For Berkeley ice cream lovers, life has been good lately.
The area has seen an ice cream renaissance in recent months with the addition of two new shops and the reopening of a popular parlor. Now Berkeley residents can enjoy frozen treats whose credentials range from “The Country’s Best Vanilla” to “Best Sorbet in America” and a spot on the list of America’s fastest growing franchises.
Among Berkeley’s notable scoop shops are Dreyer’s, whose vanilla ice cream was recently named best in the country by Fine Dining magazine, and Double Rainbow, who was found to have the best sorbet by the American Food Critics’ Association. Ben and Jerry’s is another local favorite, but right now the area’s newest ice cream stores are the ones attracting attention.
One of the new kids on the block is Cold Stone Creamery, at 2204 Shattuck Ave. between Allston and Kittredge streets. Cold Stone, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company with its largest concentration in southern California, claims to be the fastest growing ice cream chain in the country, expanding quickly from independent parlor to large corporation on the scale of Baskin Robbins. Last month, Cold Stone was listed by Entrepreneur Magazine as number 35 on the list of fastest growing franchises. The company opened its Berkeley store last November and has other area stores in Emeryville and El Cerrito.
Cold Stone employees market ice cream with a twist—one or more toppings of the customer’s choice mixed in with his or her favorite flavor of ice cream. They use a frozen slab of granite—the “cold stone”— to mix traditional toppings with a scoop of ice cream. Popular mixes include cheesecake ice cream with graham cracker crumbs and the “Candy Bar,” using vanilla ice cream, M&Ms, Snickers bars, and Butterfingers.
“Cold Stone is my favorite ice cream place because of the toppings inside,” said 14-year-old David Rosenberg of San Francisco during a visit to the Berkeley shop. “Instead of having my sprinkles all on the top of the scoop they’re mixed in really well, so you get some with each bite.”
Just two blocks north of Cold Stone at 2106 Shattuck is another new ice cream favorite: Mondo Gelato. Though the store, like Cold Stone, is part of a larger franchise, the Berkeley location is the first Mondo Gelato store in the United States. It opened last August, and staff members said business has consistently increased.
The company makes and sells traditional Italian gelato as an alternative to classic American ice cream. Gelato, which is the Italian word for “frozen,” is denser than most ice cream and not as sweet.
The range of flavors reflects the company’s desire to distinguish itself from other ice cream shops. The popular rose gelato, a bright pink flavor similar to traditional bubble gum ice cream, is made from edible rose petals. The coffee gelato is made with a shot of real espresso.
“It tastes natural and is better for you,” said UC Berkeley student Mollie Taylor. “It’s all the good things about ice cream without the heaviness or the fat.”
Berkeley’s Mondo Gelato offers three types of dessert: gelato, sorbetto and soya gelato. Gelato, like ice cream, is made with milk but is not frozen as deeply. The sorbetto is non-dairy-based and made from fresh fruit without fat. The seasonal sorbetto flavors include pear, honeydew and strawberry. Soya gelato is the only vegan ice cream product in Berkeley; vegetable products are used to create flavors such as chocolate and vanilla, as well as the unique hazelnut and Vitamin ACE.
Cold Stone and Mondo Gelato join several old-time ice cream favorites in the area, the most notable of which recently returned to scooping. Fenton’s Creamery, located at 4226 Piedmont Ave., in Oakland, was established in the Bay Area in 1894 but has been closed for the past two years due to a fire set by two former employees. The pair were sentenced in April to two years in state prison, and were ordered to pay $2.7 million in restitution to the creamery. It reopened earlier this month.
Fenton’s is known for more than just ice cream. Its sundaes and classic banana splits—with a whole banana and three scoops of ice cream covered in hot fudge sauce, whipped cream and nuts with a cherry on top—attract crowds, which on some nights overflow into the parking lot. The creamery is also a full restaurant, and the egg and olive sandwiches are a lunchtime favorite.
“I’m happy now that it’s back,” said 7-year-old Martin Goring recently while sharing a hot fudge sundae with his younger sister. “My mom used to take me there for lunch and ice cream, but then it was burned down. Now I get to go again.”
Berkeley ice cream aficionados said the trek to Peidmont Avenue is worthwhile, but are glad to have a flourishing ice cream scene within their borders.
“It’s nice to have the scoop shop-type places right in Berkeley,” said North Berkeley resident Sarah Portrero. “Then when you want the full old-fashioned experience you can come out here every once in a while.”