Big Dippers: The City’s Best Ice Cream
Maybe you, too, were lucky enough to have a Grampa who, on especially sweltering Indiana days, dragged the ice cream maker out of the garage and became a hero. Mine would unfold his lawn chair beside the whining electric bucket, sweating through his undershirt as he heaved layers of bagged ice and rock salt into the machine’s churning maw. Finally, after an excruciating buildup, he’d unplug the extension cord, lift the metal core out onto the grass, and tell all the cousins to go get their bowls and spoons. Nothing has ever tasted so sweet. But whatever your gold standard for ice cream, Indy’s small-batch creameries and hometown scoop shops take that same simple formula—dairy and sugar mixed as they freeze—and work some magic of their own. From French vanilla to French Violet, here are the homegrown flavors to try when the forecast is sunny with a chance of sprinkles.
Fans of this micro-batch ice cream track down the $12 pints at pop-ups and special events, like the WFYI trivia night for which owner Wes DeBoy whipped up a blue vanilla-based Cookie Monster flavor full of salted dark-chocolate cookie dust. Another collaboration, with Metazoa Brewing Company, resulted in a peanut-butter stout ice cream loaded with chocolate ganache and puppy-chow snack mix. DeBoy also worked with Indy Dough on a batch of sea-salt vanilla that plays off the doughnut-maker’s glazed old-fashioneds.
All of the flavors in the Circles repertoire are hand-packed carton by carton, with mix-ins (like the salted caramel, vanilla-wafer crumbles, and “dark chocolate freckles” in the Banoffee Pie) layered in manually to ensure more deliciousness per mouthful. THE SCOOP: Order by the pint through the Circles website for weekly home delivery.
205 Park St., Westfield, 317-399-7878
In 2014, Toby and Melanie Miles opened Rail, a small gourmet market and restaurant in a refurbished barn in Westfield. The husband-and-wife chefs managed to crank out a menu of stunningly sophisticated dishes in the tiny kitchen behind the cash register, but when the equally snug building next door became available, they seized the opportunity to transform the space into a pastry kitchen.
To justify the real estate, the front of the house became a scaled-down ice cream shop serving 12 rotating flavors made from scratch. Bucking the custard trend, Cone + Crumb’s base consists of just milk, cream, and sugar. No egg. “It doesn’t need it,” Toby says. “We like that fresh milk flavor, and we didn’t want anything to compete with it.” Instead, you get a hit of mint from the leaves that get steeped in the dark-chocolate mint’s base and all of the savory-sweet nuances of Honey Peach & Goat Cheese. This summer, they introduced an orange-tarragon flavor that gets its name honestly, made with orange zest and fresh tarragon. And for the lavender-lemon-curd-and-shortbread, actual lavender flowers flavor the base, rippled with homemade lemon curd and crushed shortbread cookies. THE SCOOP: Enjoy your ice cream on top of one of Cone + Crumb’s housemade slab pies, cut into rectangles instead of wedges for a bigger melting surface.
Gordon’s Milkshake Bar
865 Massachusetts Ave., 317-453-1360
Owner Carl Gordon ventures far out of the chocolate-vanilla safety zone at his sunny counter spot on Mass Ave. Using the frozen concoctions he whips up at his East 10th Street commercial kitchen (itself a former ice cream shop), the trained chef muscles base flavors like cheesecake and peach into custom sundaes and out-there ice cream nachos in which cinnamon-sugar fried chips provide the crunch. But there’s a reason why its middle name is Milkshake. Gordon constructs elaborate brain-freezers out of drizzled syrups, salted caramel, cookie dough, and ingeniously flavored whipped creams. THE SCOOP: It’s hard to resist a scoop of Gordon’s ice cream melting over one of the shop’s warm, homemade cobblers.
1028 Virginia Ave., 317-426-3320
It benefits from the perfect location for a mid-stroll impulse cone in Fountain Square, with customers lining up for good, old-fashioned double scoops in sugar and cake cones. The ice cream is sourced from Indy’s 25-year-old creamery, Sundae’s—which built its Geist-area empire on beloved flavors like extra-chunky Lemoreo and Graham Central Station. Square Scoop turns up the old-timey ice cream parlor charm with a shelf of obscure bottled sodas and Albanese candy to sweeten the deal. THE SCOOP: Reserve the back table, which seats 10, for a no-hassle birthday party.
9101 Moore Rd., Zionsville, 317-733-1700
Thank the Zionsville dairy farm’s 100 percent grass-fed herd for the velvety ice creams packaged by the pint for retail and served by the scoop at Traders Point’s onsite restaurant. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors to the bucolic working farm line up at the window of the open-air dairy bar for cups and cones and ultra-rich fro-yo to be savored in the company of the roaming barn cats and free-range chickens. THE SCOOP: Feeling a little extra? The Toffee Crumble Sundae is loaded with chunks of nutty, buttery candy and drizzled with both caramel and chocolate sauces.
1125 E. Brookside Ave., Suite C-7B, 317-979-0237
With a bustling production kitchen and walk-up counter tucked deep inside the Circle City Industrial Complex, sisters Meredith Kong and Kelly Ryan have come a long way since their early days in the gourmet ice cream business. In the beginning, they mixed up their inventory in a fleet of five Cuisinart bucket freezers (like the one Kong received as a wedding present, which started the obsession) and selling them at area farmers markets. That was 10 years ago, when Lick stood out as a local pioneer of nontraditional flavor combos. “My ‘a-ha’ moment was the first time I made a fennel ice cream,” Kong says. “I thought, Well, you can’t get fennel ice cream anywhere else around here.”
What followed were deliciously complex flavors like Cedar & Whiskey, Malted Milk & Jam, and Brown Butter Cookie Dough that all begin with a five-ingredient base of all-organic dairy, cane sugar, vanilla beans, egg yolk, and salt. “We find that the custard base makes it so creamy and scoopable,” says Kong, who notes that Lick has also been busy formulating a vegan recipe for spring 2020. Lick’s adventurous fan base will likely grow even more when its newest location opens inside the new Bottleworks District this fall. THE SCOOP: The pale-purple French Violet might look like a flavor endorsed by Sherwin-Williams, but its delicate, floral essence tastes like cereal milk for grownups.
8660 Purdue Rd., 317-744-9764
Two trained dental hygienists—Taylor DeBruce and Jerome Tiah—reinvented the ice cream sandwich as a side gig at this no-frills College Park venture. Pick an ice cream flavor (say, Pralines & Cream or Lemon Pound Cake or Cotton Candy), and they’ll smoosh it inside sweet bookends (like chocolate chip cookies, marshmallow treats, or a warm glazed doughnut) and then amp up the texture by rolling the edges in a crunchy coating of your choosing. Will it be Fruity Pebbles? Crushed frosted animal crackers? Teeny Cinnamon Toast Crunch Churros? TeeJay’s also sells Instagram-ready milkshakes with cake-frosted edible rims and a full brigade of toppings. But DeBruce says the camera doesn’t always eat first: “Some people just can’t wait that long.” THE SCOOP: Follow TeeJay’s social media to stay current on seasonal (like apple-cider floats in the fall) and secret-menu (strawberry-shortcake sundaes) offerings.
901 E. 64th St., 317-257-5757
The old Broad Ripple train station provides the backdrop for this year-round walk-up ice cream stand with a fireplace that warms in the winter and a big Monon Trail–side deck that draws crowds come spring and summer. Traces of its history remain, like the big sliding door that once closed off the baggage area, but the place has been meticulously restored in that crisp, rustic Joanna Gaines style that makes you want to sit outside on the deck with a double scoop of Chocolate Choo Choo and Broad Ripple Blackberry in your hand and a golden retriever at your feet. THE SCOOP: This is the place to splurge on that waffle-cone upgrade. The ice cream torches are pressed and rolled on site.