Summer just wouldn’t be summer without ice cream — or, if dairy isn’t your thing, sorbet or shaved ice. But you know what we’re talking about: refreshing, nostalgic frozen treats that make the hot days seem brighter and cooler.
We checked in with nearby ice cream shops to find out about popular seasonal flavors as well as industry trends and observations. From raspados and matcha to smoke and sea salt, their innovative offerings show that the world of ice cream is now much more than plain vanilla.
When it comes to flavors, creative combos are a hit. Sea Salt Cream and Cookies, Eureka Lemon and Marionberries, and the new Mocha Fudge and Smoked Almonds are in high demand at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams in Studio City, says Michael Palmer, owner and CEO.
Over at Salt & Straw, also in Studio City, “our most popular flavor has been and continues to be Sea Salt With Caramel Ribbons,” says Derek Kerwin, shop manager. He credits its popularity to the Guatemalan sea salt provided by food writer Mark Bitterman and his boutique, The Meadow.
While Cookies and Cream is one customer favorite at The Baked Bear in Burbank, “Bear Batter is our signature ice cream,” owner Dan Schweit says. The bright blue cake-batter flavor is speckled with chunks of fudge and brownies.
Honey Milk is a bestseller at Kiddos Creamery in Glendale. “We make a milk ice cream and flavor it with honey and turn that into our Honey Milk. It is simple but also very flavorful,” says owner Jeff Im. For extra flair, customers can get the Honey Milk or matcha flavors sandwiched between Monaka Mochi Wafers, which are made with rice and complement any flavor they’re paired with, Im notes.
A top request at Danish ice cream cafe Paradis in Sherman Oaks is strawberry sorbet. “It is so rich and creamy that it’s easy to forget it’s actually a sorbet made with water and freshly cut fruit,” notes Albert Thomas, Paradis’ California production manager. “Sometimes the best things happen when just a few quality ingredients are given the chance to shine. It’s creamy without needing any dairy and explodes with the kind of flavor that only comes from fresh fruit.”
Customers especially crave those light and fruity flavors when the weather turns hot. “During the summer season, our sorbets get a lot more popular because it can be very refreshing, but our strawberry flavors are easily the most popular,” Im says.
Meyer Lemon with Buttermilk and Blueberries is part of the July series at Salt & Straw. “Meyer lemons are sweeter than you might expect a lemon to be, so we use them to create a beautiful Meyer lemon and buttermilk base ice cream. We then add the sweet counterpart, a delicious blueberry jam, to create an ice cream that is perfect for the summertime,” Kerwin says.
At Paradis, Cucumber and Elderflower along with Pineapple and Orange are frequent requests “the moment the weather starts to become hot because it’s incredibly refreshing either in a waffle cone or blended as a smoothie,” Thomas says. “Elderflower cordial is a very popular ingredient throughout Scandinavia and its use almost officially signifies that summer has begun each year.”
During summer months, owner Wendy Garcia of Slusheeland in North Hollywood says dairy-free options — Real Fruit Slushies, Hawaiian shave ice and raspados — are hot sellers. “Unlike the Hawaiian shave ice that is soft ice with cane sugar syrups, our raspados are made with crunchy ice and homemade fruit syrups,” she explains.
Hot and Cold Trends
There has been a move toward nondairy or vegan ice cream treats, and most stores now offer them. Salt & Straw expanded its vegan options and currently serves Roasted Strawberry Coconut, Freckled Mint TCHO-colate Chip, and Dandelion Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies and Cream. All are “just as creamy and innovative as our other flavors,” Kerwin says.
Kiddos uses coconut milk and almond milk as a base “to offer at least one vegan/nondairy ice cream,” Im says.
“Consumers are looking more and more for plant-based alternatives in their treats for a number of reasons,” Thomas says. “Some have dietary or allergy restrictions while others are merely noticing the growing presence of these alternatives and how far they’ve come.” Paradis customers appreciate the options and tell the shop “that they or their spouse/relative/friend have avoided ice cream in the past but now gets to join in the fun.”
In other news, personalization and freshness are key. At The Baked Bear, patrons choose from a selection of mix-and-match tops and bottoms (cookies and brownies), ice cream and toppings to create custom sandwiches. “We scratch-bake our cookies twice daily from homemade, hand-scooped cookie dough,” Schweit says. Popular pairings are chocolate chip cookies with Bear Batter ice cream or funfetti cookies with Cookies and Cream.
Many shops emphasize homestyle handcrafting. “We really just wanted to focus on making quality ice cream the old-fashioned way,” Im says. “Here at Kiddos, we try and find the best quality ingredients (at local farmers markets), and we also make everything ourselves.”
Indeed, Palmer laments that many ice cream companies that have come to L.A. don’t make their own products. “They get it made for them, then simply brand it and market it as their own (it’s called co-packing).” In contrast, for 70 years, McConnell’s has used just three ingredients: “cream, organic eggs and sugar. No stabilizers,” he says.
Customers recognize quality in ingredients, Thomas at Paradis says. “For example, there’s almost a shock when someone tries our milk-based pistachio [ice cream] for the first time and exclaims, ‘This tastes like pistachio!’ It does because we use premium Italian DOP pistachio butter, which comes directly from farms in a very specific region called Bronte renowned for processing and regulating according to tradition.”
Similarly, Slusheeland customers love the Real Fruit Slushie because they “can taste the freshness, and they get to pick up to three fruits to mix,” Garcia says.
The Warm Fuzzies of Cold Treats
Operating a business that brings smiles to patrons can be pretty sweet. Schweit marvels at “how happy ice cream makes people feel.” Some repeat customers at Slusheeland subscribe to the theory of guaranteed satisfaction: “They have been to our establishment since we opened, and they still get the same item,” Garcia says.
Customers can even become close friends. Im says a loyal patron even invited him and Jonathan Shih, Kiddos chef and co-owner, to be groomsmen in his wedding. “He and his fiancé have been our biggest fans since opening day,” Im says.
Salt & Straw also has “regular customers that are really so much more than customers,” Kerwin says. “We get to celebrate birthdays with them. We get to see their kids grow up. And on the days when things aren’t going their way, we get to be that reliable dose of happiness for them!”