Ice cream: It’s the quintessential summer dessert. Fortunately, Philly’s got plenty of places to find it, even if you don’t eat dairy. From soft serve to creatively flavored scoops to double-layered cakes and milkshakes, we’ve rounded up where to get vegan ice cream. Plus, we’ve got a look at how it’s possible to make dairy-free ice cream so incredibly creamy and delicious.
What is vegan ice cream?
At the base is usually a plant-based milk, whether it’s coconut, oat, soy, or some combination. Some restaurants serve vegan ice cream from long-standing national companies, like Tofutti and Chicago Vegan Foods. But many local chefs make their own, usually trying to replicate flavors and textures that are as close to the real deal as possible.
“A good vegan ice cream is one where you can really barely taste the difference between its dairy counterpart,” says Vannah Banana owner Kianu Walker, who distributes vegan pints to restaurants across the city. “I make mine out of coconut milk, so yes, it’s going to taste a little bit like coconut, but the key is to use high-fat, high-quality coconut milk to get that real creaminess, and then mix in toppings that can help mask any overbearing flavor.”
Vedge co-owner Kate Jacoby agrees that a full-fat base is essential. At Vedge, ice cream is made with equal parts coconut milk and soy milk, combined with vanilla extract, vanilla bean, and lemon juice. “I found that combining those two plant milks worked nicely so that it didn’t scream coconut and it didn’t scream soy,” says Jacoby. “The lemon adds a little acid to replicate that tang you’d get from dairy.”
“Once you’ve found your basic foundation, then you can have so much fun with it,” says Jacoby, who has turned Vedge’s vanilla base into ice cream flavors ranging from rosemary to curry banana to cannoli.
Elsewhere, you’ll find chefs playing with ingredients to create treats like tehina milkshakes, butter pecan soft serve, and banana whip. There’s also no shortage of classic flavors made dairy-free, like cookies and cream and strawberry.
Here’s where to go for vegan ice cream in Philadelphia:
Price: $6 (varies by location)
Vannah Banana is known for creative ice cream flavors like carrot cake cookie crumble, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and green tea matcha. You can find them by the pint at Tattooed Mom, Nourish, Vegan Commissary, and Queen and Rook Cafe, as well as outside the city at Glenside’s Dream Ice Cream. Walker’s favorite option, and the best-selling flavor, is the cookies ‘n cream. At Tattooed Mom, you can try the Oreo-filled flavor piled between two sweet potato brownies, an ice cream sandwich created in collaboration with Walker’s dad, George, of Kole Mari Catering. Walker is working on new sandwich flavors for the summer. And he’s launching his first Vannah Banana mobile cart, which may be roaming around the city as early as July.
Price: $6.25 (single scoop), $8.50 (double scoop), $11 (triple scoop)
Since 2006, the Franklin Fountain has been serving up classic, handmade ice cream from its Old City storefront. And you’ll almost always find vegan, coconut-based options on the menu. Franklin’s signature dairy-free flavor is the Hydrox, a twist on cookies and cream that features a generous amount of Oreo-like Hydrox cookie chunks. Other flavors rotate seasonally, like lavender in the spring, blueberry in the summer, and pumpkin in fall. There are sorbet options, too, in flavors like mango and guava-strawberry.
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Price: $4.25 (cup), $6.75 (pint), $10.95 (quart)
This vegetarian Germantown cafe offers an entire menu of vegan ice cream, with flavors like cherry vanilla, caramel fudge, strawberry, cookies and cream, and the popular butter pecan. All are made with a coconut and soy milk base and are available by the cup, pint, or quart.
Price: $7 for create-your-own vegan soft serve
Customize your own vegan soft serve at Scoop DeVille, where you can choose from more than a dozen vegan ingredients to get churned into vanilla Tofutti ice cream. “We don’t use soft serve machines, which allows us to use better ingredients, like fresh strawberries instead of a syrup. Everything starts with hard ice cream, and then these drill-looking machines mix it with the ingredients of your choice and turn it into soft serve,” says owner Spencer Philips. “From vanilla, we can make you chocolate peanut butter, strawberry banana, peanut butter and jelly, and so on.” Also on the menu: an acai sorbet base, premade flavors like the best-selling pecan pie (a blend of vanilla Tofutti, pecans, maple syrup, and sea salt), oat-milk-based milkshakes, and vegan ice cream cakes.
There’s no lack of creativity at Vedge, where coconut-and-soy-based ice cream comes in flavors like lavender, curry banana, and basil. You have to dine at the restaurant to enjoy a scoop, but you can almost always expect to receive more than just ice cream, whether it’s a fresh fruit garnish or a dark chocolate “magic” shell encasing the whole scoop. Flavors are made in small batches and rotate every week or two.
The heart of Goldie’s menu is fried falafel drizzled with creamy tehina and stuffed into a pita. But the Israeli-style shop, from the team behind Zahav, has gained equal attention for its vegan tehina milkshakes. The thick, creamy shakes start with a base of almond and soy milk, plus local Soom Foods sesame tehina. Go for the original for a sweet, nutty flavor, or choose from flavors like Turkish coffee, banana, and mint chocolate.
One of the best deals in the city, this Passyunk Avenue cafe serves up vegan soft serve for just $2 a cup. It has a marshmallow-like flavor, made from a base of oats and soy from Chicago Vegan Foods. Choose between cone or cup, with the option to add sprinkles or chocolate syrup for an extra 50 cents.
Known for its indulgent, mix-in packed ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s continues to drop new vegan flavors, often available at its two Philly scoop shops. Look for menu items like chocolate chip cookie dough, cold brew coffee fudge chip, and Colin Kaepernick’s “Change the Whirled,” a caramel ice cream filled with fudge chips, a graham cracker swirl, and chocolate cookies created in support of racial justice. Both locations allow you to preorder dairy-free ice cream cakes, too.
Price: $5.25 for banana whip (includes 1 topping), $4.35-$8.70 for milkshakes, depending on size
HipCityVeg’s banana whip has just one ingredient: frozen bananas. It’s a lighter summer treat that you can make as indulgent as you want, with toppings like coconut flakes, chocolate chip cookie and brownie crumbles, chocolate syrup, peanuts, sprinkles, pretzels, and chia seeds. There are also vanilla and chocolate milkshakes on the menu, made from soy-based ice cream. And there’s always a shake of the month, in flavors like cold brew mocha and peanut butter. (Find the seasonal milkshake calendar on the website here.)
This all-raw and vegan Germantown cafe sells house-made ice cream made with coconut milk and agave syrup. Vanilla is the staple flavor, but sometimes you’ll see specials like banana or chocolaty carob on the menu, too.
Known for its Thai-inspired rolled ice cream, Sweet Charlie’s whips up customizable ice cream orders on the spot. The vegan option starts with a liquid base made with soy milk and vanilla that’s poured onto an ice-cold surface kept below 20 degrees. Spread into a thin layer, it freezes instantly and then is rolled into cylindrical-shaped spiral curls. Toppings and mix-ins options, like strawberries and Oreos, abound.
Price: $3.50 (cup or cone), $5 (affogato)
Vegan doughnuts come side by side with dairy-free vanilla soft serve at this Northern Liberties coffee shop. The creamy treat comes from national food brand Rich’s, made out of a base that combines oat milk, sugar, and sunflower oil. Get it by the cup or cone, or take it up a notch and order it as an affogato, served beneath a double shot of locally roasted espresso, or in a cup with nitro cold brew.
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