The Great American Ice Cream Tour

In 2021 parts of the world began to re-open. We kept our eyes peeled and once it seemed safe enough to travel we hopped a flight from Munich to DC.

I love writing it so casually– it as if one can just “hop” on a flight with two kids and a foreign husband during a pandemic when Europeans are banned from entering the USA.

We prepped the kids for the 8 hours of mask wearing with short, television mask-wearing parties at home and we prepped ourselves by taking along every imaginable document proving that Thorsten really was married to an American or the parent of one.

We didn’t know what to expect and so the only things set in stone were things that guaranteed free cancellation. The season allowed for plenty of outdoor activities and potential meet-ups with family and friends, but I was especially looking forward to the few days we had planned in Columbus, Ohio. If you know me, you know that I’ve become a big fan of the ice cream recipes by Jeni Britton Bauer. You might also be aware that Columbus is the headquarters for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. If we go way back then you might know about my penchant for letter writing. And then it may not surprise you to hear that I had written Jeni a letter asking if she might have time to meet up for an ice cream cone.

As the plane landed (turbulently) in the USA, I was herding my favourite cats (read: trying to get the kids off the plane and out of airport without losing or killing them) while popping migraine pills to ward off the headache I always get on transatlantic flights. But mostly I was crossing my fingers that the stars would align and make it possible for me to meet up with my best friend, who hails from Columbus, and meet Jeni all in one weekend. We had plans to hike some beautiful caves in Hocking Hills and there was plenty of ice cream to be eaten in Columbus if the meet-up with Jeni didn’t materialize.

Thank goodness my Dad’s love language is ice cream because three pints of Jeni’s were waiting in the freezer when we arrived in Pennsylvania. We devoured Darkest chocolate, bramble berry crisp and my now favorite, Brown butter almond brittle. Jeni’s Ice Cream from a pint did not disappoint but I couldn’t wait to get to a real scoop shop and so the Great American Ice cream Tour began.

Over six weeks we drove through 7 states and enjoyed ice cream at 21 individual shops. We tried specialty small batch creameries and the occasional Dairy Queen blizzard—surprisingly sentimental and still delicious after all these years.

The tour officially kicked-off in Pittsburgh on a visit to my sister and fellow ice cream devotee. Near Pittsburgh we visited a sweet little soft serve place near a playground and the next day a number of flavours at Millie’s Homemade. Millie’s was adorable and the ice cream was very, very good. My only complaint was too much spice in the waffle cone batter. It had a little too much cinnamon for me. While we missed Sarris this time, we stopped by last time. (“Gigantic” is how I would describe their ice cream)

Pennsylvania is a big ice cream state. Its agricultural roots make it prime real-estate for delicious ice cream confections in large and small batches. Penn State University has been churning it out at their well known creamery since 1865 and for those ice cream aficionados, PSU has offered an ice cream course since 1892 that every single famous ice cream maker (including Jeni) has attended. We were able to try ice cream from the Penn state creamy our last week and let me just say, their tradition is not be be trifled with. Their flavors were solid, perfectly scooped and seriously delicious.

After PA we drove west to Ohio— another famous ice cream state. My sister and I and the little maniacs for a packed day in Columbus.

We hit Jeni’s in German village after a visit to Tensuka market for sushi, Belle’s Bread for bread and matcha and an afternoon at Franklin park Conservatory. After achieving all that it seemed appropriate that we try everything on the menu. It was a warm day, it was the end of a pandemic, it was nothing short of heaven.

Jeni’s ice cream lives up to all the hype. The flavors are complex, innovative and spot on—sweeping you off your feet in futuristic nostalgia rooted in an imaginative local connection. IJeni’s is a story and a sensory experience perfectly scooped. Plus, every single Jeni’s employee I encountered was just super personable.

Graeter’s though, our next stop, is not to be outdone and is just about some of the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. If you want the classic ice cream—simply but deeply flavored, creamy, cold, not overly sweet but decadently so—with the most divine chocolate chunks, Graeter’s deliciousness stays on your tongue and in your mind long after your last bite —especially Black raspberry chocolate chip. I have been eating That flavor since college and it is unforgettable.

After Columbus we headed south making our first stop in Cincinnati. We headed to Aglamesis Brother‘s, known for their ice cream and chocolate candies, still scooping out of a beautiful ice cream parlor from 1914. It was closed when we arrived, but lucky for us it is located next the coolest toy shop, so we were able to play in the toy shop until it opened. The setting evokes the most wonderful nostalgia but the ice cream flavors were mysteriously similar to Graeter’s and I do think we were a little more excited about the visit than the employees were. I got some wonderful salty caramel’s to go.

Wait I almost forgot—did we leave Columbus without meeting Jeni?? Did the stars align? Did she appear?

Well…Yes! She did!!

The stars and the planets and Jeni, the COVID vaccine, my best college friend and her family, and a few hours without my little maniacs—- it all happened!

Jeni and I met at her scoop shop in Phoenixville and the visit was everything–super fun and casual, delicious and real. Whiling away the hours, we chatted everything from business to books, pets and stories, motherhood and flavor, history and Europe and the state of all things. She is just like she seems—Curious, energetic, fun, funny, easy to talk to—I felt like the luckiest person. She is a kindred spirit just as I had imagined. Quite a memorable afternoon.

So….Will there be a scoop shop in Germany? Would American ice cream sell well in Europe? Will we ever find out? Well that’s what keeps life exciting. So many unanswered questions, so much potential energy and only the future knows. But if I had to guess, I’d say why not?

Stayed tuned for details on the rest of the tour- Next up: ice cream in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and some of what we missed in PA the first time around.

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