The Best Ice Cream Shops in the Midwest
No matter how much you might love summer’s glorious break from the Midwest cold, sweltering heat can still unleash the monster within any of us. Few things are more satisfying on those sweat-inducing days than a scoop (or three!). Thankfully, whether you're craving a traditional vanilla custard or an off-beat bite of peanut butter and dill pickle -- hey, we won't judge -- you won’t find a better frozen fix than in our milk cow-riddled region. From country creameries to mom-and-pop institutions to boundary-pushing ventures, these 15 scoop shops will help you survive the rest of the season.
When you're in the Quad Cities region, anyone will tell you to go to this family-owned establishment for extra-thick ice cream shakes and malts you can turn upside-down without fear that even a drop will get away. Specialty sundaes, old-fashioned sodas and floats, and super-thick candy bar shakes with Oreos or Butterfingers keep people coming back for more.
This sweets shop dishes up over-the-top goodies starting with decadent ice cream flavors like Horchata and Zoreo -- that's Zanzibar chocolate + Oreos. The neighborhood mainstay (which hit our best ice cream in Chicago roundup) transcends the renowned ice cream imported from Chocolate Shoppe in Madison, WI with crazy indulgent offerings like the stand-out Hocus Pocus shake with rainbow sherbet, blended with Sprite then mixed with Pop Rocks.
Oprah deemed it the best ice cream she's ever tasted back in 2002, so you know it's some real good sh*t. Since 1870, the mom-and-pop operation has been churning out ice cream in small batches using a unique French pot process: a fancy way of saying they freeze signature flavors like black raspberry chip and bourbon pecan chocolate chip in an old-timey machine (the world's only French Pot Freezer actually) before coating it with chocolate and hand-mixing it together to form a rich, creamy treat.
If you prefer eating your German chocolate cake and Key lime pie in ice cream form, look no further than the hand-painted sign that says "The Chief." The small town Indiana joint uses a 54-year-old, electric-powered ice cream machine to push out regulars like Blue Moon (tastes like cake frosting) and two surprise flavors of the week, fresh daily.
It's not often you'll find ice cream freshly churned from the cows in the yard, which makes the journey to this quaint Northern Michigan parlor seriously worth it. The family-run shop/dairy farm scales it back to 160 flavors (20 of which are offered daily). Among them: Cherries Moobilee, a black cherry-flavored ice cream with fresh cherries, chocolate fudge swirl, and brownies. Be sure to thank the cows next door.
With a focus on local, organic ingredients -- think fresh waffle cones and homemade sauces to top your sundaes -- this shop's ice cream comes in 20 seasonally rotating flavors like Rum Raisin, Passionfruit Mango Vanilla, Sea Salt Caramel Pecan, and Mint Chocolate Chip. They've even got special scoops made with just two ingredients, milk and peanut butter, for your pooch. And remember, five scoops are always better than one.
While the plain old Madagascar vanilla ice cream is delicious here (because it's made with hormone-free milk and cream from Missouri cows), you're coming for Chocolatier and Pastry Chef Christopher Elbow's experimental roster of combinations like Indonesian Cinnamon, Raspberry Cassis Sorbet, Coffee Almond Flake, Pistachio Cherry, and Boulevard Dark Truth Stout, plus other goodies like salted pretzel root beer floats.
Vegan apple Oreo pie, butter pecan brownie, jalapeño cream cheese, ginger sake, peanut butter cheddar cheese, limoncello, and bean pie are just a few of the unusual, yet surprisingly delicious handcrafted flavors found at this old-school Omaha parlor (hint: the secret is somewhere in the 18% butterfat).
This shop's signature Mason jar sundaes and ice creams like an "Idaho Sundae" with vanilla ice cream loaded with caramel, whipped cream, and potato chips or the "Space Hippie" with fresh blackberries blended in sweet cream with brownies and marshmallows are out of this world.
When in Wisconsin, you're clearly getting custard, specifically the best damn stuff in the Midwest from this custard institution. Their comprehensive lineup of daily rotating custard flavors includes everything from rum to Coca-Cola to red velvet cake. But you can't go wrong with a thick and creamy vanilla topped with salty dark chocolate hot fudge... just leave room after your burger.
North Dakota's last small-town creamery has rightfully garnered its solid reputation for seriously delicious silky-smooth ice cream. Locals continue to line up for house-made frozen treats like scoops of cookies 'n' cream, caramel cluster, juneberry, maple nut, and strawberry cheesecake -- all of which are made using the creamery's original recipe from the 1940s.
In addition to traditional flavors, this upbeat ice cream cafe embraces its Scandinavian heritage with signature flavors like "Swedish Garden Party," an elderflower-based ice cream with raspberry swirl and crumbled gingersnap cookies, and "Norwegian Chai," a addictively perfect blend of spiced sweetness.
Rumor has it Shake Shack based its concretes recipe on Ted Drewes' famous staple. For more than 80 years, the family has been selling frozen custard (and, apparently, Christmas trees for 50+ years). In addition to supremely thick concretes like the "Twisted Caramel" with crumbled pretzels and caramel, all your ice cream cravings will be satisfied with malts, shakes, sundaes, and floats with a wide range of toppings and mix-ins on the menu.
George and Helen Potter opened the original Custard Cup shop in Danville in 1949; passing it on to the Jarling family paved the way for another location in Champaign to open in 1983. The popular full-service soda fountain and fresh-made desserts destinations sling old-fashioned sodas and traditional-flavored custards like vanilla, chocolate, lemon, strawberry, and orange.
"Sugar overload" is an understatement when you visit this near-century-old Chicago institution known for its hand-dipped candies, indulgent sundaes, and hand-spun malts. The old-school parlor and candy shop's fully loaded banana splits and signature turtle sundaes come with rivers of hot fudge that anyone -- including The Beatles and Al Capone -- would dive into, but only if there's a floating cherry on top.
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