We have long dreamed of eating a ludicrous amount of the world’s best ice cream in a single day. And San Francisco is the best city in America to do it. So, over the last several years, we’ve been laying a plan, brick by brick. We’ve been charting a treasure map, from one top-notch ice cream joint to the next, until the tapestry was complete, and we were ready to put our plan into motion.
The final tally? 10 ice cream shops. The quantity? At least one scoop per shop. The calorie count? In excess of 3,000, in pure dairy fat, at a minimum.
Starting at 11 am, and concluding whenever we either finished our last scoop or collapsed of lactate overdose (turns out that time was 6:03pm), we touredour city’s finest creameries. From Swensen’s on, we walked between all theshops, including an adventurous urban hike through the backside of Potrero Hill by accident, accompanied by policemen. More on that later.
We ate every signature scoop in this town, and here's what we learned.
Let's startby saying that this was the perfect day to eat ice cream. Approximately 73 degrees, we'd starved ourselves for 16 hours, and nothing sounded better than a Saturday brunch ice cream.
We played Polly Ann’s little game of "spin the magic wheel," in which you must order the flavor the wheel lands on or either flavor adjacent. This led us to the blackberry scoop. Very flavorful but the texture was out-of-the-fridge quality. Consumed in 45 seconds.
The Thai Tea scoop was tasty, sufficiently creamy, with a nice “tea” kick. (Wecan’t think of an adjective to describe the taste of tea.) The Star Wars scoop was some kind of dyed-blue almond construction, and while we didn’t mind it, we probably wouldn’t run back for it.
In fact, that’s our general feeling about Polly Ann’s. The ice cream is nice if you’re in the hood, but you almost never will be.
General Body Sensation: Peak form.
The order: The Dublin Honey
Holy f*ck, the Dublin Honey was a kick of boozydeliciousness. Caramel honey ice cream was awesome, but it was the tawny port that pushed it over the edge. Never mess with anything that describes itself as “tawny.” In a post-milkshake sugar frenzy, we also determined it was the right choice to get a basil scoop for dessert. Interesting, light and creamy. Went down easy.
General Body Sensation: Still hungry. Give us more.
The Order: Sticky Chewy Chocolate & Turkish Coffee
Turkish Coffee was disappointing. It tasted like coffee, but it was a little icy. The “famous” Sticky Chewy Chocolate tasted a lot like...chocolate, dare we say? Perhaps it was a little "stretchier" than your average chocolate, but that’s about it. Also, is stretch a positive quality of ice cream? We'd say no.
At this point, it seems like Swensen’s is coasting on name recognition and the fact that it brings a modicum of joy to this bereft neighborhood.
General Bodily Sensation: Rejuvenated after wind sprints up the Russian Hills.
The Order: Banana Salted Caramel & Creme Fraiche And Balsamic Strawberry
TIME FOR DRUGS. We took some Lactaid, but failed to read the directions to pop the pills with your first bite of dairy. Better late than never.
Banana Salted Caramel scoop was as good as it sounds, which is to say incredible. Unlike most “salted caramel” flavors, this one was literally overflowing with actual viscous caramel sauce. What a win.
The Balsamic Strawberry Creme Fraiche scoop was preposterously rich, but still enjoyable. We also drank some water after our scoops, because health is important when you're consuming the volumetric equivalent of a basketball made of ice cream.
General Bodily Sensation: Cautiously optimistic.
The Order: Derby Pie Shake
My god. This is heaven and hell in a single cup. If we knew we could eat one of these every day, we would. If we could eat chewy walnut chocolate chip pie chunks dipped in ice cream for breakfast every day, we would.
Derby Pie took us to a delicious but dark place. We hunted for the cookie pie chunks like fiending addicts. There was no stopping. We had to stage personal interventions and throw away our spoons and straws. That said, share this one: it’s too much for a single not-on-death-row human. Especially a single human who’s already had 5+ scoops of ice cream.
General Bodily Sensation: Body wants to stop. Sugar sweats. The hurt and the fear of the mountain of ice cream still ahead is looming.
The Order: Cookie Dough Scoop & Mint Chip Scoop
This was an oddly rejuvenating scoop. Perhaps it was the walk from the Tenderloin to Hayes, perhaps it was the sun shining on Octavia’s shrine to Burning Man, or perhaps it was the ultra-tiny ice cream crystals of Smitten’s liquid nitrogen robots. Either way, we somehow felt better after this scoop than the one before it.
Was it our favorite in pure “ice cream” terms? Not even close (We’ve neverbeen completely sold on the superiority of Smitten’s scientific approach. It’san awesome invention, but is the ice cream strictly tastier? Unclear). But the scoop was restorative.
General Bodily Sensation: WE F*CKING LOVE SUGAR. The sun is shining and life is good.
The Order: Soft Serve Vanilla & Salted Caramel Swirl
Little lifehack for ya: skip the line. That window next door serves all the best flavors in cups and the soft serve is outrageously good. If you want to eat an entire sundae, then yes, you to wait in the line, but you also need a stern talking-to. Waiting in the Bi-Rite line is no way to go through life.
The soft-serve provided a nice textural contrast to our non-stop gourmet action so far. The salted caramel >>> vanilla, so don’t go swirl. But we should have known that. Bi-Rite is such a standard-bearer that we didn’t really go with their “signature scoops” (salted caramel, creme brulee, brownsugar w/caramel, ricanelas, etc.). But to be clear: this is one of the top 3ice creameries...OF ALL TIME.
General Bodily Sensation: Generally aware. Savvy line-hackers.
The Order: Halo Halo & Avocado
This was GARBAGE ice cream. We're saying it here and now. This scoop tasted like frozen air with a slight sugary flavor. A clear last place, and it’s not even close.
To spice things up a little bit, we raced to eat our scoops. Turns out that one can in fact choke on ice cream. That said, we're glad we wasted fewer minutes of our lives consuming these scoops of sadness.
Like Swensen’s, Mitchell’s is coasting on reputation and little else. Sorry team.
General Bodily Sensation: F*ck that noise. Give us some real ice cream.
The Order: Harvey Milk And Honey Graham & Secret Breakfast
More alcohol in our ice cream, less problems. Secret Breakfast is awesome and we want to eat it for a not secret breakfast.
Our second order was something other than Secret Breakfast, which is usually a mistake. The Milk & Honey flavor is good...but yeah, still a mistake.
After this stop, we made the gutsy decision to hike Potrero Hill and down the other side to get to Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, cutting it very close to their ludicrous 6pm closing time. Is ice cream only a daytime food? NO. It's an all the time food.
General Bodily Sensation: Need to sit down. But we’re gonna make it! We’re gonna make it, right?
The Order: Jasmine Green Tea & Milk And Honey
Our journey to this way the eff out of the way location included crossing over a highway, climbing a mountain, and taking Missouri Street through a neighborhood we would probably avoid in the future. Although, who doesn’t love early evening firecrackers being set off on the stoop? Conveniently cops were patrolling and thought we were the dumbest people they’ve encountered in a long time.
We had Jasmine Green Tea Scoop and a Milk And Honey scoop, and some sort of cherry-alcohol thing, but we honestly can’t quite remember. In a classic rookie ice cream marathon blackout, we only remember the feeling of eating this valedictory ice cream, and not the flavor. Either way, we remember that it was better than Humphry.
We both did the professional thing and housed our sugar cones, in addition to the ice cream as a personal victory lap. Why? Because we could, and sugar and ice cream are still delicious. Forever.
General Bodily Sensation: Somehow, we still f*cking love ice cream. Let’s go fight a bear.
We’d say the major discovery of the day was how stellar the shakes are at Shakedown and the Ice Cream Bar. The other major discovery is that 10 ice creams in a day doesn’t make you hate ice cream. In fact…you may love it even more. Sugar and milk are our favorites. Ice cream is our favorite.
- ShakeDown 2. The Ice Cream Bar 3. Lush Gelato 4. Smitten 5. Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous 6. Bi-Rite Creamery 7. Humphry Slocombe 8. Polly Ann’s 9. Swensen’s 10. Mitchell’s. But actually no points.