For a generation, the main spot to answer the scream for local ice cream in Philadelphia was Bassetts at the Reading Terminal Market. Then Italian-chic Capogiro entered the scene with its flavor-forward gelato, followed by Franklin Fountain, with its old-timey soda fountain.
But over the last few years, those three big names have seen increasing competition as more small-batch, locally made ice cream appears in neighborhoods around the city.
Weckerly's in West Philadelphia, which debuted this year, offers French-style ice cream with a luscious, custardlike quality from the inclusion of egg yolks.
Little Baby's, the rock-and-roll-inspired tricycle cart with bricks-and-mortar locations in Fishtown and West Philadelphia.
Lil' Pop Shop, which specializes in frozen pops in flavors like red hot mango chile pepper and Vietnamese ice coffee, has just opened its second location off South Street, a year after launching in West Philadelphia.
Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, the Northern Liberties-based bakery best known for its cupcakes, has ventured into ice cream sandwiches, albeit with the filling supplied by out-of-towners, Taharka Brothers ice cream from Baltimore.
Brown Chicken Brown Cow in Pennsport focuses on cones, sundaes, and root beer floats, with ice cream supplied by Uncle Dave's brand from Shady Brook Farm in Yardley. The modest storefront is situated a few blocks south of another high-calorie haven, Federal Donuts.
Zsa's Gourmet Ice Cream has gone the food-truck route, selling flavors like salted caramel and maple toffee graham at the Sunday market at Headhouse Square, Love Park, the Porch at 30th Street Station, and other sites.
"There's plenty of ice cream parlors serving Haagen-Dazs or Bassetts - our concept was to bring the country creamery experience to the city," says Eric Luther, co-owner of Brown Chicken Brown Cow, which opened last fall at the tail end of ice cream season.
The treats produced by Weckerly's are familiar but with a cool twist: "Dixie"-style cups in flavors like mint chocolate truffle; a trio of rich chocolate bonbons enrobing Earl Grey, burnt sugar and lavender-honey ice cream; and house-made graham crackers sandwiching rhubarb-buttermilk ice cream.
"I like the farm-fresh feel," says co-owner Jennifer Satinsky, a former pastry chef at the White Dog Cafe. "I'm inspired by older flavors. I like revisiting classics, and giving them a modern spin."
Like Weckerly's and Little Baby's, Brown Chicken Brown Cow serves super-premium ice cream, meaning butterfat content is at least 16 percent. Each emphasizes its local bona fides.
Weckerly's, which originates from Green Line Cafe, sources its cream from Seven Stars Farm in Phoenixville, and buys its other ingredients from local farmers or fair-trade providers. Little Baby's, after a long search, picked Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg for its dairy, and incorporates local ingredients into its flavors, such as Goldenberg's Peanut Chews in its Vanilla Molasses.
"We're trying to do it locally, we're trying to do it organically," says partner Jeffrey Ziga. "Almost every bit of produce we get is from Greensgrow Farm, which is in our neighborhood and has a network of sustainable farms."
But each is also trying to scoop out its own niche. Brown Chicken Brown Cow keeps things straightforward, with a dozen mostly classic flavors in rotation - pistachio, strawberry, butter pecan, with the most exotic being tiramisu. "We're not trying to be an elegant ice cream parlor with small scoops for $4," Luther says. (He charges $3.75 for two large scoops.)
At Little Baby's, the flavors are more cutting-edge - Earl Grey sriracha, chipotle chocolate, balsamic banana - and also come in vegan and nondairy variations, reflecting partners Pete Angevine, Martin Brown, and Ziga's roots as musicians and "creative people."
"It's like writing a piece of music - it's a blank canvas, you can do what you want," Ziga says.
Although Angevine and Brown had made ice cream at home, the three decided to send Brown to train at Pennsylvania State University's well-regarded ice cream school, whose alumni include Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's fame. It fell to Ziga to literally steer the fledgling business. Before opening its "world headquarters" in Fishtown last year, Little Baby's sold its wares out of Flavor Blaster One, a tricked-out, tricycle-powered cart that patrolled the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival and other community events.
Weckerly's traces its origins to the White Dog Cafe, where for a dozen years Satinsky made ice cream to accompany desserts. Now the kitchen manager at Green Line Cafe, Satinsky has teamed with her husband, Andy (whose day job is in the service department at a bicycle shop), to produce the ice cream in Green Line's cramped kitchen. They plan to expand the brand, whose moniker is a variation on her maiden name, into places like the nearby Mariposa Food Co-op, and eventually their own shop.
"When I started working as a pastry chef, I was fascinated by ice cream," Jennifer Satinsky says. "There were no limits. It was the one thing I wanted to do most. I'm finally doing it."
Meadow Mint Ice Cream With Mini Chocolate Truffles
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
2 ounces fresh mint (any variety)
7 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
Mini Chocolate Truffles (see recipe) or 21/2 ounces dark chocolate, shaved
1. Mix together cream, milk, and mint in medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer.
2. While cream mixture is heating, mix together yolks, sugar, and salt in large bowl.
3. Slowly pour heated cream over yolk mix, while continuously whisking.
4. Combine everything and put it back in the saucepan, and over medium heat, whisk constantly until mixture thickens, about one minute.
5. Put finished mix in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.
6. Strain mix before running in ice cream machine.
For Mini Chocolate Truffles: Mix 2 ounces (good melting) dark chocolate, 1 teaspoon honey, and 2 tablespoons heavy cream in metal mixing bowl. Put 1 inch of water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Place bowl on top of saucepan. Stir occasionally until ganache is smooth. Let ganache cool for about 15 minutes. Put ganache in pastry bag with small round tip. Squeeze out mini chocolate truffles. Freeze truffles before adding to the ice cream, so they maintain their shape and texture.
7. Pour strained mix into your home ice cream machine, and churn until it resembles soft-serve. As you transfer the finished ice cream into the container, layer it with chocolate truffles or chocolate shavings. Do not stir the truffles in - that will cause the ice cream to melt.
Per 6-ounce serving: 417 calories; 212 calories from fat; 23.5 g fat (13.5 g saturated); 271 mg cholesterol; 46.9 g carbohydrate; 0.8 g fiber; 44.5 g sugar; 6.6 g protein; 83 mg sodium.
Earl Grey Sriracha Ice Cream (French-Style)
Makes 4-5 servings
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup cane sugar
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons (loose) traditional Earl Grey English breakfast tea
1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1. Place 4 egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl and lightly mix with a fork.
2. In a small saucepan, heat milk and cream on stovetop over medium heat until light bubbles form on side of pot.
3. Turn heat down to low and add tea. Steep for about a minute, then strain.
4. Temper (pour small amounts so eggs don't cook) half of milk and cream with tea mixture into egg and sugar bowl.
5. Pour egg, sugar, and tea mixture back into saucepan on lowest heat. Whisk continually on low until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and not drip. Pull from stove and let cool in refrigerator overnight.
6. Whisk in a teaspoon of sriracha sauce or more to taste (should taste like the milk from Froot Loops breakfast cereal with a garlicky, spicy kick at the end).
7. Put in prefrozen ice cream bowl (if your particular machine requires it) and blend for about 20 minutes.
8. Freeze overnight for hard ice cream, or dump it all into a heavy zip-lock bag, snip the corner, and pipe it out into a cone as soft-serve.
Per 6-ounce serving: 288 calories; 151 calories from fat; 16.7 g fat (9.1 g saturated); 233 mg cholesterol; 28.6 g carbohydrate; 27.9 g sugar; 6.5 g protein; 70 mg sodium.