July 30, 2014

Unusual ice cream options

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on July 16, 2014

Our short Maine summers mean we must maximize our ice cream eating opportunities. Most Portlanders have an opinion about the best ice cream purveyor, from Beal’s to Gifford’s to Red’s Dairy Freeze. But what of the lesser known frozen treats? During this run of glorious warm weather, many Portland restaurants and sweets shops are quietly churning out scoops worth your time this summer.

East End Cupcakes, known for their creatively flavored confections like banana cake topped with Nutella buttercream, quietly started making chocolate chip cookies 2 years ago. The cookies are sprinkled with a good amount of Maldon sea salt, giving them an irresistibly salty finish. Owner Alysia Zoidis says, “you need salt when you have sweet. A lot of people overlook that, and you get a one-dimensional sweet.”

Zoidis serves a scoop of Toot’s vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies ($4). After taste testing area offerings with her mom, Zoidis settled on North Yarmouth’s beloved Toot’s Ice Cream. Zoidis found the mother-daughter duo serving “wonderful, homemade ice cream,” from a repurposed train caboose to be an obvious choice.

Vinland, the 100 percent local foods restaurant, has taken advantage of the crowds drawn to the newly revitalized Congress Square Park by serving ice cream out of the back door of the restaurant. The ice cream operation has been in the works for a while, but according to bartender Alex Winthrop, the kitchen was working on achieving the perfect organic, gluten-free cone before launching. A salted butter semifreddo is the first flavor available, with a creamy texture and the sweetness again tempered by a hint of salt ($4 cup, $5 cone).

If you’re up for a bit of a drive out of Portland, you’ll be rewarded by fresh ice cream at Krista Kern Desjarlais’ Bresca and the Honey Bee. Desjarlais closed her popular Portland restaurant Bresca in the Spring of 2013, after purchasing the Snack Shack on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester. Locals have been recreating at the privately-owned Outlet Beach since the 1920s. Desjarlais continues the tradition with her lakeside barbecue menu, but elevates it with gourmet twists on hamburgers and hotdogs. After you enjoy a Le Crunch dog, topped with kettle chips or a chilled rice noodle salad with pork belly, get a scoop ($3.75 cup with a pizzelle cookie, $.50 extra for a house-made sugar cone), while you dip your feet in the refreshing lake water.

Desjarlais uses Bink Belgian Ale and fresh peaches in her Belgian ale peach ice cream to create a subtly sweet, complex flavor that begins to melt as soon as its handed to you. Other summer flavors include White Monkey Tea, infused with a green tea from Little Red Cup Tea Co., and cherries that have been soaked in red wine. A root beer ice cream is flavored using all natural extracts and a crème fraîche Key lime pie has chunks of crushed graham crackers. The Snack Shack stops serving ice cream after Labor Day, so visit before 5:30 pm, seven days a week.

While not new, Bonobo Wood Fired Pizza continues their summer ice cream window. They serve popular Gelato Fiasco flavors and Smiling Hill ice cream, one of the only spots to get a scoop without visiting the farm’s dairy store. Stop by any of these spots on your post-dinner constitutional for a treat that is as sweet as Maine’s fleeting summer. You may even find your spot to lobby for in the neverending debate over Maine’s best ice cream.

EAST END CUPCAKES | 426 Fore St, Portland | Mon-Thurs 10:30 am-6 pm; Fri 10:30 am-8 pm, Sat 11 am-8 pm; Sun 11 am-5 pm | 207.228.3304

VINLAND | 593 Congress St, Portland | Dinner 5:30-9 pm; Brunch Sat-Sun 10 am-1:30 pm | Visa/MC/Amex/Disc | 207.653.8617

BRESCA & THE HONEY BEE | Outlet Rd, New Gloucester | Food Wed-Sun 11:30 am-4 pm; Ice cream Mon-Sun 11 am-5:30 pm | 207.725.9002

BONOBO | 22 Pleasant St, Brunswick | Lunch Wed-Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 4-9 pm; Sun 4-9 pm; Ice cream window Thurs-Sat 6:30-9:30 pm | 207.347.8267