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The Inside Scoop: Connecticut's Best Ice Cream

  • 12 min to read
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A waffle cone from Farmer’s Cow Calfé & Creamery in Mansfield

One of the great joys of summer is digging into an overflowing cone or cup from your favorite ice cream shop. You’ll be grinning ear to ear when you check out our picks for Connecticut’s best ice cream institutions, including farms, traditional parlors, and spots that take it to the extreme. Sweet!

What's your favorite ice cream in Connecticut? You can vote on that and dozens of other categories in our 2018 Best of Connecticut poll! Voting is open through July 15.

Farm Fresh

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Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream, Griswold

Just about any time from March through October, when Buttonwood Farm is open and serving its homemade, small-batch ice cream, is a great time to visit. But July may be the best time of all. That’s when the farm’s 14 acres are alive with sunflowers, which are used for the annual “Sunflowers for Wishes” sale July 21-29 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut. With some 60 ice cream flavors, Buttonwood has something for everyone. Coffee Mocha Crunch (coffee ice cream with a mocha swirl and cappuccino candies) has been a classic for decades, while Shark Bite (white chocolate with a red raspberry swirl and raspberry-filled chocolates) is a new kid on the block. New flavors this summer include lavender honey and lemon blueberry. 860-376-4081, buttonwoodfarmicecream.com

Ferris Acres

Ferris Acres Creamery, Newtown

Located on a working dairy farm, Ferris Acres is not only one of Connecticut’s best ice cream spots, it is also one of its most beautiful. Visitors can enjoy dozens of flavors, including Route 302 Chocolate Moo (chocolate ice cream with fudge swirls and dark chocolate chunks) and Paradise Found (coconut ice cream mixed with fudge swirls and almonds), while taking in a scenic farm vista complete with grazing cows. Sweet and creamy, Ferris Acres’ ice cream lives up to its famous reputation, and it provides one of the best out-for-ice-cream experiences in the state. 203-426-8803, ferrisacrescreamery.com

UConn Dairy Bar, Storrs

Forget the women’s and men’s basketball teams — when we think about UConn we think about the rich flavors of UConn’s legendary campus ice cream shop and dairy bar. Opened in 1953 to sell dairy products, the creamery still makes ice cream according to its original recipe. Flavors include banana chocolate chip, black raspberry, blueberry cheesecake, salted caramel crunch, and toasted almond amaretto vanilla. There are also ice cream cookie sandwiches and ice cream pies. Beyond sweets, you can enjoy a variety of store-made cheeses and farm-fresh eggs. 860-486-1021, dining.uconn.edu/uconn-dairy-bar

Salem Valley Farms

Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream, Salem

Though not technically on a farm, the “farm” in the name of this beloved Connecticut ice cream shop feels fully appropriate, as this roadside, order-at-the-window ice cream stand is surrounded by farmland. There are dozens of flavors ranging from all the standards to originals such as cappuccino fudge crunch (coffee ice cream with cinnamon flavor, fudge swirl, and chocolate lace candy) and Heavenly Hash (chocolate ice cream with marshmallow swirl, chocolate chips, almonds and walnuts). We opted for a less adventurous bowl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, but were not disappointed in the least. 860-859-2980, salemvalleyfarmsicecream.com

Farmers Cow

Farmer’s Cow Calfé & Creamery, Mansfield

You can find Farmer’s Cow milks and ice creams at your local supermarkets. But it doesn’t compare to the selection at the “calfé” near the crossing of routes 6 and 195. The 20-plus rotating flavors include calfé-only favorites including Farmland Crunch (their own Hay! Hay! Hay! vanilla ice cream with butter crunch pieces, caramel, chocolate chips and almonds) and Cottage Garden Raspberry Jasmine. For an old-time dessert creation, try a root beer float or any of the 15 flavors from nearby Hosmer Mountain Soda. And don’t forget about the unique milk bar with 30 different milk flavors, all of which can be blended into a one-of-a-kind milkshake. 860-450-8408, thefarmerscowcalfe.com

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Arethusa Farm, Bantam and New Haven

With a Bantam dairy plant that has perfected the art of working its fresh milk and cream from its just-around-the-corner cows into “ice cream like it used to be,” Arethusa is focused on simple goodness rather than crazy creations or a multitude of flavors. Tried-and-true vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coffee are always hot sellers, while seasonal flavors such as maple walnut and peach are eagerly awaited. Fourteen flavors are about the most you’ll find at any given time. Our favorite combination? Try a scoop of mint chip and sweet cream with chocolate chips. Bantam: 860-361-6600, New Haven: 203-390-5114, arethusafarm.com

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Wells Hollow Creamery, Shelton

Once you turn off busy Bridgeport Avenue you’ll find yourself immediately in the country with cows, goats, lambs and, since 2007, delicious ice cream. It’s a place you go to sit and enjoy — not grab and go. The barns were constructed in the mid-19th century when Henry Wells returned from the California Gold Rush. Now owned by the fifth generation of Wells, the creamery boasts about 50 flavors from the seasonal (apple pie, pumpkin) to the stately (Maine Black Bear, Tennessee Toffee, Vermont Maple Walnut). Classic desserts are also clearly an inspiration (banana pudding, Key lime pie, strawberry cheesecake). 203-926-0101, wellshollowcreamery.com

Collins Creamery, Enfield

Compost, mud and cow chips are not normally the main attractions when visiting a farm. But at Collins Creamery, they are definitely some of the highlights. Each is one of Collins’ more than 20 flavors — Collins Compost is brownie batter ice cream with crumbled Oreos, Collins Mud is peanut butter ice cream with Oreo bits, and Cow Chip is chocolate ice cream with chocolate and white chocolate chips. Simply can’t decide between one, two or even three flavors? Then get four scoops as part of the sampler dish! With open fields, picnic tables and grazing Holstein cows, it’s a perfect spot to sit back and do some serious grazing of your own. 860-749-8663, thecollinscreamery.com

We-Li-Kit Farm, Pomfret

This farm takes its dairy cows very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that some of its most sought-after ice cream flavors are named after their breeds — Jersey Jolt (vanilla ice cream with espresso and cappuccino chips with a caramel swirl); Guernsey Cookie (coffee ice cream with Oreos); Holstein (chocolate ice cream with white chips and almonds); and Ayrshire Chip (strawberry with chocolate chips). These are just some of We-Li-Kit’s more than two dozen flavors, all of which are best enjoyed while visiting with the friendly farm creatures, including cows (of course), goats and donkeys. 860-974-1095, welikit.com

Robb’s Farm, South Glastonbury

Robb’s Farm has been a family-run farm since 1905, with the fourth and fifth generations running things today. Robb’s started selling ice cream in 2001, but began making their own in 2005. They have more than 30 flavors to choose from including farm-inspired treats such as Goat Tracks (when moose tracks wander onto farmland), Dirty Barn Shoes (chocolate with fudge and crushed cookies), Udderly Ridiculous (vanilla with fudge and thin mint cookies), and Llama Delight (chocolate with mini peanut butter cups, ground peanut butter cups and peanut butter swirl). There are also pre-packed quarts to go. 860-657-8235, robbsfarm.com

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Rich Farm Ice Cream, Oxford and Brookfield

Good news for ice cream lovers: Rich Farm, one of Connecticut’s most famous creameries, is now offering franchise opportunities. Two years ago its first franchise opened in Placentia, California, and in late May a Brookfield location opened. The original farm dairy spot in Oxford is still owned by Dave and Dawn Rich, who first opened it in 1994. The freshly made ice cream at the original farm is creamy and flavorful with more than 20 everyday flavors, plus a selection of three to four rotating specials. And the farm setting, complete with silos and rolling fields, is perfect for a family ice cream outing. Oxford: 203-881-1040, Brookfield: 475-289-2316, richfarmicecream.com 

See our cover shoot and a behind-the-scenes peek at Rich Farm Ice Cream in the video below:

Cream of the Shops

Il Bacio Ice Cream, Danbury

No conversation about Connecticut’s best ice cream is complete without mention of Il Bacio. Located in a small Danbury strip mall, the ice cream is silky and super creamy with a wide variety of standout flavors. Owners Tony and Gina Nascimento have been making ice cream for about 30 years and they’re great at it. There are rotating flavors, but chocolate is always a strength, as is Cookie Monster, cookie dough, coffee and anything banana flavored. 203-794-1184

Il Bacio’s Master Ice Cream Maker Shares His Tricks of the Trade

Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream, Bethel

We still remember ordering two scoops atop a cone on our first visit. “Are you sure you want that much?” the server asked. “Our scoops are bigger than normal.” You can say that again. Each giant “scoop” here is at least the equivalent of two normal scoops, and it’s not just quantity but quality served at this Bethel shop. There are only eight or so flavors offered daily, and the ice cream is constantly made fresh and replenished. The result is a creamy, velvet-like treat that, despite the large portions, leaves you wanting more. 203-792-4388

Gelatissimo

Gelatissimo Artisan Gelato, New Canaan

Gelato, or Italian-style ice cream, is creamier, silkier and more dense than American-style. It’s made with less butterfat and served at a slightly warmer temperature. There’s no better place we know of to experience this creamy ice cream than at this New Canaan gelato hot spot. With dozens of flavors offered daily, and dozens more rotating in and out, Gelatissimo offers plenty of variety. There are standard flavors such as pistachio and mint chocolate chip, as well as more unusual ones including lavender, watermelon and even gelato made with real cheese — believe us, it is much, much better than it sounds! 203-966-5000, gelatissimoartisangelato.com

Mystic Drawbridge

Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, Mystic

There may not be a nicer downtown in Connecticut — or New England, for that matter — to walk than Mystic. Make sure one of your stops along the way is this riverside institution, with “Drawbridge Originals” such as Mystic Mud (dark chocolate ice cream with chocolate fudge swirl, chocolate brownie pieces, dark chocolate chunks and broken candy pieces) and Seaport Salty Swirl (caramel ice cream with salted peanuts, chocolate-covered pretzels with caramel and peanut butter swirls). Featuring an updated and expanded interior, as well as a new vegan flavor each month, Mystic Drawbridge is a perfect place to grab a frozen treat and sit outside in the shadow of the bascule bridge from which the shop gets its name. 860-572-7978, mysticdrawbridgeicecream.com

Sweet Claude

Sweet Claude’s, Cheshire

For 30 years this New Haven County landmark has been making its ice cream in house, as well as its famous hot fudge, a secret family recipe that has been passed down four generations. As with many of the ice cream locations on our list, Sweet Claude’s is a believer in using local ingredients whenever possible. That includes milk and cream from local dairies, and locally grown peaches for its peach ice cream, an in-demand item in the sultry summer days. The kids (and many adults) are sure to love the unique Smurf ice cream, made of blue raspberry with marshmallows. For those avoiding dairy, Sweet Claude’s has several flavors of tofutti, a soy-based vegan frozen treat. Tofutti flavors rotate often; in early June the offerings were coffee-chip crunch, cookie, chocolate and strawberry. 203-272-4237, sweetclaudes.com

Shady Glen Dairy Stores, Manchester

The cheeseburgers, with their sprawling heights of gooey and crunchy cheese, put this place on the map. But you’d be committing a grave injustice if you didn’t save room for the house-made ice cream and shakes. With both traditional flavors and some more adventurous ones, there’s something for everyone at this charming throwback eatery. (And we mean throwback, as Shady Glen has a ’50s-diner feel and no online presence to speak of.) For something a bit out of the ordinary, try a hot fudge sundae with one scoop of pistachio ice cream and one of chocolate peanut butter. 860-643-0511

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Scoopy Doo’s Ice Cream, Milford

A foodie rule of thumb is: the longer the line, the better the product. But when an establishment goes through the trouble of hanging a large sign that reads “It’s worth the wait!” that’s also a very good sign (no pun intended). Opened in 1999 at the Lisman Landing Marina right near downtown, Scoopy Doo’s serves Buck’s Ice Cream, which is also headquartered in Milford. There are more than 80 flavors to choose from — the signatures include Swamp (vanilla with caramel, crushed Oreos, chocolate chips, M&Ms, malted milk balls), Mud (coffee with fudge, crushed Oreos, chocolate-covered almonds), and Doo Drops (black raspberry with fudge swirl and chocolate chips). 203-882-8009, scoopydooice.com

HK Dairy Barn, Higganum

One of the new players on the Connecticut ice cream scene, HK Dairy Barn on Route 81 has been serving up quality ice cream at very reasonable prices since 2015. A mural is painted on the building with cows standing in a field with scoops of vanilla ice cream serving as puffy white clouds. Fundraising and being a part of the community is as important to the Dairy Barn as the ice cream they serve. The toppings are plentiful, servings substantial and they also serve up killer shakes and cakes. 860-554-5048, facebook.com/hkdairybarn

Mortensen Dairy Ice Cream, Newington

Elmer Mortensen began delivering milk door to door (yes kids, that used to be a thing) back in 1915. A century later Mortensen Dairy is making some of the finest ice cream in Connecticut. Despite having old roots, Mortensen’s is adapting to the new times with nearly 30 gluten-free flavors and gluten-free cones. The flavors number into the 50s and the specialty sundaes don’t disappoint — hot apple cobbler pie with soft serve vanilla, whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon, and a hot chocolate fudge brownie with soft serve vanilla, peanut butter, hot fudge and whipped cream. 860-666-8219, facebook.com/mortensendairyicecream

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Ashley’s Ice Cream, Hamden, New Haven, Branford, Madison and Guilford

Not many ice cream shops have a story behind them like Ashley’s. Ashley was a dog who became famous in 1974 when his 19-year-old owner smuggled him onto the Dodger Stadium field during a nationally televised game against the Reds. They played catch with a Frisbee for eight minutes, Ashley wowing the crowd with his athletic ability. Three Frisbee Dog World Championship titles, a pregame gig at Super Bowl XI, and a trip to the White House later, Ashley is now memorialized at five ice cream shops in New Haven County. Naturally, you can order a Downside Watson, which is seven scoops, nine toppings and two bananas on a Frisbee. And oh yeah, the ice cream itself is consistently voted top dog in Connecticut. Hamden: 203-287-7566, New Haven: 203-776-7744, Branford: 203-481-5558, Madison: 203-245-1113, Guilford: 203-458-3040, ashleysicecream.net

To the Extreme

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Cream & Sugar Cafe, Bethel

It doesn’t get any more over the top than the sky-high shakes at this Bethel ice cream shop which has ruled Instagram since it opened in 2016. The shakes are made with minimal milk, to let the ice cream take center stage, and piled high with your choice of ingredients from cookies, candies and whipped cream to s’mores, gummy worms and fudges. Beyond the shakes, you can choose from a variety of equally over-the-top ice cream sundaes. For the tamer of heart, there are also more standard options including a less visually striking but still delicious vanilla milkshake with a shot of espresso. 203-456-3031, creamandsugarcafe.com

0 Degree

0 Degree, Middletown, New Haven and West Hartford

Part of the fun of rolled ice cream, also known as Thai or stir-fried ice cream, is visual. Each serving is made to order, with a server pouring a liquid ice cream base onto a circular metal pan that has been chilled to about minus 15 degrees Celsius (or around zero Fahrenheit). The liquid hardens somewhat over the next few minutes and is then scraped into tight coils that are served vertically. You choose your flavor, then the toppings you want, like at a frozen yogurt shop. The result is an unusual treat that is far from standard ice cream. Middletown: 860-852-5178, New Haven: 203-535-1413, West Hartford: 860-206-7094, 0degreect.com

See how 0 Degree makes their rolled ice cream in the video below:

Wentworth’s Homemade Ice Cream, Hamden

Wentworth’s philosophy is, “We use the best ingredients and pour our heart and soul into what we do. It’s not the easy way, it’s not the cheap way, but it’s the only way!” Four-legged friends are welcome too, as Wentworth’s has a K-9 Crunch option and plenty of room for doggy dessert lovers to roam. For humans, Wentworth has about 25 standard flavors with additional “flavors of the moment.” Check their website to see the current options. They also offer take-home sizes from a half-pint up to a half-gallon. 203-281-7429, wentworthicecream.com

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Grass Roots Ice Cream, Granby

One look at the menu board at this sweet shop and you know you’ve entered a creative space. Festooned with graphic accents such as sunflowers, turtles and waves of water, the name of each flavor is expressed with individual flair. That inventiveness carries through to the flavors themselves. Blood orange chocolate chip, molasses oatmeal cookie, and goat cheese and blackberry are just a few of the unique and often-changing flavor combinations. Of the 36 flavors, there are a few of the old standards if you’re not in the mood for experimentation. But, come on. Don’t you want to know what honey butter sunflower seed tastes like? 860-653-6303, grassrootsicecream.com

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A red velvet ice cream with marshmallow fluff topping on a bubblecone at Milkcraft in Fairfield.

Milkcraft, Fairfield and West Hartford

A quick click onto the Milkcraft website and you’ll be watching a video that looks more like the opening credits to HBO’s Entourage than an advertisement for ice cream. And while you don’t need to drive a Mercedes truck to confidently pull up to one of their stores, it’s about as luxurious a feeling as you can have eating ice cream. Milkcraft says the use of liquid nitrogen creates smaller ice crystals and results in the smoothest possible ice cream. The Hong Kong waffle bubble cone is like a hybrid of the best waffle and pancake you’ve ever had. Add in some red velvet ice cream with red velvet cake pieces and marshmallow fluff topping and it can be hard to go back to two scoops of vanilla on a sugar cone. 475-888-9091, milkcraftca.com


This article appeared in the July 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. Did you like what you read? You can subscribe here.

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The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.