It was a hot, sultry day in Cambridge. Our trek would take us from Bow Street to Porter Square and back to the Kennedy School.
Our mission: to find the perfect scoop of ice cream.
Our conclusion: no ice cream is perfect. But the Square and surroundings have a lot that come pretty darn close.
We noticed a significant difference in taste, texture and creaminess between homemade and mass-produced ice creams. But other than that, it was difficult to rank the different scoops we sampled from the seven sinful sweet shops on our tour.
Maybe we're just a little too fond of ice cream. But we have passed the decisions along to you. You've got three months of summer to do what we did in two hours. Experiment and enjoy.
In alphabetical order, here are the places we visited. At each stop, we asked for samples of the two most popular flavors.
31 Flavors: Keep on Counting
As everyone knows, Baskin Robbins has a rotating flavor of the month, often seasonal or topical.
Our friendly 31 flavors server gave us the current and one former flavor of the month to try.
June's featured flavor was Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. And, yes, it really does taste like the candy you get in the shiny orange wrapper from a vending machine. The chunks of peanut butter and chocolate in the vanilla ice cream were tasty, but often difficult to chew because they were large and frozen solid. The Reese's Peanut Butter Cup was probably the sweetest ice cream we tried.
We couldn't really figure out what relation Baseball Nut has to America's Pastime. And we don't think it's being served at Fenway these days. But the flavor, with cashews and a raspberry ribbon in vanilla ice cream, was featured at the opening of the baseball season. The cashews were few and far between, but the raspberry swirl made the ice cream seem like a light sorbet. Although Baseball Nut had the same vanilla ice cream as the Reese's, it was significantly lighter and less sweet.
The ice cream at Baskin Robbins is thinner than the homemade variety at some of the other stores. But the great advantage of Baskin Robbins is its predictability. From Southern California to Northern Maine, you know what you're going to get from the 31 flavors. And you know your favorite flavor's always going to be there waiting.
The servings at Baskin Robbins are some of the most generous. And at $1.75 a scoop, the price is at the low end of the scale.
Without a doubt, Baskin Robbins is an appealing option for a hungry summer school student studying at Lamont and seeking a quick ice cream fix.
Baskin Robbins is located at 1230 Mass Ave. at the intersection of Mass Ave. and Bow Street.
A Taste of Home
It's a little pricey. It's a lot classy.
If you're trying to impress your date, a California Pizza Kitchen gelato ball (Tartufo) is the perfect end to a romantic evening.
You have your choice of the white Chocolate Tartufo in real raspberry sauce and the Cookies & Cream Tartufo in a foamy chocolate sauce. We couldn't decide which was better.
The white chocolate gelato ball was light and mild, surrounded by richer white chocolate chips. The raspberry sauce, probably homemade, could stand alone. This gelato ball would make an excellent dessert option, summer or winter.
The cookies & cream gelato ball was one of several varieties of the ice cream flavor we tried in the Square. It was well mixed, with little hint of vanilla and few chunks of Oreo. But the gelato ball itself was rolled in cookie pieces and dark chocolate. The gelato was soft and chewy, and its fluffy sauce was the perfect touch. The Tartufo was lighter than we expected.
California Pizza Kitchen is located at 16-18 Eliot St. across from the Kennedy School. Both Tartufos are $3.50 and could easily serve two. Go for the yellow formica if nothing else. For Californians stuck in Cambridge for the summer, it's a great taste of home.
Ice Cream in Beantown
Brand new and tucked underground on JFK St. across from the Sony Janus movie theater, Scoops & Beans features Christina's homemade ice cream. You no longer have to trek to Inman Square to find this ice cream lover's delight.
Christina's offers a Cambridge original: Burnt Sugar ice cream, a flavor developed by a Lesley College professor who came here from Cambridge, England. Burnt Sugar tastes just like the top of a Creme Brulee. Its texture is firm, smooth and dense--just what an ice cream should be. Like some of the other flavors we tried, it would be just as tasty in the midst of a cold, icy Harvard winter. You do need to know, though, that Burnt Sugar is not overpoweringly sweet--in fact it has a bitter edge.
Christina's Guava Pineapple sorbet is the perfect summer choice. Though we couldn't taste the pineapple, we didn't mind. The icy confection doesn't contain any dairy products, and it melts in your mouth.
A small serving costs $1.95, which puts Scoops & Beans at the upper end of the price range, but it's money well spent, particularly since you get three scoops. Guava Pineapple sorbet and other "exotic" flavors cost 35 cents extra. The store will also carry soybean ice cream and is planning a frequent tryers club. If you're willing to walk to the Christina's in Inman Square at 1255 Cambridge St., the ice cream sells for $1.35 a scoop.
It's a bit of a hike for those housed in the Yard, but if you live in the Quad, it's a five-minute walk.
Emack & Bolio's is the inventor of Oreo Cookie ice cream. And we could tell--it's arguably the best around.
We also tried Cosmic Crunch, vanilla ice cream with butterscotch, pecans and chocolate chips. It was pralines and cream--only better. The large chunks of pecan nicely balanced the creamy, sweet ice cream and butterscotch.
Serious Addiction could easily live up to its name. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate: ice cream, fudge and chocolate chips. It was strong and rich, but the bittersweet chocolate made it possible to eat a whole serving without thinking twice. The chunks of chocolate were soft and easy to chew.It reminds us of Ben & Jerry's New York ChocolateFudge Chunk. And the large chunks reveal that theice cream is, indeed, homemade.
The atmosphere is simple and unpretentious. Youcome for the ice cream and nothing else. Emack &Bolio's is located at 1726 Mass Ave. At $1.70 aserving, it could easily be your best buy.
The Mother Lode
Herrell's is the mother of homemade ice creamsin the Square.
Its lines are always long, and it's oftendifficult to find a place to sit--even with theexpanded seating in the old bank vault.
Their best selling Chocolate Pudding ice cream,while excellent, is only for the true chocolatelover. It's soft, thick and rich and made ofbittersweet chocolate. It could be difficult toeat an entire cup without a jug of water to gowith it.
Herrell's Cookies & Cream ice cream is uniquein the Square. As the manager told us, they don'tblend the Oreos into the vanilla ice cream. As aresult, the vanilla is pure and the large chunksof cookie are not as soft as at some other stores,like California Pizza Kitchen and Emack & Bolio's.The ice cream is, nevertheless, very good.
Herrell's is located at 15 Dunster St. At $1.95for a relatively small serving, Herrell's ispricey. But the ice cream is gourmet.
Head for the Border
The Church St. Cafe across from the Bordersells Steve's Ice Cream, the first creation of theowner of Herrell's. Like Baskin Robbins, Steve'sis mass-produced--so it's sweeter and less creamythan the homemade ice creams.
The Coffee Mud Pie is very strong. Only acoffee lover should venture a scoop. It's alsostickily sweet, with the fudge overpowering attimes.
The S'mores ice cream has a very good chocolateflavor, but not much more. There's no hint ofmarshmallow, and the graham crackers are nearlyimpossible to taste.
Along with Baskin Robbins, Steve's ispredictable and has more flavors than the otherice cream options in the Square.
Like a Box of Chocolates
Like Emack & Bolio's, The Chocolate Box isquite a hike from the Yard. But it's only twoblocks from the Porter Square T stop, five minutesfrom the Quad, and it sells Toscanini's ice cream.
They only have eight flavors; you have to go toToscanini's Central Square store to find the rest.But the eight they have are varied and of topquality.
The Oreo Cookie is less strong than that ofEmack & Bolio's and California Pizza Kitchen. Butit's well-blended and has big, soft chunks ofcookie. The vanilla ice cream surrounding thechunks is delicious.
The Gingersnap Molasses tastes exactly likegingerbread or a gingersnap cookie, and even hascookies mixed in. It would make an excellentwinter choice. It's rich and hearty. LikeChristina's Burnt Sugar, it has a bitter edge.
The Chocolate Box is located at 1768 Mass Ave.In addition to ice cream, it has candies and otherchocolate concoctions. Toscanini's ice cream sellsfor $1.84 a serving.
It was a great afternoon. Have fun trying theice cream on your own. We're stuffed