned. “I always have vanilla,” she says. But if that scoop of rocky road doesn’t include organic chocolate, handmade marshmallows, and almonds with sea salt, it isn’t hers.

Photography by Anita Bowen

This article was first published in January 2011 and updated in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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