By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
Not that we don't like ice cream when baby, it's cold outside, but this curiously warm summer (which started early and seems bent on disproving the famously overquoted bon mot attributed to Mark Twain, i.e., "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco") has encouraged us to order more ice cream treats than ever before. We like the cold stuff, whether it's ice cream, gelato (less butterfat than ice cream, but with a denser texture because less air is whipped into it), sorbet (water-based), sherbet (which can contain milk), frozen yogurt -- even, to our surprise, a soy-based ice cream we tasted recently. And we like it in cones, cups, sundaes, milkshakes, malts, ice cream sodas, any old way you choose it -- especially if we can enjoy our confections while walking down an interesting street. Licking a cone while window-shopping, yum (how sweetly coincidental that the French phrase for window-shopping translates as "window-licking").
The immediate environs of Mitchell's Ice Cream, on the same corner for 50 years (and still family-owned), are not particularly conducive to spaziering, that dulcet German word that can be translated as "walk" but more nearly implies a pleasant wandering. And the shop itself is quite minimalist in décor, even cheerless: Cones are dispensed from behind a Plexiglas shield, which makes the storefront look like an ice cream bank, or maybe even an ice cream jail. But the ice cream they're dispensing is, well, peerless. While you're eating it, it's the best, the creamiest you've ever tasted, with an ineffable silky texture. Among the 40 or so flavors available at any given time (chosen from a rotating, seasonal, larger list) are uncommon ones made with fruit imported directly from the Philippines, such as langka (jackfruit) and ube (purple yam), as well as the more expected chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and Thai tea (only kidding -- that it's more expected, that is. Thai tea is a Mitchell's flavor, as are chocolate caramel crackle, corn, and cheese).
When Cathy and I stopped by recently, we left with containers of avocado and buko (baby coconut) for me and macapuno (adult, sweeter coconut) and ube for her. I loved both the coconuts (well, I do love coconut), enjoyed the subtle yam, and was slightly puzzled by the avocado: pleasant, green, but not really, to my tongue, more than elusively reminiscent of the fruit. (Cathy, who recently painted a room rumba orange, thought of redoing it in Mitchell's-style colors: ube purple and avocado green.)
688 San Jose
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
Small dish, mint chocolate chip and peppermint candy $1.95
Small caramel sundae $4.95
Black and Tan $7.95
Ciao Bella Gelato Co.
Double scoop, watermelon sorbet and hazelnut-chocolate gelato $2.95
Pint, malted milk ball gelato $4.50
Mint chip milkshake $4.59
Toy Boat Dessert Cafe
Small two-scoop cone, Choconutty and dulce de leche $2.35
Mitchell's Ice Cream, 688 San Jose (at 29th Street), 648-2300. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: moderately difficult. Muni: 14, 26, 49, 67. Noise level: low.
Maggie Mudd, 903 Cortland (at Gates), 641-5291. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Muni: 24, 67. Noise level: low.
Fentons Creamery, 4226 Piedmont (at Entrada), Oakland, (510) 658-7000. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight. No reservations (you can call ahead for a large party, but the staff doesn't guarantee immediate seating at the time requested). Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: high.
Ciao Bella Gelato Co., 685 Harrison (at Second Street), 541-4940. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Saturday and Sunday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: fairly easy. Muni: 15. Noise level: low.
Taylor's Refresher, 933 Main (at Charter Oak), St. Helena, (707) 963-3486. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: moderate.
Toy Boat Dessert Cafe, 401 Clement (at Fifth Avenue), 751-7505. Open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: fairly easy. Muni: 2, 4. Noise level: moderate.
Maggie Mudd, which opened in January in Bernal Heights, is the very model of a modern ice cream parlor: Its walls are painted in tropical, citrusy colors of yellow and green, and it offers, as well as ice cream, gelato, sherbet, and frozen yogurt (most, but not all, house-made), its own line of soy cream. There are add-ons (fresh fruit and candies plus sauces, nuts, and whipped cream), and the staff will combine any or all of these into sundaes or smoothies. The day Peter and I were there, we waited more or less patiently while the guy ahead of us constructed an epochal, self-designed smoothie that contained almonds, coconut, Italian almond syrup, vanilla soy cream, and a mysterious ingredient called "immunity," while bemoaning the lack, that day, of butter pecan soy cream. (He told us it was a veggie smoothie. Sure it was.) I fell back on two favorites, a clean-tasting mint chocolate chip and the house-made peppermint candy. (Next time I might try a Mint Condition, a sundae with crème de menthe syrup and mint chocolate-covered espresso beans.) But the big surprise was how much I liked the soy cream; I tasted a spicy, full-flavored ginger, and Peter's rich chocolate cone. We enjoyed them while walking adorable Cortland Street, home to an excellent used bookstore, Red Hill Books (401 Cortland, 648-5331), and one of my favorite stores anywhere, Heartfelt (436 Cortland, 648-1380), a mix of gifts, objects for the home, things new, old, humorous, and beautiful -- I never go in without finding something I can't live without.
The venerable Fentons Creamery, recently reopened after a disastrous fire in November 2001, also lives on a delightful shopping street, Piedmont in Oakland, full of bookstores, antique stores, and gift shops. Grabbing a cone to go might seem best when confronted with the daunting, seemingly constant crowds waiting to be called for an actual ice-cream-parlor wire seat at a table (or, lucky you, a booth). But the place is huge, turnover is swift, and the famously messy Fentons sundaes (the house style demands overflowing bowls, dripping sauces) really demand that you be seated to deal with them.
Aline was thrilled that Fentons was jumping one weekday evening at 9:30 ("This is a whole lot of action for Oakland"), after we'd enjoyed, slightly to our surprise, Masked and Anonymous, the indie Around the World in Eighty Days as far as cameos are concerned (spot Ed Harris in blackface!), especially when the plot didn't intrude and we could just enjoy Bob Dylan's bouncy, airy manner and heel-to-toe walk. Fentons' famous crab salad sandwich (it's even mentioned on the shop's voice mail) is slightly scandalous at $12.95; if it isn't made from canned crab (minced almost to oblivion), the kitchen has devised a method to make it seem like it is. Aline's club was more satisfying, even with its unkosher (in two ways) addition of a slice of ham. (I liked the sweet pickle chips and the ridged potato chips that came alongside; "I'm a Jewish girl with catholic tastes that include goyische sandwiches," I said.) Fentons was never a family favorite, and our sundaes reminded me why: The caramel on mine was unpleasantly grainy, and the hot fudge sauce on Aline's Black and Tan was thin. Which is why I laughed when we passed a sign that read, "As good as you remember," as we left. Still, I enjoyed the high energy (we heard three renditions of "Happy Birthday" sung while we were there), the huge vintage photos on the wall (especially the one of a tiny boy dwarfed by a big sundae), and I'm sure I'll be back someday for a liverwurst sandwich, one of the place's special long hot dogs (served split on a toasted bun), or a vanilla milkshake.