HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >


Hard ice cream in NoVA?

Hounds, I moved to the Fairfax area from Boston fairly recently and I'm a bit confused about the ice cream offerings around here. All I can find is soft ice cream and custard. I've tried Ethan's dairy bar in Manassas and a couple of other soft ice cream places, but haven't been impressed.

Isn't there any New England-type hard ice cream around (expensive gelato doesn't count)? I miss Steve's, Richardson's, Toscanini's, Christina's, etc. I've been resorting to our local Friendly's out of desperation (Baskin/Robbins is not even edible). TIA!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. If you're talking about ice cream parlors, no, they've mostly all gone away. There's Baskin-Robbins, of course, and a few Hagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry's stores where you can get a cone or a sundae in a take-out cup, but that's about it.

    There are some better than average packaged ice creams available in grocery stores. Willams-Sonoma has some pretty good sauces. Get yourself some fancy glasses at World Imports and make your ice cream treats at home.

    1. Have you tried the place just south of 50 off West Ox, sort of behind Safeway (is it still there?)

      3 Replies
      1. re: Dennis S

        That's the Yum Yum Cafe you're refering to, and yes, it's still there.

        1. re: dpan

          Can you add anything more? I liked it the one time I went with my daughter. I don't like sweets in general, but it (in my mind) became our go-to place after our one visit. Nothing stellar, but seemed to be a local affair and good overall - and they have decent enough coffee!

          1. re: Dennis S

            My kids like to go for the ice cream, it's pretty good, but it's just like Baskin Robbin. I don't have a sweet tooth so I don't go for the other things like the baklava. If you like those heavy middle eastern sweets, this is your place.

      2. Try Max's Best on Wisconsin Avenue just north of Georgetown in Glover Park (across from the Whole Foods). It's more like JP Licks or Emack & Bolios's than Toscanini's or Christina's, but still good.

        1. You'll eat Friendly's (gack!) and not Baskin-Robbins? [*scratches head in puzzlement*]

          Very highly praised house-made frozen custard at "The Dairy Godmother" http://www.thedairygodmother.com

          1. There isn't anything better than Thomas Sweet on Wisconsin Ave in Georgetown.
            Old School hand made hand scooped with all kind of custom ice cream flavors like
            Tiramisu just a great summer place to hang out and get dipped.

            8 Replies
            1. re: keithlb1

              The original Steve's first outpost outside of Boston was in College Park in the mid '70's. After a number of years it went out of business. But Steve Herrell moved to Northhampton and that was the end of his Boston store, too. (Did you ever have the original Bart's?) I am not a fan of Toscanni's although everyone on the Boston board is. Washington does have the best "store bought" ice cream that I've had in years and it is called "Simplicity" and is made by a company in Falls Church. Balducci's sells it for about $6.00 a pint or so. Stores? The Princeton based Thomas Sweet in Georgetown is probably the best. "Soft" is Neilson's on Church street in Vienna. I am not as big of a fan of the Dairy Godmother as most others on here. I still remember Max's Best when it was opened under a different name. Great D. C. ice cream like the University Pastry Shop, Wagshal's (which they sold in the '70's-NOT what they sell today), Avignon Freres and the original Gifford's which closed in the early '80's no longer exists.

              With one exception: I haven't been in about three years or so but the man who made the ice cream at Gifford's at Georgia and Sligo for it's last ten or so years opened his own place a month or so after Gifford's closed. He made the EXACT SAME ICE CREAM which also includes the EXACT SAME SWISS CHOCOLATE and making ice cream sodas the same way (i.e. mixing a tablespoon of ice cream in with the soda water first). The name was York Castle and his first store was in Montgomery Hills just south of Seminary. He could not claim it was Gifford's-he didn't own the name. When Gifford's sold their name years later the recipe was changed. But for over twenty years York Castle in Silver Spring made the exact same ice cream that its owner made at Gifford's when he was their plant manager.

              I know all of this because I was in the Silver Spring Gifford's the last hour it was open and was in York Castle a few minutes after it opened on its first day.

              1. re: Joe H

                I was a fixture at Bart's in Amherst in the 80's. What great memories. I also remember waiting half an hour in line at the Steves on Mass Ave in the middle of winter for a mix in. I liked Herrell's but not as much as Steve's. Are those places still around?

                I also like Nielsen's frozen custard--you can get hard scoopable custard, too.

                As store bought ice cream goes, WF carries a local one (I can't remember the name) that's pretty good but doesn't compare to Bart's, or at least my memory of Bart's. I'd like to try Haggen Dazs' Five--made with five ingredients: cream, sugar, eggs, milk, and one more flavor.

                1. re: chowser

                  Some Whole Foods carry Sinplicity, the local brand that Joe raves about. I was looking for it to give it a try and it wasn't at the Falls Church Whole Foods. I broke down and bought a pint at Balducci's. Bonus was that they had samples of their Chocolate Decadence cake out in the bakery department. I had two!

                  1. re: chowser

                    Bart's is no longer in Amherst and, I believe, it was bought out by another company and is sold in supermarkets under the Bart's name in western MA. But it's not the same. The Northampton store was one of the best on earth. Serious hyperbole but it was seriously good ice cream. Steve Herrell's is still there almost across the street but it doesn't carry the same appeal for me. Lineage of Neilsen's is that the Salt Lake City original's owner once worked in Milwaukee Kopp's and brought a lower butterfat version of Kopp's to Salt Lake. Most frozen custard is 10% butterfat with low overrun. Kopp's is 16%-a real number.

                    Chowser, on your profile I noted that you like Patowmack Farm. Did you go to the original when Beverly just had a tent and tiki torches on the hillside? A different chef, too. I wrote this on here about it in 2002: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/165704

                    And, if you are really into ice cream, I make it with a, now, forty year old White Mountain freezer with rock salt and ice and Lewes Dairy heavy cream, Vermont or Irish butter, etc. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/293375 is a post of mine on here about a flavor that has now become a standard for me.

                    The Sinplicity really is good. York Castle's "original" Gifford's flavors (i.e. French Almond, Swiss Chocolate, butter pecan, peach, strawberry, pumpkin, etc.) are excellent. Moorenko's and Thomas Sweet are really worth a visit, too.

                    Still, last week I was in Louisville where there is an outpost of Cincinnati's Graeter's. At 11:00 at night I had a large dish (2/3 of a pint) of their strawberry chip which has large chunks of chocolate in it. For me, Graeter's remains the best store bought ice cream I've found.

                    1. re: Joe H

                      That's a nice review on Patowmack Farm. I visited our first time a year or two after your review, after they built the glass conservatory. We went in October and the view was beautiful w/ the foliage. Beverly greeted us and we had a great time. With the glass conservatory, you feel like you're outside but w/out the elements. It must have been fun, a completely different experience, with the tiki torches and tent. I haven't been in a couple of years but we enjoyed the food. As you said in your review, it was excellent, mostly locally sourced. I have had better dinners in the area (would put L'Auberge Provencal over it) but the whole experience was wonderful.

                      Thanks for the heads up on that ice cream recipe. I do make my own (w/ an old 80's Danvier hand mix) and will give it a try. It sounds great.

                      Okay, the ice cream I had at WF was Moorenko--the other posts reminded me of the name. I liked it but it doesn't compare to the ones from NE and I prefer Middleburg Creamery. As hard frozen custard goes, if anyone gets up to Maryland, the Meadows does a pretty good frozen custard with different flavors.

                      1. re: chowser

                        Is the Meadows the one in Hagerstown?

                        1. re: Joe H

                          I've only had it from Fredericksburg but looked it up and there is one in Hagerstown. I think it's a local franchise.

                          1. re: chowser

                            We stopped in the one in Hagerstown. It has a frozen custard machine similar to Neilson's/Dairy Godmother/Milwaukee Frozen Custard. All of these put out "scoopable" frozen custard similar to what the ElectroFreeze machines did in the '40's and '50's. Carl's in Fredericksburg and Klein's in Harrisonburg (as of two years ago) still have original ElectroFreeze machines as does the original Kohr Bros. on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ-but only this one.

              2. Now that I think of it, does anyone go to Lazy Sundae (Falls Church) any more? In Clarendon, they were pretty highly praised by Chowhounds both for the quality of their ice cream and their concoctions. I was at the Falls Church version shortly after they opened and while the ice cream was pretty good (probably same as always) the atmosphere wasn't nearly as "ice cream parlor" as before. I think it's been re-invented a time or two since. (On West St, just a block north of Broad)

                1. I'd say fuhgeddaboudit. Nothing in the DC area is all that to get excited about. The best you will do is York Castle (purely local) tropical flavors found at some of the Latino markets. Mango is excellent, so is lucuma, but that flavor is harder to find. Can be boguth at the Chicken and Steak rotisseie place on Rte 50 in the Willston Shopping Center in Falls Church and also the Euro Market on Leesburg Pike. Both of these are in the Seven Corners of Falls Church.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Steve

                    Yeah, sigh... I will try store bought as recommended above. Thanks to everyone for their input.

                    1. re: Trixie Too

                      I reccomend "the Dairy" at the University of Maryland in College Park. Been there for years...still home made fresh on the premises
                      For some reason...."HOME Made" Ice Cream just does not have the same allure in Baltimore or Washington as in New England, Boston in particular.

                  2. What's wrong with Coldstone Creamery?

                    7 Replies
                      1. re: Joe H

                        Not really but what's actually better in Nova now? I miss Moorenko.

                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                          Eric, I recall that you and I have chatted about McLean restaurants so I wonder if you've seen a tantalizing sign outside of Listrani's recently. It announces that Listrani's now carries Moorenko ice-cream. I haven't been into Listrani's so I don't know whether this means hand-dipped scoops or pre-packaged Moorenko. Definitely worth further exploration.

                          1. re: Indy 67

                            I don't go into town (if you could call it that) that much so I haven't seen the sign at Listrani's. My wife works nearby and I'm sure she can find an excuse to eat ice cream so I'll ask her to drop by.

                            1. re: Ericandblueboy

                              Moorenko's is still open in Silver Spring.

                            2. re: Indy 67

                              They're selling Moorenko by the scoop, they adverise as having more than 10 flavors, they might have 11, maybe 12 flavors.

                              1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                Thanks for this intelligence.

                                I love Moorenko's chocolate chili flavor. I also love their slightly tangy creme fraiche flavor drizzled with honey and sprinkled with pine nuts and blueberries. (The pine nuts ought to be a clue that I first ate this combination in a restaurant in Italy. The Italian restaurant used an even-tangier flavored ice cream than Moorenko's creme fraiche, but this is the closest I can get locally.)

                      2. Pop's in Old Town is decent.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: maoj

                          As is the place across the street from Pop's. It used to be called The Scoop Grill, I'm not sure what the name is now after new owners took over.

                        2. I like Middleburg Creamery ice cream and find it at farmers markets. I never thought to look for their site but they are available at different locations. Their orange cream is great.


                          But, being a Boston transplant, I miss the availability of ice cream from that area. Not a close second, but far better than Baskin Robbins or Friendly's is Maggie Moos, or so my family thinks.

                          1. You should try Moorenko's Ice Cream-you can get it at Whole Foods or go their cafe:


                            They have unique flavors and its pretty good...

                            1. I think that the main problem with finding really good ice cream in NOVA has to do with the whole ice cream making process. I am 99% certain that all ice cream in VA must be made with a pasturized base, and then flavorings are essentially added to this base. Since pasteurizing equipment is fairly expensive, most ice cream stores (that make their own "in-house" ice cream) must rely on pasteurized ice cream base, purchased from an outside source. Not that there is anything wrong with this. However, I do not think this is the case in DC and MD, thus the relative greatness (IMHO) of places like Dolcezza and Pitango.

                              I still think The Dairy Godmother and Neilson's have the best ice cream in NOVA, but I know that style of ice cream is not really what you are looking for. Wish I could be more helpful.

                              1. I agree with the lack of 'hard ice cream' offerings in the area, however it gives you a chance to try some new places! I'm not a huge froyo guy myself (Perry's Ice Cream from NY is my style), but I would check out Larry's Ice Cream in Dupont Circle on Conn Ave or Thomas Sweet....not quite in Northern VA I know. If Dairy Godmother isnt your style, you can try Pop's or Scoops on King Sreet in Old Town. Both do the job.


                                1. I've had the same question, too. I do not like soft serve or yogurt or custard. Sometimes when I am in a place like a mall Haagen-Dazs or a Ben & Jerry's I choose my flavor based on how hard the ice cream in a certain carton is; the harder the better. I say bring back Howard Johnsons...

                                  1. If you'd be willing to try some frozen custard (I know, you said you weren't looking for custard), there's Dairy Godmother on Mt. Vernon Ave in the Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria: http://www.thedairygodmother.com/. It's not soft serve custard, but hard frozen, and quite good.

                                    There's nothing here quite like Toscanini's in Cambridge, Rancatore's in Belmont, or Mitchell's in San Francisco.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: leslielj

                                      I've had a half dozen different flavors at Toscanini's and am not the fan that so many on the Boston board are for this. Of course I liked Bart's in Northampton and Richardson's in Middleton (maple walnut is outstanding), too. If we focus on ice cream in the D. C. area and not limit this to shops, then I believe the best is at Two Amy's and Kinkead's. Both are outstanding.

                                      Have you ever had Fenton's in Oakland?

                                      1. re: Joe H

                                        In the 80's, I liked Toscanini's but preferred Bart's better. I usually went to the one in Amherst but did go to the one in Northhampton when i was there and didn't notice a difference between the Northhampton and Amherst shops. I went to Fenton's in Oakland a couple of times because it was highly recommended. I vaguely remember it but don't remember it being noteworthy. I haven't had ice cream here close to any of them. I haven't had ice cream at 2 Amy's or Kinkead's but would not have thought of getting ice cream at either place. I think Middleburg Creamery is pretty good, though, compared to what I've gotten in this area. I did have a good caramel fleur de sel ice cream at a restaurant in this area but can't remember which one right now. I'll have to think about it. Maybe it was Willow in Arlington.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          I am really obsessed with ice cream. There are a lot of restaurants that I'll go to and order a couple of scoops of ice cream for dessert. Different flavors, but no fudge, no cream, nothing-just ice cream. But this is always after asking if it is made in house. There's a third great place for ice cream that I forgot to mention: Et Voila on MacArthur blvd. has speculoos (sp?) ice cream which is fantastic. This is made with cinnamon, brown sugar, cloves, nutmeg for a very intense flavor. This is a recipe for the cookie: http://www.joyofbaking.com/Speculaas.... Apparently, it is also important to use a particular kind of brown sugar if possible, vergeoise brune which is made from beet syrup and has thick crystal which are slightly wet. For me this may be the single best flavor I've had in the D. C. area in a restaurant. I'll probably make it soon with my White Mountain freezer with rock salt and ice but I'll probably add some kind of chopped nut for a crunch. Anyway, Et Voila's was absolutely outstanding! (Good moules et frites there, too.


                                          I'll definitely try the Middleburg Creamery. Thanks!

                                          1. re: Joe H

                                            That looks like a good recipe. That'll be next on my list of things to bake. Have you found vergoise brune anywhere in the area? I usually make my own brown sugar so maybe I'll use less white sugar and more molasses. Thanks for the heads up on Et Voila. It looks great. Have you tried the Hoegaarden beer ice cream (comes with the apple tarte tatin)?

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              Beghin Say Vergeoise brune is the brand name of the brown sugar which I understand may be a bit different but I really am not sure. The French company has a website and I called them in Lille but they probably close at 5:00. Anyway, I was hoping to find a source for this in the U. S. Chowser but I haven't found anything after scrolling on the internet. Your suggestion is an excellent alternative. I've had beer ice cream in Brugges but don't remember the particular brand. It was good but I didn't react to it like I did the speculoos.

                                    2. It's true that there aren't many good independent ice cream shops in town, but there is a 'happening' gelato industry.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: SimonF

                                        There is a pretty good gelato shop called Boccato in Clarendon. I hear it's homemade. There's another place called "Goody's" by the Metro, but I've never been. Not sure if it's good or not, but it looks like it serves the usual Hershey's cheap stuff. I know there are some restaurants in town that serve Great Falls Ice Cream, which is pretty good. Pie-tanza serves it, as does Toby's in Arlington.