The frozen landscape: Hot flavors in our local ice cream shop freezers

Local options for frozen treats expand far beyond classic Neapolitan. Photo: Andrea Hubbell Local options for frozen treats expand far beyond classic Neapolitan. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Summer can mean many things. Camping, festivals, vacations—camping at a festival while on a vacation. But for the kid in us all, summer is the season of ice cream. Whether you savor it indoors by the pint or revel with a dripping cone in the afternoon sun, ice cream can warm even the coldest of heart.

As local options for frozen treats expand, classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry can only get you so far. So what chilly delights lay beyond Neapolitan?

First, let’s clear up a few things. Ice cream is a term that’s been used to describe a variety of frozen desserts over the years. In fact, there are several styles of frozen dairy treats to choose from, each with its own traits. Obviously there’s traditional ice cream (which Jefferson helped popularize during his tenure as president) but also newer varieties like frozen custard (invented on Coney Island in 1919, which includes egg yolks for a richer, smoother texture), soft serve (which came about sometime in the 1930s from either Carvel or Dairy Queen, depending on who you ask) and frozen yogurt (which caught on in the early ’80s thanks to TCBY).

And let’s not forget gelato, which, unlike its American cousin, is made with milk instead of cream and it’s the lower percentage of milkfat that allows for more subtle flavors (think flower petals, teas and herbs) to shine. Gelato also tends to be smoother due to the fact that it’s folded during production rather than stirred.

If it’s ice cream you’re seeking, there’s certainly no lack of it in Charlottesville. Tony LaBua has been running Chaps on the Downtown Mall for the past 30 years, and if you attended the Cured bacon festival, you likely tasted his latest flavor: caramel, sea salt and bacon.

“We made it for Cured and had some here—it sold out instantly,” says LaBua. Though, he pointed out, caramel and sea salt is still readily available. (Of course, if you feel like entertaining your inner DIYer, you could stay for lunch and order the one-eye cheeseburger with the bacon on the side to pair with dessert.)

Besides this recent creation, LaBua has been known to mix other creative flavors from time to time. “We did a lemongrass and bamboo ice cream for a restaurant once and then had some here,” he says. “That was interesting.”

Though venerable, Chaps isn’t the only locally made ice cream game in town. Kirt’s Homemade Ice Cream opened its doors just over three years ago in Albemarle Square, and like LaBua, owner Kirt Gray likes blending off-beat combinations from time to time. Last fall’s blueberry honey and blueberry muffin were standouts.

For a bit of social activism or Jimmy Fallon, Ben & Jerry’s is sure to please. Locally owned (though not locally produced), the brand is synonymous with outside-the-box flavors, including cotton candy and coconut seven layer bar.

Moving on to something more adventurous, how about lychee or kalamansi sorbet? If you’re salivating or simply wondering what kalamansi means (it’s a lime-like citrus), then Splendora’s is your next stop. Also located on the mall, Splendora’s gelato (pictured below)offers a wide array of non-traditional flavors. So many, in fact, that its run out of freezer space for them all. Look for the goat cheese, honey and fig blend, and the ghost pepper honey is the sweetest heat you’ll experience all summer.

Although not quite as exotic, exciting fro-yo options are easy to find. Bloop has the popular soft serve in watermelon, lemonade and its own unique Bloop Tart flavor. But the fun of Bloop (and Arch’s, SweetFrog, etc.) is the toppings. Regardless of how you feel about getting your dessert from a Slurpee machine, who’d say no to the flavor of your choice covered in Mike and Ike’s, Nutter Butter minis, sliced Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, maraschino cherries and mango syrup? (The correct answer is “nobody.”)

Dairy-averse? Not to worry. Pantheon Ice Pops, with its complete line of vegan treats, has got you covered. Found at farmers markets, the Market Street Market and better-than-average weddings, Pantheon makes some of the best—and most uniquely flavored—popsicles around. Its Wednesday Market combo pop of corn, watermelon, nectarines and lemon is worth seeking out.

No matter your preference, there are nearly two dozen places in Charlottesville to find your (new) favorite flavor. But, if you can’t decide, you can always order Labua’s favorite from Chaps, The Four Cs.

What is The Four Cs? Now you’ve got a reason to get out and try something new.

John McMullen

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