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Humphry Slocombe vs. Bi-Rite Creamery... Help me decide

Going to be in SF this weekend and it looks like Humphry Slocombe and Bi-Rite Creamery are the best choices for Ice Cream in the city. I will probably only have time to visit one of the two this trip, so for those of you that have been to BOTH places, what is your vote and why?

Thanks for your help!

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  1. honestly, it's about the flavors and the vibe.

    I love humphry slocombe because you can sit down inside and outside and i really like their secret breakfast flavor.
    BiRite has great salted caramel and their fruit flavors are really good (strawberry balsamic is a particular fave).
    If I were going to only have 1 I'd probably go to BiRite because there WILL be a flavor you'll like. Humphry Slocombe is a little more hit or miss.

    1. Do you like weird flavors? Really weird flavors? I think HS would be the answer.

      5 Replies
      1. re: bbulkow

        Yes, I like unique flavors, that's one of the things that attracted me to both.. seems like such a difficult decision!

        1. re: Carbear99

          I didn't say unique, I said weird --- and I meant it.

          There's no comparison in oddity of flavors: HS hands down.

          When I was there I had tastes of salt and pepper and curry peanut butter. I ended up with corn, secret breakfast, and olive oil. You'll see on HS's list things like fois gras.

          BiRite has nothing of that strangeness - Honey Lavendar and salted caramel are normal in comparison.

          If you want your concept of ice cream flavor challenged, HS is the place for you. It really is an original.

          1. re: bbulkow

            I'm not into the weird flavors, but I agree that you should go to Humphrey Slocombe over Bi-Rite. I order their Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee ice cream when everything else is not so appealing and it ranks among some of the best ice cream I have had in a long time. It's somewhat gelato-like and reminds me of the espresso gelato I used to get many many years ago at a cafe on 24th near Mission. The coconut sherbet is also really good.

            1. re: bbulkow

              One slight warning: it can be hard to know for certain whether one likes a 'wierd' flavor, until one buys an entire serving...just tasting doesn't necessarily answer the question. (for me). One my one visit to HS, I tried a taste of the salt and pepper, among other flavors, and absolutely LOVED it, so got it in my serving. Unfortunately, while the first three or four bites were great, it wore my palate out quickly, and I couldn't finish the serving.

              1. re: susancinsf

                I loved both the tasting as well as the entire serving of salt & pepper, but then again I can probably lick a salt block happily :) Personally I liked HS more than Bi-Rite -- both are good but HS is so much more unique.

        2. I'd go to Humphry Slocumbe. Bi-Rite has excellent ice cream (malted vanilla with peanut brittle comes to mind), but I love the unconventionality of HS. As with anything that pushes the envelope, some attempts work, and some don't. I very much enjoyed the near-legendary Secret Breakfast and was amazed by the prosciutto, which had spot-on prosciutto flavor, but I found the olive oil disappointing, more lemony than olive-y. Other flavors, like salt-and-pepper, make me wonder, "Do I like that or not?" But I think that having one's taste's challenged is a good thing, and on the whole, HS has a sufficiently high proportion of hits versus misses to make it a worthy destination.

          1. i vote for HS - HANDS down - just make sure you go early for best selection as they sell out early. I like to get a scoop or two or a Hot Mess Sundae and stroll up to Philz and get an amazing cup of coffee after my wonderful ice cream adventure. . .

            1. They're very different styles of ice cream. The issue is more one of texture than flavor.

              Bi-Rite is very high in butterfat. It's creamier and doesn't melt as fast. Their best flavors like honey lavender take advantage of this. To me it tastes like cream--not my preference, but I know many people who like this style.

              Humphrey Slocumbe is more hit and miss, and it's definitely out there. But when it hits (Fudgesicle! or olive oil with amarena cherries) it's pretty wondrous. They're much less consistent than Bi-Rite, and this won't win the texture wars, unless you're a sorbet lover. But I love going back, just to see what's new, and say I had prosciutto ice cream.

              1. HS is great - not just for the interesting flavors, but for doing really clean and simple classics well like coffee and chocolate. I think Bi-Rite is too sweet and the flavors one-dimensional; it reminds me of an upscale Ben and Jerry's.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Ah, now you've reminded me of HS's excellent Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee--possibly the best coffee ice cream I've ever tasted. No outlandish flavors here, just a rich, complex coffee ice cream--great paired with Secret Breakfast, of course!

                2. No contest, HS. Bi-Rite is very good but HS is extraordinary. Also, the lines at Bi-Rite are often ridiculous.

                  1. I think HS sounds more up your alley. i like both. I agree that Bi-Rite is more consistent between flavors, but not as exciting and very creamy. It is the type of place I take visitors who swear by Cold Stone. they get a revelation that ice cream can be better, but aren't challenged too much. i know that that they will get a creamy product. But if I personally had to choose one, i would go to HS. The flavors are fun (I don't think they are as crazy as some do though), the differences in textures I think often enhance the flavors and the service last time I went was top notch.

                    1. On any given day, I guess it would really depend on what flavor I'm craving. Bi-Rite's flavors have a more mainstream appeal. HS's flavors are ususual but really quite delicious. I really enjoyed the peanut butter curry. But if I had to choose just one, I'd pick BR over HS even with the long wait at BR. It's not because of the flavor selection, but because of the texture. The ice cream seems creamier at BR.

                      1. Another vote for Humphrey Slocombe. I LOVE Secret Breakfast, think it's one of the more inventive flavors but all I've had at HS have been good. I've been to BiRite once and while it was good, it didn't excite me like the flavors of HS.

                        1. It looks like it's probably going to be Humphry Slocombe's... excited to try the crazy flavors!! Thanks for everyone's suggestions! I let everyone know what we have!

                          1. I've only been to each once, but I preferred Bi-Rite. I sampled 4 flavors at HS and none of them appealed to us all that much.

                            1. I suppose that you have already chosen, so this is too late, but I am NOT a fan of HS. i think that Bi-Rite is superior in every way, from tastier icecream to friendlier staff.

                              call me crazy, but no matter HOW strange you want to be with your flavor experiments, you should at least try to have some sort of chocolate on your menu when you are making icecream.
                              also, the iceream i got was grainy and clearly hadn't had enough chruning happen to mix all the ice crystals back into the icecream.
                              Bi-Rite icecream, while it is (in my book) insanely expensive, is totally worth the treat.
                              and yes, i am a huge fan of the salted caramel icecream.

                              Needless to say, if you DO go to HS, you can wash it down with an organic home made donut around the corner at dynamo.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: jupiter

                                HS has chocolate sorbet almost always. . along with the blue bottle Vietnamese coffee and Secret Breakfast it is a standard.

                                I find the chocolate ice cream at Bi-Rite really weak - they use cocoa to flavor it and, on my palate, it tastes "dusty" and raw. . . much as you don't like HS, I find Bi-Rite completely mediocre from the depth of their flavors to the mouth feel of their product. . .

                                at least we can agree on Dynamo - fresh out of the fryer, those are quite tasty donuts. :)

                                1. re: pastryqueen

                                  "Humphrey Slocumbe is more hit and miss.. much less consistent than Bi-Rite, and this won't win the texture wars, unless you're a sorbet lover. But I love going back, just to see what's new..."

                                  I agree. For "I want ice cream that tastes good right now," I go to Bi-Rite. For "I want to re-think/have my mind blown by ice cream," I go to HS.

                                  Try to visit both!

                                  (oops, sorry, I meant to reply to another post above..)

                                  1. re: Leely2

                                    "Humphrey Slocumbe is more hit and miss.. much less consistent than Bi-Rite, and this won't win the texture wars, unless you're a sorbet lover. But I love going back, just to see what's new..."

                                    Good to know I'm not the only one who is not in love with HS. I do agree that their flavors are interesting...but last time I went every single flavor was ridiculoulsly salted. salty vanilla, salty rosemary, salty olive oil...etc. Everything except the Jesus juice.

                                    1. re: linz

                                      That's misrepresenting what I wrote above with selective editing. I recommended HS over Bi-Rite because I prefer their ice cream.

                                      You're welcome to disagree, but please use your own words.

                                2. re: jupiter

                                  I agree with jupiter. I got a flavor called thin mint at HS and while it tasted like fresh mint, the texture was literally crumbly. I sampled the balsamic caramel and it was actually disgusting and I don't use the term lightly. The high point of HS was the malted milk chocolate flavor (it tasted just like a chocolate malt).

                                  Bi-Rite has a wonderful texture and great flavors (cookies and cream, honey lavender). But for more money I would take Mitchell's-- they have exotic fruits like avocado, macapuno, etc...

                                3. First, I'll just say that I love the fact that there is this choice in SF, and both within 5 min drive, 15 minute walk of my house... put Mitchell's in there too and you have the ultimate ice cream trifecta!

                                  But for me, there's no question... BI-RITE #1, by a very wide margin.

                                  My problem with HS is they seem to put novelty and shock-value of their flavors above quality. Where Bi-Rite's ice-creams are truly artisan level quality... you can tell that this is someone's expert hand-crafted work... HS seems to be a little amateurish.

                                  Where Bi-Rite pulls off the seemingly impossible blend of uber-creamy and refreshing (really on par with anything I've had in Florence, Rome, or Milan... and trust me, I've tried dozens and dozens), HS's ice creams seems icy at times, with ice crystals at times even.

                                  Where Bi-Rites flavor originality is attention grabbing but still delivers the taste-buds ahahh!, HS's flavors don't stand up to the curiosity it generates... although I will admit that I still wanna go back and try BlueBottle Vietnamese coffee, Peanut butter curry, and several others...

                                  Yes, HS has peaked my curiosity, but as others have said above it's definitely hit-and-miss, and just not at the level of quality. But Bi-Rite is seriously the most amazing ice cream experience I have had this side of the Atlantic.

                                  14 Replies
                                  1. re: galanos

                                    I have had both BiRite and HS and BiRite wins HANDS DOWN. The flavor is just so much better and the vibe is warmer!!

                                    1. re: galanos

                                      I couldn't have said it better myself - galanos is totally, 100%, spot on.

                                      1. re: galanos

                                        I have it on good authority that it is illegal for shops like BiRite & HS to make their own ice cream base, and that both HS and BiRite buy the same base from Strauss. Any texture variation is due to HS' unconventional additions of alcohol, salt, acid (vinegar), or extreme sweetness, all of which change freezing temperatures and texture. I'm happy to accept melt-prone ice cream to eat some of the flavors at HS.

                                        1. re: SteveG

                                          It's legal for ice cream shops to make their own from scratch, but meeting the CDFA "clean room" requirement might be prohibitively expensive or physically impossible for a small shop. Humphry Slocombe was supposed to have one:


                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            They put one in at huge expense. I know the owner. Also, just before the cement floors were poured before opening, they were burgled for their copper piping! You've seen the clean room, you just didn't know what it was.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              According to this really interesting NY Times profile of the owner, HS does use the Strauss base http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/mag...

                                            2. re: SteveG

                                              Your source is half right. Most artisan ice cream recipes call for eggs as a natural stabilizer. It is illegal to sell ice cream that contains raw (frozen) eggs; you have to pasteurize them in a specialized (and expensive) facility. Strauss has that facility, so the Strauss base is fairly ubiquitous in the Bay Area - I'd say 90% of spots that serve organic or artisinal ice cream use it.

                                              However, some places do invest in the pasteurization equipment - I believe Ici in Piedmont makes there own base with house-pasteurized eggs (though I heard that HS was using Strauss). Others just don't include eggs in the base, which yields a lighter texture and also requires you to spin it daily and keep it at a slightly warmer temperature so that the ice cream doesn't get too hard. The sadly closed Sketch in Berkeley was egg-free, not sure who else is.

                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                Just a clarification that Ici is in Berkeley.

                                            3. re: galanos

                                              I didn't try the "shock value" flavors that they had during a visit there yesterday, but stuck with three that I actually wanted to try.

                                              The BlueBottle Vietnamese Coffee was good but not great. I'm not a big chocolate ice cream fan, but the Chocolate Smoked Seasalt combo was terrific. The true hit was the Peanut Butter Curry for me and my friend who was with me - that one would be dangerous for both of us if we lived closer.

                                              Maybe that one lone scoop skewed my immediate thoughts, but upon further reflection, I'm probably willing to guess that Bi-Rite overall probably trumps HS, but that peanut butter curry has trumped anything I tried at Bi-Rite so far. But I'm willing to go back to Bi-Rite (& HS) to get a bigger sampling size

                                              1. re: josquared

                                                i agree the texture question is a matter of personal preference. but personally i don't enjoy the creaminess of bi-rite at all (almost feels like mayo in your mouth). and while i don't always want a wacked out flavor at HS, i do almost always want fudgsicle or vietnamese coffee.

                                                all this was my standard line until i tried the soft serve at bi-rite. i'm not sure if the base is different that they use, or somehow the way it is processed for soft serve resolves the mayo/mouthfeel issue, but the chocolate/salt caramel twist i had tonight was pretty darn good. the chocolate was still a little too sweet, and thin on chocolate flavor, but i finished every last drop which i have never done before with bi-rite.

                                                now at least i won't put up a fight when my compatriots want to go to bi-rite instead of HS.

                                                1. re: turtl_girl

                                                  Ooh, I wish they'd had the chocolate/salted caramel twist when we tried the soft serve in March :-(. The vanilla and the chocolate were both pretty tasty (maybe too sweet per turtl) but honestly it was the shortness of the soft-serve lineup that drew us in. The sign above it advertised the ice cream as Strauss IIRC...

                                                  1. re: turtl_girl

                                                    I find Bi-Rite's hard serve to be overrated, albeit still tasty, but their soft serve is also the best I've had in SF.

                                                    1. re: vulber

                                                      We only tried the hard stuff once because of egregious lineups -- thought it was v. good but not worth waiting 45 minutes for.

                                                    2. re: turtl_girl

                                                      Yes the salted caramel soft serve is amazing!

                                                      I can only hope they will start offering a smaller size option though, because that was a lot of ice cream to eat! & soft serve is not as shareable as scoops...

                                                2. To fully appreciate and understand both, you have to visit both of them. I do admit we seem to prefer Bi-Rite. But I wouldn't have known that if we hadn't gone to HS.

                                                  1. Humphrey Slocombe comes off as super-abrasive to me: the "fetal kitten" soup can art that slaps you in the face as you walk in the door, the fake "street" way they talk on twitter/facebook.... (on the breakfast ice cream cake: "Available all year long! Just call us 72 hours before you need it (this shiz takes time yo!) and 9" wide (hells yes) for just $40 dolla to make you holla. Serves 8-10 peeps...")

                                                    Every time I hear about the prosciutto ice cream I want to give up and go back to Humphry Slocombe. But then I remember that they crossed a line. I followed a Twitter account that was parodying their out-there flavors and trying-to-be-badass tone (@jasperslobrushe) because I thought it was funny. Then I read something that said that HS was so defensive about the parody (considering it "harassment") that they were blocking anyone on Twitter who followed @jasperslobrushe.

                                                    I immediately went to twitter.com/humphryslocombe... sure enough, as long as I was logged in I couldn't see it. I may be weird... I know I'm weird... but that just blew my mind, that somebody there was crazy enough about being parodied that they were monitoring the other account's twitter followers and pre-blocking them. Like, I had never followed HS in the first place; I was just blocked from being ever able to follow them on Twitter because I had clicked "follow" on a parody account. That's crazy.

                                                    So now, I admit, every time that I consider going to the actual ice cream store, my first reaction is that I've been blocked! I'm like, "Wait, there's some reason I can't go... they're boycotting me or something? What was it?"

                                                    I wouldn't even know if this was still true; for all I know, they've stopped doing it and I could read all the tweets I wanted. There's something wrong with my internet connection that's keeping it from loading Facebook, Twitter, and anything useful properly... besides Chow of course. I suppose it's not handling the automatically-updating sites well or something.

                                                    TL;DR: Bi-Rite all the way, for all the reasons that others have said here and more. Consistent quality, non-abrasive flavors and staff and artwork. HS is a "you have to try this once" kind of place, not an "I need my ice cream fix" place for me.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: peacemeals

                                                      I'm glad I've never read their Twitter feed; from your description, they're hipster ice cream techno-terrorists! Sounds like an over-the-top social media agency more than Jake.

                                                      But yes, Sam and the Bi-Rite folks are pretty good natured.

                                                      Still, I'll take Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous any day. Unless it's after 6.

                                                      1. re: Windy

                                                        They take plenty of pictures of themselves and the shop on their twitter feed, so I think it's all done in house.