I never thought I could feel animosity toward a place that serves gourmet ice cream, but I was wrong. When we were in San Francisco last week, Mango Mama’s cousin Mushroom Maven took Empanada Boy, Flava Flav, Mango Mama and me to try Humphry Slocombe, the relatively new, highly-touted ice creamery, featuring flavors like “Secret Breakfast,” “Jesus Juice,” “Government Cheese” and “Boccalone & Prosciutto.” There were a bunch of people mingling outside with their ice cream when we drove up and probably about 25 people inside the store. But just as we were walking up to the door, an employee with cropped bangs walked out from behind the counter and locked the door without even glancing up at us through the clear glass door. It was 10:20 pm, and the sign on the door said they closed at 10 pm! Thinking quickly, we pulled out a pad and wrote in big letters: “WE CAME FROM NEW YORK TO EAT YOUR ICE CREAM!” Mushroom Maven held it up against the window as we knocked to get the server’s attention. She walked back to the door shaking her head and pointing to her watch. “We’re closed,” she mouthed to us through the door. Oh, the indignity! I acknowledge that they were indeed supposed to be closed, but it’s not as though we walked up to the door at 10:01 pm and found it dark and locked with no one inside. It was 10:20 pm, meaning they had left the place open to allow a few stragglers to get ice cream. We were the only ones waiting to come in: was it really necessary to close and lock the doors in our faces? Mushroom Maven said she would never go there again, and though I am intrigued by their flavors, I might have to agree.
Luckily for us, San Francisco has no shortage of gourmet ice cream shops, and we were not far from Bi-Rite Creamery, an equally popular producer of artisanal ice creams, which is an offshoot of the organic grocer Bi-Rite Market down the street. Before I go into detail on the delicious flavors and excellent (friendly!) service we received, I want to digress a bit to explain why I think artisanal ice cream—and food in general—just tastes better in California. The reason is pretty simple: So much of the fruits and vegetable eaten in the U.S. are grown in the fertile soil within a couple hours of San Francisco. Bi-Rite gets all its organic cream, milk and eggs from the Straus Family Dairy, which is only 45 miles away from its shop. The farmer’s market we went to in Bernal Heights was a vivid testament to the freshness of Bay Area food. Piles of the sweetest citrus fruit around sat next dainty fronds of spring asparagus, feathery heads of lettuce, exquisite Chinese long beans, perfect Japanese eggplants and spiny nopales (cactus paddles). The amazing thing about it was that everything was cheap! I can say with some certainty that our four bags of produce would have cost double that price at a farmer’s market back in New York. So while New York chefs may be some of the best trained and most creative in the world, they simply don’t have the same high quality of raw materials to work with. This is why California (and even Oregon) win my taste test almost every time.
Now, back to Bi-Rite. When we got there, the line extended to the end of the block, but it moved pretty quickly. Before we knew it, we were up at the counter and trying to decide from among the numerous flavors scrawled in black erasable marker on the glass case. When I got to the front, I realized the regular cup came with two scoops. I had only selected one, so I picked ginger to go with my honey lavender. These were both delicious, vibrant flavors, entirely true to their names, but the two didn’t pair as well together as say ginger and spicy Mexican chocolate might have. Next time I will plan my pairings better. Mushroom Maven tried ginger and the awesome roasted banana. EB paired his honey lavender with the toasty brown sugar with ginger-caramel swirl. Mango Mama and Flav added the rich and ultra-caramelly salted caramel to the mix.
Bi-Rite may not have had creative names for its flavors, and it may not have employed ingredients like red wine and Coke (ahem, Humphry Slocombe), but its ice cream was pretty damn good. We even found a nice table to sit at in the bustling shop. Best of all, it was open past 10 pm on a Saturday night—just the time of night that most people are jonesing for a cup or a cone filled with something sweet. Good ice cream is not a fad, so I’m pretty sure Bi-Rite will be around for many years to come. I can’t promise I’ll never go back to Humphry Slocombe once my outrage simmers down, but you can be sure that this visit was the first of many I’ll take to Bi-Rite Creamery.
2790 Harrison St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
3692 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Alemany Farmer’s Market
100 Alemany Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94110