No matter where you are in New England, these ice cream stands and shops add cold, creamy sweetness to hot summer days.
By Yankee Editors
Jul 27 2022
Best Ice Cream Shops in New EnglandPhoto Credit : Mark Fleming
New Englanders love their ice cream. Home to Ben & Jerry’s, birthplace of Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors, our region tends to float to the top of most polls measuring ice cream consumption per capita. So we set out to answer an essential question: Who makes the best ice cream in New England? After looking at “Best Of” awards, talking to locals, and scouring Instagram, we hit the road to taste and compare, focusing on ice cream made by hand at brick-and-mortar scoop shops. The result is this ode to New England ice cream, including 36 winning shops in all six states.
Arethusa Farm Dairy
Lusciously dense. Naturally sweet. That’s how ice cream tastes when it begins with exquisitely bred cows who are pampered like beauty queens. Arethusa’s “ladies” are pastured and sheltered just four miles from this vintage firehouse turned production facility, where ice cream aficionados happily hop in line for super-generous, high-butterfat scoops of classics like mint chip and rum raisin.
Ferris Acres Creamery
Three generations of industrious Ferrises keep the creative flavors churning at the farm their family has owned since 1864. The setting is pure country calm—stone walls, red barns, curious cows—but you may feel momentary angst while perusing the extensive menu, which includes dairy-free and no-gluten-added options and 50-plus toppings. Prices are notably reasonable here, so sprinkle it up, and treat your dog to a peanut-buttery pup cup.
Grassroots Ice Cream
The menu is constantly on shuffle at this artisan creamery, which has perfected hundreds of unusual recipes but dishes only 36 at any given moment. Stop in twice on a single summer’s day, and you may find that guava is gone, but the goat cheese and blackberry is ripe for scooping, and that honey-butter sunflower seed has sprouted in the spot where you’d swear you saw geranium.
Every cone you devour and every pint you pack into your cooler to tote home helps sustain this agricultural enterprise that’s been in the Tuller family since 1768. Real fruit purees give farm-made flavors like peach uncommon juiciness; 16 percent butterfat makes every morsel extra creamy. The latest sensation? More than two dozen vegan selections so delectably smooth, even devout ice cream worshippers might be fooled.
UConn Dairy Bar
Get an ice cream education along with a sweet taste of A+ flavors like Husky Tracks and blueberry cheesecake. Through an observation window, you can see UConn students and Animal Science staff formulating decades-old recipes. Wander up Horsebarn Hill to marvel at the robotic and uniquely humane “voluntary milking system,” which allows the cows that power this hyperlocal creamery to choose when to contribute their next udderful of milk.
Bresca & the Honey Bee
At her ice cream shack on Sabbathday Lake, celebrated Maine chef Krista Kern makes ice cream you’d willingly drive well out of your way to eat. The siren songs of roasted-strawberry ice cream, apricot sorbet, and crème fraîche–lime ice cream with blueberry compote are hard to resist. You can get your scoops in cups, on cones, or, best of all, sandwiched in a freshly baked, sugar-glazed brioche bun, which makes the journey all the sweeter.
Auburn, Bangor, Brunswick, Manchester, Old Orchard Beach, and Sabbatus
This baseball-themed local chain serves 30-plus flavors of ice cream, gobs of toppings, and soft-serve and sugar-free options. The Jillson family is so committed to their homemade ethos that the “Closer” sundae is made with their own brownies and fudge, and the “Round Tripper Biscuit” ice cream sandwich uses their own chocolate chip cookies. Cookie dough and peanut butter cup are perennial favorites, but we love the coffee Oreo and Indian pudding (made with homemade pudding, naturally).
When asked to compare gelato to ice cream, owner Donato Giovine says, “It’s like comparing a Ferrari to a Chevrolet. They both have wheels, but the trip is different.” At their gelateria in Portland’s Old Port, Giovine and his wife, Mariagrazia Zanardi, who moved to Maine from Milan in 2010, serve dense, creamy gelato in a panoply of flavors, including pistachio and tiramisu. (Note: A second location in Boston’s new food hall, High Street Place, just opened this spring.)
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
Bar Harbor and Portland
Born in the summer vacationer’s paradise of Bar Harbor, MDIIC now has three locations in the Pine Tree State (plus outlets in Japan and Washington, DC) and can claim at least two celebrity fans: Barack and Michelle Obama, who paid a visit to Bar Harbor’s Main Street shop in 2010. Almost everything—from the toffee in the chocolate pretzel toffee to the baked apples in the honey baked apple—is made in-house.
Rococo Ice Cream
Founded in 2012 by Lauren Guptill, a 10th-generation Mainer, this Kennebunkport mainstay is a favorite of locals and visitors, who clamor for flavors ranging from Maine whoopie pie to guava rose to good old rocky road. Guptill thinks locally by incorporating seasonal flavors from local fruits, but she also ships pints nationally, including a “Golden Spoon Collective” subscription service, so now everyone can enjoy scoops at home.
After outgrowing its original location, Sweetcream reopened this year in new digs down the block. The address has changed, but not the stellar small-batch ice cream, made by owners Jon Denton (who grew up in Biddeford) and Jacqui DeFranca. We love the inventive (roasted chestnut) but never-gimmicky (Meyer lemon custard) flavors, and Sweetcream’s commitment to sourcing local ingredients, from coffee to fresh fruit, for its ice cream.
At the original, seasonal location of Toots, an old railcar has been renovated into an ice cream shop. Order, then take your cone outside, where you can pay a visit to the farm’s many animals, including the goats that supply the milk for the gelato. A second location opened nearby recently, so you now can sample Toots’s ice cream year-round. As for flavors, when in Maine, try the blueberry, the blueberry crisp sundae, and the raspberry gelato.
Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream
Twenty years ago, we had a scoop of burnt caramel–prune ice cream at Christina’s that forever changed our idea of what ice cream could be. This legendary Inman Square shop turns out all the other hauntingly marvelous flavors that owner Raymond Ford dreams up, from seasonal Concord grape sorbet, made with locally grown fruit, to always-on-the-menu favorites like Mexican chocolate and cardamom-infused khulfi. Stop in next door to explore Christina’s Spice & Specialty Foods, purveyor of both rare and familiar spices, premium teas, and other culinary gems. Instagram
Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar
Sharon and Boston, MA
The Parrish family is celebrating their 90th year in the dairy business, and visiting their farm’s dairy bar—surrounded by pasture and white picket fences—is like stepping back in time. But it’s not all nostalgia here: There’s a second bar in Boston’s Public Market. Both serve classic flavors alongside fresh takes like salted caramel chocolate pretzel.
Forge Baking Co.
According to Harrison Seiler, who makes the ice cream for this bakery/café/scoop shop, the perfect scoop begins with a 16 percent butterfat ice cream base, sourced from a creamery in Maine. The result: an ultra-creamy small-batch ice cream with a rich texture and full body. We recommend the malted vanilla and the seasonal fruit flavors, like strawberry and Maine wild blueberry—but the must-try is the coffee ice cream made by steeping ground beans into the base for 24 hours, yielding the ultimate cold brew.
When owner Aaron Cohen opened Gracie’s in 2014, he shocked and delighted Boston’s taste buds with flavors like Salty Whiskey and Movie Snacks (salty butter ice cream with M&M’s and Junior Mints). “I specialize in blasting cookies and candy into ice cream,” Cohen jokes. Flavors like mocha cardamom and rosemary spicy honey speak to the sophisticates, and the classic chocolate is a must-try. The premium ice cream is perfectly creamy, but Cohen tempers the richness to let the flavors shine through.
Steve Herrell opened his first shop in Somerville back in 1973, pioneering the Smoosh-In, a then-revolutionary technique of customizing individual orders of ice cream by mashing in toppings. Herrell has retired, and today only one location remains, owned by his ex-wife, Judy. She continues the legacy: Everything is made in-house, and classics (butter pecan) rub shoulders with new creations (Salt Bae). The sticky, rich hot fudge is not to be missed.
On this stunning 1,600-acre property anchored by an iconic clock tower, visitors can dig into rich coffee, ginger, strawberry cheesecake, and lemon meringue pie ice cream made with milk from Jersey cows, which is higher in protein and butterfat. In the creamery shop, you can order scoops at the window and pick up the farm’s milk, butter, and cheese, plus artisan foods from local makers.
Maple Valley Creamery
It’s fitting that this farm stand’s scoops are among the creamiest we’ve ever tasted. Owner Bruce Jenks makes his own 16.59 percent butterfat base with cream, no eggs (“If you’re going to represent the cow, you shouldn’t have chickens in it,” he says). Come for Sunday morning yoga classes and live music on weekends. Tour the farm, then settle in with scoops of sweet cream, Kahlua fudge brownie, and maple bacon. Fruit lovers, do not miss the soft-serve, made with a special blending machine imported from New Zealand.
Though SoCo’s standard flavors have made the jump to supermarkets, it’s worth getting in line (and there will be one) at the mother ship, founded in 2004. There’s the classic scoop-shop atmosphere, right down to the black and white floor tiles and the crazy-colored chalkboard menu; there’s the people-watching on bustling Railroad Street; and there’s the chance to explore more-exotic renditions of SoCo’s deeply creamy fare, like lemon poppy and Cookie Monster (chocolate chip dough and cookie bits in sweet cream ice cream colored blue with butterfly pea flower), as well as flavors that showcase local ingredients such as No. Six Depot coffee and Rawson Brook Farm goat cheese.
Dennis Port and Harwich Port
Most Sundae School fans have a multigenerational relationship with this 46-year-old Cape institution. They come for the grape-nut, peach, and coffee Heath; the superlative hot fudge; the Americana decor; and their own memories of post-beach detours for a tall cone. Here, the whipped cream is the real deal, as is the cherry on top. Aside from the addition of some new flavors here and there, the Endres family has mostly stayed the course, and we couldn’t be happier.
Countless collegians have fueled their studies with Tosci’s since the Central Square shop opened in 1981 (another shop in East Cambridge keeps the tech crowd well fed). Never content to rest on his laurels, owner Gus Rancatore continues to experiment with new ice cream flavors, and the fruits of his creativity, like the B3 (brown butter, brown sugar, and brownies), chocolate pudding (ultra-rich), and Earl Grey are so deeply flavored. Best of all: the micro sundae, which fits all the essentials—ice cream, hot fudge, real whipped cream, a cherry, and nuts—into a Dixie cup, in perfect proportion.
Annabelle’s Ice Cream
Annabelle’s celebrates its 40th anniversary in July, and it’s not hard to understand the longevity. A super-premium base gives its nearly 40 flavors—from Mint Summer Night’s Dream to Cashew Caramel Cluster to Pumpkin Pie—a silky, rich texture that can make an ice cream snob out of anyone. Its waterfront location, meanwhile, offers the perfect Portsmouth pit stop on a hot summer day.
Founded in 1939 in Massachusetts and still headquartered there, Kimball’s finds peak-summer expression in its lone New Hampshire outpost, with its small-town vibe, rural setting, and free entertainment in the form of planes coming and going at the next-door Silver Ranch Airpark. And then there’s the decadent homemade ice cream, scooped up in surely-you-jest portions (a “kiddie” cone can feed two). Rediscover flavors you may have forgotten or believed extinct—grape-nut, maple walnut, rum raisin—and revel in an old-fashioned family fun night out.
Run by the Lago family for four generations, this window-service spot serves up ice cream that has such wonderful body, it’s almost chewy. Owner Steve Grenier (he married in) credits this to the 14 percent butterfat base, combined with the technique of stirring in every ingredient by hand, which removes excess air. With about 50 flavors at any given time, Steve and son Michael revel in flavor invention, as evidenced by Funky Panda (Oreo, toasted coconut, caramel swirl) and Italian Rainbow Cookie, in which the iconic bakery staples are stirred into the base and chunked into the final product. To avoid the summer crowds, aim to arrive between 5 and 7 p.m. And be sure to try a frappe.
Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream
True to its name, this 10th-generation family farm near Lake Sunapee is so friendly and wholesome that it may well be one of the happiest places on earth. There are tree forts, hiking trails, a play area, and farm animals to pet. But the big draw, of course, is the premium ice cream, flavored with homemade fruit purees and pastes, which give flavors like apple pie and ricotta cherry a delicious intensity. Don’t miss the chocolate, either, or the maple cream.
Local flavors and local milk—not to mention a base mix made from scratch—are the calling cards of this super-premium, all-natural ice cream. Watch the mixtures churn right there at the stand as you contemplate your choice. The real maple walnut is a summertime favorite, but there’s also Fijian ginger, black raspberry, Udder Joy (coconut ice cream with chocolate chunks and crunchy almonds), and seasonal specials like fresh peach in late summer and pumpkin spice in early fall.
Narragansett and Wakefield
It’s safe to say that summer in the southern part of Little Rhody starts when Brickley’s opens for the season. The family-run shop prides itself on 45-plus flavors, all made fresh in its Narragansett headquarters using a 16 percent butterfat base. Served up in a homemade waffle cone, it’s a worthy indulgence.
Gray’s Ice Cream
Bristol and Tiverton
Seeking a pastoral backdrop? Take a drive to Tiverton Four Corners, where fans line up at the take-out window 365 days a year for scoops of pistachio, ginger, and rum raisin made from old family recipes. One creamy bite, and you’ll understand why Gray’s has won so many regional and national awards. Prefer a water view? Gray’s has a summer spot at the Bristol waterfront.
The Inside Scoop
The Inside Scoop has 64 rich flavors of homemade ice cream, including vegan options, and is known to experiment (try the organic avocado). But we humbly suggest the peppermint stick, sea salt caramel, and that twist on a New England favorite, coffee Oreo. The no-added-sugar offerings also get high marks. After ordering inside, take your licks outside at a picnic table.
Tricycle Ice Cream
Launched as a three-wheeled cart, this happy little West End shop makes the most flavorful ice cream sandwiches. Forget your notions of soggy brown rectangles and be delighted by unexpected gourmet cookie pairings, such honey walnut baklava or Thai tea ice cream with toasted coconut cookies. Vegans will delight in the sorbet push-pops, and everyone loves Tricycle’s ice cream tacos.
The Wright Scoop/ Wright’s Creamery
North Smithfield, Warren, and Providence
Using a two-day farmstead method to produce its “cow-to-cone” ice cream, Wright’s Dairy Farm & Bakery creates a separate base for each flavor (not the typical chocolate or vanilla foundation). That adds up to an intense profile in flavors like apple crisp, brown butter pecan, and carrot cake. You can try the ice cream at the farm’s seasonal locations in North Smithfield and Warren—both dubbed The Wright Scoop and operating out of converted vintage Airstream trailers—or at the new year-round Wright’s Creamery in Providence. Ice cream fans who live nearby can sign up to join the Test Batch Club, an off-season project in which subscribers get to try a pint of something new every week.
Canteen Creemee Co.
No summertime visit to the Mad River Valley is complete without a stop at Canteen. The town of Waitsfield may be small, but Canteen’s ambitions are big. An ever-changing menu of creemees (that’s soft-serve, for those who don’t know) is what Canteen is known for, and the crowd favorite is the Bad Larry, a sundae made with maple soft-serve and topped with maple in many forms: crystals, drizzle, cookie, and floss.
Lake Champlain Chocolates
Burlington and Waterbury
While unearthing the world’s best fair-trade cocoa for this company’s famed chocolates may have involved a fair amount of globe-trotting, a key ingredient in LCC’s premium ice cream was found just up the road. Using a superlative dairy-fresh base from East Hardwick’s Kingdom Creamery, LCC turns out small batches of crowd-pleasing flavors such as Belgian chocolate, peanut butter chocolate chip, and maple butter pecan. It navigates the nondairy route deftly, too—in fact, the distinctly tropical mango sorbet might just be the scoop that tops ’em all.
This “farm to spoon” shop found a new home in Vermont’s smallest city in 2018. All the ingredients for the ice cream base are locally sourced, and most of the add-ins are homemade. The basil ice cream is an award-winner, and the maple creemees are exceptional. Local toffee and cherries soaked in Vermont whiskey pair up famously in the Old Fashioned, but for a unique experience, dig a spoon into the curried peanut butter flavor of Slumdog Millionaire.
Shy Guy Gelato
“Shy” isn’t the word that springs to mind when you survey the ever-changing options at this South End shop, whose repertoire is said to encompass 200-plus flavors—and we believe it. These are bold, joyfully creative concoctions that range from “classy” (honey tahini pistachio; dark chocolate with cinnamon and chipotle powder) to “trashy” (banana gelato striped with peanut butter caramel and packed with chocolate-covered Rice Krispies), all while staying true to the signature density and richness of the traditional Italian treat. Stand up, Shy Guy, and take a bow.