The scoop on Houston’s best ice cream creations.
The sweaty season is upon us in Houston, and if you’re already dreading the long hot days to come, take comfort in the fact that the rising temperatures also are a terrific excuse to eat more ice cream.
This reporter can remember a time when national chains dominated the ice-cream scene in Houston. Fortunately, in the last five years, a burst of locally owned scoop-shops have opened. Offering iced confections ranging from the traditional to the eclectic, these establishments are essential stops on your summer ice-cream itinerary.
Start at Cloud 10 Creamery, where Chris Leung deploys his classical culinary training to create a rotating daily menu of 10 different types of ice cream and sorbet in innovative flavors like toasted rice, marzipan, red currant mascarpone, and sarsaparilla anise. Those who shudder at the thought of trying to park in Rice Village will be excited to know that a second location is due to open in the Heights this summer.
However, should you happen to secure a terrific parking spot (à la George Costanza) in the Village, you should embark on your own mini ice-cream crawl by following up your Cloud 10 visit with a scoop at DoughCone, a food truck stationed at 5515 Kelvin more often than not (though check Facebook for their precise schedule). DoughCone’s eponymous signature cinnamon-and-sugar ice cream cone has its origins in a 300-year-old type of Hungarian fried street food. The cone’s interior is slathered with your choice of Nutella or cookie butter, then stuffed with vanilla ice cream made from milk from local dairies. Wait, there’s more: additional toppings (mini-marshmallows, fresh strawberries, Gummy Worms, and Oreos, just to name a few) are unlimited.
But save some room, because next you should saunter over to Smoosh, another mobile eatery. Smoosh eschews the pedestrian cone and instead uses warm sugar, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, or peanut butter cookies (and on Wednesdays, waffles!) as its platform for ice cream. Smoosh sandwich flavors include the usual suspects (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) as well as the more daring peanut butter brownie and no-sugar-added apple pie. Additional sammie garnishes (coconut, crushed Oreos, sprinkles, graham crackers, Nerds) are just as fun, and can inspire some unusual sweet and savory combinations: mint chocolate-chip ice cream on peanut-butter cookies with bacon, anyone? Smoosh also offers cookie sundaes and decadent shakes blended with whole cookies—a creation begging to be named with a creative portmanteau.
With more than 50 rotating flavors, Lee’s Creamery boasts one of the broadest selections of any homegrown Houston ice-cream purveyor. The lineup includes Southern classics such as peaches and cream, banana cream pie, as well as flavors for more adventurous palates like sweet cream corn and a tangy avocado lime. Founder and owner Lee Ellis vends his creams, all made with high-fat milk from grass-fed Jersey cows, both at Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts and at Petite Sweets. Lee’s offers a sublime donut ice-cream sandwich in which your flavor choice is straddled by two glazed donuts, while Petite Sweets serves scoops in bowls or waffle cones.
Austin-based Amy’s Ice Creams deserves a spot on any Houston ice-cream itinerary, if only for the entertaining servers who deftly toss softball-size scoops of ice cream in the air, only to catch them behind their backs before mashing them (so as to incorporate “crush’ns”—fresh sliced fruit, legumes of all varieties, ginger snaps, cereal, crushed candy bars, marshmallows, and vanilla wafers, etc.). Mexican vanilla, Belgian chocolate, vanilla, coffee, sweet cream, and white chocolate comprise Amy’s standard set of creams, while many more holiday-inspired and booze-inflected flavors (pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie, oatmeal raisin cookie, Guinness) also regularly make it onto the menu. Amy’s also makes a mean banana split and super-thick milkshakes that will leave over-eager sippers with a raging ice-cream headache.
The kitties behind Fat Cat Creamery have created a luscious line of year-round flavors (chai tea coconut, milk-chocolate stout, Mexican vanilla, Amaya coffee and cream, Waterloo strawberry buttermilk) as well as seasonal selections such as salted-butter caramel and, most recently, “bunny bait”—malted ice cream with pieces of Cadbury mini-eggs. Although Fat Cat Creamery sells its frozen treats at a number of locations all over H-town, we recommend you visit their Heights parlor in order to enjoy their signature creations like ice-cream sodas, phosphates, egg creams, and inventive sundae specials.
Finally, no ice-cream tour of Houston would be complete without a pilgrimage to the original Hank’s Ice Cream. While its namesake owner passed in 2012, his sweet legacy endures in the form of hand-crafted, small-batch ice cream, including the not-to-be-missed hometown favorite banana pudding, plus cookies-n-cream, butter pecan, blueberry cheesecake, and others. And if you like what you’re licking at Hank’s, take home a few hand-packed pints-to-go.