Brigham’s Ice Cream – Belmont MA

30 06 2008

With things in a real state of flux, no one is really sure how long Brigham’s stores will stay open. So after our first attempt at eating ice cream was squashed due to the fact the place wasn’t open on Monday, we figured this might be a good time to hit Brigham’s and see what was up. I opted for a Peppermint Stick cone and Ivy went for rainbow-jimmy coated Cookie Dough.

Brigham’s has been an institution in Massachusetts. The company has been making ice cream for 94 years and has had shops all across New England. The shops are not limited to ice cream, they have a full array of sandwiches and act more like a chain of diners like Howard Johnson’s used to be. Except that their ice cream is what makes it all matter. Most grocery chains in the area have half gallons in their freezer cases as well.

Last week all of that changed. On June 26, they announced that the ice cream assets of the company (name, recipes, etc) were sold to local rival H.P. Hood, while the Maryland-based Deal Metrics was taking over the stores. Deal Metrics seems to be a venture capital group that sells off assets and their real estate, so odds are good that the 18 Brigham’s stores that dot the local landscape will all soon be replaced – by something.

When it comes to the ice cream itself, there’s a reason that Brigham’s has been around so long. This may not be the most spectacular cream, but as the local community standard, there’s a reason why all of the stuff around here is of such quality, if you want to be part of the conversation, you’ve got to top this.

My Peppermint Stick cone had a great ribbon of peppermint running though a peppermint ice cream. The flavors are fresh and minty without ever seeming medicinal, but the sweet and the mint overtake the cream taste. The cream is relegated to the texture, but given the unknown nature of the company, I wasn’t too shocked to find some refrozen ice crystals in the midst of some bites. The two negatives that I had were relatively minor – a) the Peppermint Stick had no actual pieces of peppermint stick and b) the paper wrapping around the cone was glued to the cone and a big piece stuck despite my best efforts.

As a place to gather and eat ice cream, Brigham’s has always been a spot where folks in most communities can gather and sit. With classic-style diner benches and outdoor tables, the Belmont location appeals to those just looking for a cone and those that want to gather to spread local gossip. When we were inside, there were a lot of white-hairs that were affably chatting with others seated at tables around them… it’s like a watering hole for those that don’t drink any longer.

Cone – small $3.50 regular $3.90 large $4.40

Sundae – regular $4.50 large $5.50 mungo $8.95

Frappe $4.50 extra thick $6.25

Brigham’s Ice Cream

2 Trapelo Road, Belmont MA 02478


Open year round

Monday-Saturday 10a-10p, Sunday 11a-10p

Erikson’s Dairy – Maynard MA

29 06 2008

Night was beginning to encroach. Not enough to merit using headlights, but enough to know that it was dusk that was on the way and it wasn’t just another flash storm. Sometimes even the least bit of illumination is enough to radiate, and this sign was glowing. I wasn’t even that hungry, but something wasn’t about to let me neglect it. I opted for a child sized Black & Tan. Cone, not pint.

Since 1937, this place has been evoking the same classic American charm on Route 117 at the town line between Maynard and Stow. With a single building standing amidst a gravel parking lot and backed into the woods, it’s not hard to imagine folks 50 years ago going here and chatting about the latest happenings with Wally and the Beaver. People pull in and park like this is a drive-in, and the majority of folks recongregate around (or in) their cars once they have a cone in hand. There are picnic benches behind the building, but in the heat of summer, they can be mosquito heavy.

Erikson’s Dairy seems to have always been here, one of the few things that has persisted in one of the smallest towns in Massachusetts. Even when the cars around are all SUVs and hybrids, just the way that people gather here and approach things at an extremely leisurely pace makes this seem very anachronistic, this is an homage to the era of the advent of the family automobile. While it is not a place that people can walk to (except the nearest of neighbors), it is a place that feels like home every time you pull into the parking lot, until that last weekend in September when their flavor list is eroding and they board up the windows until April (this year they opened the last weekend in March which may be the earliest they have done in decades).

As for my Black & Tan, I went into this cone blind, half hoping that it would actually be a combination of Guinness and Bass ice creams. The tan almost had enough of a bite that I thought it could be beer-based, but the black was clearly a chocolate swirl full of crispy cookie chunks, and not a stout. Turns out that the tan was actually a caramel ice cream, but it alone was a great confection, not the syrupy sweet mess that the flavor can be. The combination worked elegantly and the crunchy bite of the cookies made for a great contrast.

Erikson’s does one thing that many places neglect, especially with a child-sized cone. They actually pack ice cream into the cone, and don’t merely drop a scoop on the top. While this cone doesn’t look that formidible, it has got more ice cream in it than most small cones, and is the only place that you can get a frozen treat for under $2. Also, be aware not to order a milkshake here unless that is really what you want; the milkshake is just milk and syrup and has no ice cream. To get a blended ice cream drink be sure to order a frappe.

In some of the oldest pictures of Erikson’s, it seems as though the cars are parked as if they were kneeling toward their mecca – the scoop shop. It’s a practice that has remained to this day as cars park in arched rows around the main building. If this place is at all busy, you’ll understand as soon as you pull in; don’t be intimidated, it shows you just what to do. Oh, and since 1997, the menu has offered up hot dogs as well, just in case you were looking for options.

Return Engagement: September 1, 2008

Cone – child $1.86 regular $3.14 large $4.14

Sundae – regular $4.52 large $5.57

Frappe $3.90 extra thick $4.95

Erikson’s Dairy

12 Great Road, Maynard, MA 01754


Open from April to September

Monday-Saturday noon-9p, Sunday  11a-9p

Erikson’s online

Rota Spring Farm – Sterling MA

28 06 2008

There are some idyllic visions of New England ice cream stands. Most of them have been swallowed up as Baskin Robbins move into many communities sharing spaces with Dunkin Donuts stores. When you drive around this area in the winter, you often see boarded up roadside shacks that come to life in April before fading back away in September. I didn’t eat much beforehand, so I opted for two scoops in a sugar cone: Maine Wild Blueberry on top, Indian Pudding on the bottom.

When you turn into the driveway, you see the farmland where the cows graze. It’s these same cows that make the milk that becomes this ice cream. It really does feel as though you’ve entered an ice cream Valhalla. Sometimes during the year, there is an auxiliary farm stand adjacent (just raspberries on a single table this day). When they’re starting with a cream that’s this high a quality and sell fresh fruits and veggies, odds are good that they won’t be skimping on other ingredients.

Rota Spring opened up only a few year’s ago. No one would have thought that a town the size of Sterling needed more ice cream; they already had the Sterling Ice Cream Bar and Meola’s both within two miles of this locale. Yet, in a classic example of “build it, they will come,” in less than five years, this has been noticed by many as the best ice cream in Worcester County. Anyone I know who spends any time in the North Central Mass area, I have brought to this place. Every one has made it the most regular part of their diet.

Two scoops are a treat, but I’m hungry. Most people are a bit agape at the size of this small, but it is really a medium since there are 2 scoops. The size of the scoop here dwarfs every other shoppe so far, and the price is simultaneously cheapest of all. The Maine Wild Blueberry is on top so I must address it first. This is not merely a vanilla ice cream with bits of blueberries and maybe a swirl of flavor folded in, this is a full-fledged blueberry ice cream with the cream and fruit integrated together and then pieces of fruit added for good measure. For as great as this is, it is grossly overshadowed by the Indian Pudding.

Rota Spring’s Indian Pudding ice cream is my favorite ice cream flavor. Molasses and cornmeal with cinnamon and nutmeg and some other undecipherable spices. There is a thick texture that is highlighted by the bits of cornmeal that pepper every nibble. It’s a bold flavor concept that revels in the subtlety of each bite. It’s tough to convince neophytes that this is really that special merely with words, and that this is not merely a novelty flavor that hearkens back to classic New England flavors. This is a magical ice cream that redefines what you think is even possible with ice cream, without even having to venture into the territory of the savory. We don’t rate ice cream’s on a point scale, but now we have a benchmark that others can strive for.

As a farm stand, you order ice cream outside and sit out there as well. In the summer they have a large tent set up adjacent to the shack, so rain is rarely an issue. There are always a batch of picnic tables that sit at the edge of a bluff right next to the grazing fields. In back there’s a family of goats, and I watched a kid feeding as I ate my ice cream. Rota Springs has been the last stand to close every year sticking it out until the second weekend in November and is the first to open back up in March. You can stock up on quarts to make it through the winter.

Cone – kiddie $2.43 small $3.10 large $4.05

Sundae – 1scoop $3.81 2scoop $4.52  3scoop $5.24

Frappe $4.05 extra thick $4.52

Rota Spring Farm

117 Chace Hill Road, Sterling MA 01564


Open from March to mid-November

Open daily from 11:30a-9:30p

Athan’s European Bakery – Brookline MA

27 06 2008

After an afternoon deluge in Boston, the skies parted and it seemed as though the sun was pointing us right to Athan’s. Filled with more great baked goods than anyplace south of Montreal, most people don’t even recognize that this place is also a first class gelaterie. I chose the Black Currant, Ivy got the Rose, and Reed opted for a simple Chocolate.

Gelato is just an Italian ice cream. While it is being made, it is continually stirred so that it breaks up the ice crystals that form and the result is less air in the mix and thus a denser end product.

Athan’s has recently opened a second shop over in Brighton, but the company actually got it’s start back in Greece and still has sister stores back in Kalamata. It’s conveniently located right in Washington Square at the intersection of Beacon and Washington St, so there is a T stop just paces away. And while it opens up at 8am primarly for the coffee and pastry side of things, there is nothing to stop you from getting your day started here with gelato instead.

The Black Currant was great; the texture of a gelato is ideal for fruit flavors. The flavors were infused through the gelato, and the smooth, rich mouth feel made the berries just jump out boldly. (Fun to note that production of black currants is actually banned in Massachusetts, dating from the false assumption that they were a factor in causing the tree disease white pine blister rust). The rose flavor was a fabulously subtle rosewater flavor, and a taste of the chocolate made me fantasize about what their frappe could be.

The only negative that needs to be addressed is the fact that this is a bakery, and yet the gelato is only served in plastic dishes. For a place that bakes as much as this, I was really hoping for a homemade sugar or waffle cone.

While we sat in a tall table in the front window, there is actually a full cafe in the back of this store. It’s got a coffee bar, lots of tables, and is wi-fi enabled. In addition to the wide assortment of cakes and cookies, chocolates and pastries, they also make breakfast and paninis. There might not be any reason to leave.

Return Engagement: September 4, 2008

Dish – small $2.45 medium $2.95

Affogato $3.75

Frappe $3.95

Athan’s European Bakery

1621 Beacon Street Brookline, MA 02446

(617) 734-7028

Open year round

Sunday-Thursday, 8a-10p. Friday and Saturday, 8a-11p

Herrell’s Ice Cream – Cambridge MA

26 06 2008

Opting to have dessert before dinner usually means less time spent waiting when it comes to getting our cone. While overfull buses and subway cars rumbled beneath Harvard Square, Herrell’s got us right to our cones… well almost. One server forgot to put the requested rainbow jimmies on Ivy’s Rocky Road, and I had to turn my Lemon Mousse ice cream back when it was offered to me in a cup.

Herrell’s is a small ice cream chain headquartered in Northampton. The store there is right in the heart of downtown in Thorn’s with another entrance whose big windows that seem to pull people into the shoppe. On the other hand, this Harvard Square location is tucked down an alley in a spot that you must either stumble upon, or know in advance just where it is. Considering it’s proximity to the T station, it is amazing the number of folks who don’t know that this place even exists here.

Herrell’s has great hours for those in the mood for a cone. They open early (10am) and during the summer they stay open until 1am during the weekends. Even in the dead of winter, you can score some ice cream if you make it there before midnight.

The Lemon Mousse ice cream made for an interesting taste sensation. Herrell’s calls it “ice cream, with lots of lemon juice in it, making for a ‘moussey’ type texture.” I think this is a bit inaccurate. The lemon flavor is appropriate, but the mousse-like blending never seems to happen. There are two different tastes and textures that collide in the mouth and it acts more like a creamsicle than a frozen mousse. I enjoyed eating the cone but it made me think of gelatos from the past that have found this balance and made lemon and cream sublime. This instead seemed like it just needed a popsicle stick and I could be getting it from an ice cream truck.

When I mentioned Herrell’s to a few folks this evening, many of them unprovokedly commented about the fact that the cone is more expensive here for a smaller volume of ice cream. I haven’t figured out how to determine the volume, because I don’t want to buy a cone just to watch it melt down in a measuring cup.

Next time I’m here, I’m working from the chocolate family.

For something extra, “Smoosh-Ins®” are actually a registered trademark of Herrell’s. You select any flavor of ice cream and any combination of up to three candies, nuts, or fruits, and they Smoosh® them together by hand right in front of you. For those that like their toppings, but wish they could be more integrated into the ice cream, this can be a lot of fun.

Cone – small $3.66 medium $4.28 large $5.00

Sundae – small $5.50 large $6.19

Milkshake $5.00 malt $5.20

Herrell’s Ice Cream

15 Dunster Street Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Open year round

Sunday-Thursday, 10a-midnight. Friday and Saturday, 10a-1a

Christina’s Ice Cream – Cambridge MA

25 06 2008

This afternoon, Christina’s was actually quiet. There was no line stretching down the sidewalk, heck, our server waited on us to decide what kind of cones we were up for. I opted for black raspberry, Ivy got cookie dough, both only going for the single scoop small in a sugar cone. Only one other table was occupied so we were able to pick where we wanted to sit.*

Christina’s is a handmade ice cream, and there were 39 flavors available. They had 7 hard yogurt flavors and a few sorbets as well. The available flavors change seasonally.

The best thing that this shop has going for it is that it is connected with the spice shop next door. The flavors are very robust and simple. There may be nuts or chips, but most of the power is in the ice cream itself. With flavors like Cinnamon, Cardamom, Fresh Rose, or Lavender, it’s easy to see why there is no need for a marshmallow swirl or chocolate-coated sour gummiworms.

The black raspberry cone I ate was a bad order on my own part. The one thing that Christina’s doesn’t excel at is fruit. The flavor was a bit muted in the cream. A great black raspberry has a zest to it that has a finishing kick, this went down sweet and all that lingers is the sweetness, with none of the flavor of the actual fruit. Maybe I’m overreacting; this was a good creamy cone… I just wanted to change my order as soon as I was being handed my cone.

My favorite flavor here is the butter almond. It has a deep rich almond flavor with lots of nuts in the mix (often whole almonds) and the subtle sweetness of the butter. If you’re at a loss for what to get, go for this. But I can’t imagine that some flavor on the menu won’t peak your interest. Now if I can just get my dad to try the Khulfi.

*Inside there are 3 tables and one stray bench. Usually those are full, and I head outside and take a left turn. There are a pair of city benches that are a good place to sit. If they are occupied, I recommend continuing down the sidewalk across Prospect St. There is a built-in concrete bench around the inner edge of the sidewalk before the first building. If none of these options work, the best of all might be wandering around Inman Square with a cone in hand.

Return Engagement: November 6, 2008

Christina’s Ice Cream

Cone – small $2.57 medium $3.37 large $3.99

Sundae – small $4.52 large $5.65

Frappe $4.08 extra thick $4.52

1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

Open year round

Sun-Thu 11:30a-11p Fri-Sat 11:30a-midnight

phone: (617) 492-7021

I Scream, You Scream

24 06 2008

With the prevalence of Ice Cream shoppes all over the place, it seems like a good idea that we take a closer look at… errr… taste of what makes Ice Cream great. We’re looking for contributors and plan to start from the Boston area with hopes of trying every scoop we can find. If you’ve got favorites, tell us and we’ll go see how your tastebuds hold up…