Ice Cream Bar --- destination worthy place in Cole Valley [San Francisco]
I stopped by Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley yesterday, on their opening day. They've been working on this place for what seems like forever, and it's unlike anything I've ever encountered.
To the right of the entrance is the ice cream section for sundaes, scoops, ice cream & cookie sandwiches, and the like. You need to grab a number by the door for this. It was super packed and head a long wait, so we head instead to the soda fountain in the back, for which you don't need a number.
The soda Jerk was really friendly, and told us a bit about the vintage soda fountain, and what distinguishes lactarts from phosphates. We considered getting the candy cap mushroom phosphate, but figured that since it was their first day, we should go with something simpler. The "too good to be true" was a malted butterscotch milkshake with butterscotch syrup, egg, milk, malted cream, and molasses. To make this, the Jerk grabbed two brown eggs from a bowl in front of us, and cracked them with one hand into a cocktail shaker. He added a few other ingredients, did some showy moves, and then shook the drink by hand. It was absolutely delicious and better than the ice cream based shakes I've grown accustomed to. The amount of butterscotch, malty flavor, and cream was wonderfully balanced, and it was smooth, creamy, and not overly sweet. Not sure how popular raw eggs would be with a family crowd, but they're common enough in cocktails nowadays that hopefully not too many people will be sketched out by this.
They're going for a retro vibe both in aesthetics and menu. They also have over twenty house-made extracts, and claim to have over 75 housemade tinctures. Even without a liquor license (yet), I can imagine mixology fetishists having a field day here. Here's their sample menu for the Soda Fountain. Their ice cream & sundae menu is different and I haven't found an online link.
I went to the Ice Cream Bar today not for the ice cream, but for lunch. I was quite taken with the retro design and feel of the place, and the two young men behind the counter were, if not chipper and smiley, at least friendly and helpful. It wasn't crowded (at about 12:30) and over the next hour-plus we were there, several folks/parties came in or stopped in for ice cream but it was never packed. Granted, it was a Wednesday--don't know what it's like on the weekends.
My friend and I split the tuna melt, which came with a lovely side salad of greens and beets. I'm thinking the pickle that came with the sandwich might've been just dill, rather than kosher dill? It didn't have the bite I usually like in a pickle. The sandwich was quite good, served on toasted wheat bread (we had the choice of wheat or brioche). The bread was sliced incredibly thickly, a little daunting. I'm really glad we decided to split the sandwich because it was pretty large. I also got a house-made ginger beer, which the soda jerk recommended I not drink with a straw, to better enjoy the aroma. (His words were something like "I think it smells good," and he wasn't wrong.) It was delicious.
I couldn't leave without trying the ice cream though. I asked for a recommendation from the counterman, and he suggested either banana pudding ice cream or coconut sorbet with chocolate almond slivers, and he gave me a sample of each. I'd been eyeing the banana pudding flavor so I went with that. Got their smallest scoop, which I'll agree ain't cheap--3 bucks. (But it was a hefty scoop, and yummy.) And come to think of it, it was 18 bucks for our halvsies sandwich with extra salad and my soda. So yeah, not cheap. But I loved the atmosphere, and the food and ice cream were really good, and I'll be going back again, especially since it's a five- or six-minute bike ride from my house (or a 20-minute walk). And because I gotta try that chai tea lactart (The Passion Project). Oh, and the sundaes...
Is there a sure thing winner at this place?
I want to like it, and was excited by the concept, but my experiences have been that there has never been a less happy bunch of people serving ice cream and sodas, none of which I would order a second time. The Bourbon and Branch schtick doesn't work yet, in my opinion.
The menu is confusing, and the soda jerk I've encountered doesn't seem to have an idea of what to do with a portion of the ingredients they're listing as options.
If you stray from their suggestions, they are lost. If you merely substitute one base flavor syrup for another, they are lost. Don't like pineapple or cherry? They'll actually ask you why. Adding a scoop of ice cream, per the menu option listed? Good luck. Heaven forbid you need to order ice cream and a soda too, or some combination of the two. Another problem is the soda jerk seemed to focus on one couple at a time, while people sat around, often puzzled, and requests were met with an attitude as if the soda jerk was being inconvenienced by requests.
I still want to like this place, so I'd be up for a solid can't miss suggestion of what they do really well.
One last word of advice here: check your bill. We were overcharged by $6, and the receipt listed an entirely different order (including a more expensive root beer float, when we ordered a cheaper menu drink)...and when we caught it, they weren't apologetic.
I avoid the place during peak hours, but I agree that the servers have seemed tired and distant the past few times I've been there.
It's good to know that they're not good at improvising. As someone who is allergic to cherries, I can't have a good portion of their cherry heavy menu, and have had enough of their selections to start venturing off menu.
I think the best bets there are the malts and milkshakes which are unrivaled in SF IMO, and I would expect the frappes and floats to be good too. Have you tried any of those? I want to try more phosphates and lactarts, but they've definitely not wowed me.
I was there off peak, so I can't imagine how they handle a weekend rush.
They were really thrown by the thought of their perfectly
I've had the frappes and floats, and felt like there must be something better they could turn out. Then again, with the incredibly interesting list of flavors, I'd think they could do better than their set menu options too.
I openly asked what syrup they suggested subbing for cherry in the Peche No. 3, and they didn't have an answer. Apparently they can't imagine anise tincture working with anything but cherry. I can't see how it would work out asking for guidance on their Birch or Dillweed tincture.
Even adding the ice cream to a frappe was enough to confuse them, because I misread the menu thinking they could come with either ice or ice cream. Rather than sort me out, the guy told me he wasn't well versed in their ice cream options and tried to send me to the ice cream counter. What I ended up with all worked together flavor wise, but a couple sips in and it was just ice-y sweet milk tasting, and little else.
I'll give their shakes a try.
I'm still loving this place.
The touch of grey, the candy cap mushroom phosphate, was pretty good. The maple-like flavor of the mushrooms and the weird tang from the phosphate give this drink a very pleasant and unique character. For something so light, my stinginess would probably set in before getting this $10 drink again.
I loved the Tropical Fruit sundae. In agreement with other commenters, the ice creams themselves didn't wow me. However, the combination of the ice creams, the charred passion fruit marshmallows, the toasted macaroon, and the chunks of roasted pineapple on a single spoon was fantastic. This was the type of sundae where you have to mix everything together on your spoon to appreciate what you're eating.
I stopped in with family. They're old enough to remember Brooklyn soda fountains and they absolutely loved the atmosphere and the pistachio milkshake. From concept to execution it's awesome and we got to watch every step of the process. They start out by making pistachio syrup with pureed Sicilian pistachios with a high sugar syrup. They then mix the syrup with pistachio ice cream.
To serve, the soda jerk first dipped the mouth of a wide goblet-like glass in candied pistachio crumbs. He poured in the milkshake, and and topped the shake with a thick cherry lactart. It has a great texture and a potent pistachio flavor. You also get kind of a show (it takes 15 minutes if they haven't made one yet that day) so it's well worth the $16. It's intended for 2 people but appropriate for 3.
We also got the Best Girlfriend's Girlfriend, a roasted pineapple lactart. It was really sour and none of us liked it very much. I'm going to keep trying other things there, but I think I'm going to be happiest with the cream based items---- in general, I tend toward heavy drinks (milkshakes, white russians, porters, stouts).
I decided to go simple and tried their housemade root beer. I'm not sure how they make their syrups, or if it's the carbonation from the fountain, but they totally nail the texture of their sodas. I've found other homemade sodas (e.g. Saul's) to feel like a layer of syrup mixed with seltzer, but ICB's handmixed soda is light, thoroughly integrated, and balanced.
The sassafras and spice mix give it a very fresh and complex flavor, but it lacks that, probably artificial, root beer flavor that we associate with root beer.
We also had their new strawberry shortcake. They toast shortcake and put strawberries, whipped cream, and basil ice cream on top. I liked their shortbread more than Bakesale Betty's. I'm not a fan of herb based ice creams as a general rule, but my dining partner thought its presence was fantastic.
I'm a total convert now. It is pricy, the portions for the drinks are small and I didn't care one bit. I think they have worked out the service issues and it's not as packed as it was when it opened. You are able to order fountain drinks and ice cream together at the ice cream counter. I thought the ice cream was really good as was the waffle cone although I didn't like that it was a dollar extra for a cone and that's the only kind of cone they have. Still was a really good cone.
We've tried half a dozen of the drinks now and they are all interesting although some worked better than others. Most of them are single servings including the 10 dollar mushroom. You can get an egg cream with real eggs (pasturized) for only 5:25 which is my favorite.
It's a good place to bring a sweetie if you want a non-bar/non coffee shop to meet in. I know it's all a replica but it's a really well done replica.
I've been wanting to try The Ice Cream Bar and finally did Sat 2/25/12. It's a bit of a pain to take the N-Judah Outbound this weekend, they made everyone off board at Church and take a shuttle. So I see Cole (cross street is Frederick) & started to walk to the place. It's a small place and when I went very crowded.
Get a number if you want ice cream, if you just want drinks you don't need a number just walk to the back where the small bar is.
When my number was called I asked for samples. Just an FYI Three Twins Ice Cream is their base & their ice cream is Blah! I got to try: sour cherry - no sour cherry taste at all, just looks pink. Honey buttermilk-meh; & a mint chocolate chip flavor - it was better. I picked Sour Cherry Junior scoop $2.75 + $1 more for homemade waffle cone. The cone is a bit greasy, a bit gritty, but I liked it still. It does crumble, so get it in a glass that I saw others get.
Prices for ice cream:
Junior $2.75; S $3.75; M $4.5; L $5.75
Hot fudge sundae $7.5; Banana split $8 single/$12 to share; tropical split $9; classic brownie sundae $8.5; milkshakes $6; malts $6.5; ice cream cake slice $6
I want to try the New Orleans Hangover drink $8 - it's been written up:
One unisex bathroom in the back right. Yelp says they take credit card, I didn't ask & paid in Cash.
Open Daily 12-10p
It is Monday Feb 27th and hhc is correct...the N Judah for the next 3 or 4 weekends will be closed as Muni is replacing the tracks on Duboce between Church and Noe...HOWEVER.....as of today and during the week... the N Judah is running through the tunnel...the closure will just be on the weekends so far...so if anyone wants to visit and partake of Cole Valleys' offerings..be aware...
I didn't get a chance to see the ice cream prices. The drinks from the soda fountain are steep, but not excessive when you consider the price of cocktails in SF or the quality of the ingredients. And it's not like the best shakes and such are cheap in SF either--- the basic milkshake at ICB is $6. A Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks is $4. At St. Francis Fountain, hardly a place anyone would call expensive, it's $4-$6.50. We've come a long way since Pulp Fiction criticized the $5 milk shake in 1994.
It seemed like a standard shake class, but I'm not sure about its exact size or what glasses they use for the other drinks. The shakes are rich enough that we split our $8 one, but I could have finished it myself.
I don't believe you can order ice cream at the fountain bar.