You Scream, I Scream…

What’s the East Bay’s hottest month? Although challenged by August, the annual winner—and undefeated champion—is September. So what better time to enjoy a tasty, icy, treat?


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Like other modern conventions, ice cream’s roots started in ancient Greece, which maintains a unique position in today’s churning world of ice cream makers. Specialty Food Magazine claims contemporary Greek ice cream contains an ancient resin, mastiha, (don’t think Retsina) used to flavor chewing gum and baked goods. This resin adds a chewy texture to vanilla ice cream, now available in the United States for the first time under the Lezzetli label.

Besides tradition ice cream, the genre includes several cousins sharing one quality: they taste especially good in hot weather.

Gelato: Gelato means frozen in Italy, where by law it must contain a minimum 3.5 percent butterfat, while in the United States there is no standard for “Italian ice cream.” Domestic ice cream must hold at least 10 percent butterfat. Compared with domestic ice cream, gelato contains more sugar or sweetener, and less fat. Generally egg free, and churned at a slower speed, Gelato contains less air. It’s also served a few degrees warmer.

Soft-Serve: Softer than conventional ice cream, because air is induced during freezing, soft serve’s been around commercially since the late 1930s. And it’s dispensed rather than scooped. George Foster started the 600-pound gorilla within this niche in Inglewood in 1946 and moved north. Foster’s Freeze remains an East Bay chain, dispensing towering spiral cones, dipped in molten chocolate.

Frozen Yogurt: Another frozen dessert made with yogurt and assorted dairy products, frozen yogurt’s lower in milk-fat, and tastes slightly more tart. Perhaps its major draw: Its name assuages the guilt of ice cream calories.

 

Local Pioneers

Edy’s (Dreyer’s) Grand Ice Cream: My first frozen ecstasy at Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, imprinted on my palate in the late 1940s. Two locations sold ice cream and candy: one on Grand Avenue, the brand’s namesake; another in the Fox Oakland building. There, following a Saturday matinee, I downed my first Edy’s classic hot fudge sundae. Mounded whipped cream atop two scoops of vanilla ice cream. On the side, a silver boat of molten chocolate sauce, plus chopped walnuts in a paper cup, to be applied to your liking. Both could be replenished, if you asked. Edy’s has expanded and continues today, owned by Nestlé—but under the name of Joseph Edy’s founding partner, William Dreyer.

Fentons: Star of stage, a Pixar movie, and suspicious employee arson, this Oakland institution founded in 1894 predates Edy’s and prospers today on upper Piedmont Avenue. Known for long lines, large portions, and as the disputed originator of rocky road ice cream, Fentons has expanded to locations in Vacaville and Oakland Airport—both of which lack only the lines.

Loard’s: Often overlooked, but never outdone. In 1950, newcomer Russ Loard opened his outlet between Oakland’s Dimond and Laurel districts, in a strip mall at Coolidge and MacArthur. His store remains today, as part of this UC Berkeley ex-pat’s domain that stretches from Santa Cruz to Modesto, in addition to blending ice cream for upscale markets like Molly Stone’s and Farmer Joe’s. Loard’s is old fashioned, creamy, delicious, and reasonably priced. Don’t miss what this oft-unheralded local offers.

 

Contemporary Notable

I last waited in line in 1973—for gas to drive home. But when passing Ici Ice Cream on College Avenue, the ever-present queue beckons. Mary Canales, pastry-chef alum from Chez Panisse received a callout in Travel & Leisure, “Where to Find the Best Ice Cream Across the U.S.” So when my line-o-phobia goes into remission, I swear to join the crowd to check it out. Maybe you should, too.

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