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Who crafts the best scoop in the city?
Vancouver’s weather lived up to its well-earned reputation of being completely undependable this week. After a run of hot, put-on-the-sunscreen-or-look-even-worse-than-usual-on-your-Zoom-calls weather, Mama Nature decided to throw a straight up deluge on us.
Of course it would happen just as our editors decided that this week would be perfect for an ice cream draft. But the sun’s out again, so it’s time to go hunting for our picks. And yes, we’ll be including gelato and frozen yogurt in this as well.
Before we get into the picks, here are the results of the bakery draft.
Our closest draft yet as Nathan narrowly escapes with a win over Stacey. Luckily for him, Anicka is back in instead of Stacey this time around. The big story, though, might be the fall from grace for Neal. After doing well in the earlier drafts, he’s had two poor showings in a row with neighbourhoods and now bakeries. Can he rebound?
We put our editors’ names into a random draft simulator (snake style, obviously) and off we went. Here are the results and the reasoning behind each pick.
1. Neal McLennan, food editor: La Glace
l’m going to be honest—if I were pandering for votes I should have chosen either Earnest or Rain or Shine with this #1 pick. Not only do they make insanely good ice cream but they have huge online fanbases who would vote early and vote often. The only problem is that La Glace, located on a sleepy corner in boring Arbutus, actually makes the best ice cream and I feel that’s what the #1 pick should reward. Mark Tagulao’s beautiful little spot probably serves a fraction of the ice cream that other more ideally located candidates here do, but what they do serve is a handmade miracle of richness, complexity and depth of flavours that reigns supreme. We’re so very lucky to have this spot in our city.
2. Anicka Quin, editorial director: Earnest Ice Cream
I was pretty excited to get Earnest on my first round, which was my top pick. It’s a good Saturday when they bring their food truck to the West End farmer’s market, and I’m often looking for excuses to pick something up at MEC, almost entirely to grab a pint from nearby Earnest while I’m in the ‘hood. Whisky hazelnut has become a classic for good reason, spruce bud is downright inspired—and last weekend I grabbed a pint of rhubarb oat crumble, and it basically ruined me for wanting to eat anything else that weekend.
3. Alyssa Hirose, assistant editor: Rain or Shine
Ha! Fools. This would have been my first pick overall even if I wasn’t third in the draft. I take my parents to Rain or Shine whenever they come and visit because I have insight into every one of their year-round flavours (see, Dad, I TOLD you you’d like Blueberry Balsamic) and when I worked on UBC Campus, it was a pretty safe bet that I’d tried every seasonal concoction, too. The waffle cones are easily the best I’ve ever had, and I’m always thrilled by their adventurous—but not too adventurous—new flavours. I generally get whatever’s on the chalkboard sign out front. It’s all good.
4. Nathan Caddell, associate editor: Dolce Amore
Like everyone else in this first round, this was actually the pick I wanted the most. Yes, the three places mentioned above have undeniably cache in this town, but I legitimately think the good folks at Dolce make the best cold treats in the city. Their grass-fed gelato is delicious, and the menu is very much innovative, with a handful of monthly feature flavours adding to the already spectacular mainstays. It’s a marvellous mixture of trendiness and tradition that the Commercial Drive haunt has managed to convincingly toe since it opened almost two decades ago.
Dolce’s Instagram handle is very fittingly @thegelatomafia (tagline: “naturally made, criminally good”) and while Tony Soprano’s taste buds probably weren’t evolved enough to enjoy this place’s creative takes, there’s really only word to describe this gelato: killer.
1. Nathan: Rooster’s Ice Cream Bar
A few blocks east of Fraser and Broadway, a hidden gem of Vancouver’s food scene hides in plain sight. While more famous spots sit a stone throw away, Rooster’s artisan ice cream remains criminally undervalued. It may not have a website, but this admittedly small spot does harbour an authentic, fun and chill vibe, and flavours both classic and experimental.
Throw in some delicious cookie and donut ice cream sandwiches and a plethora of nearby parks to enjoy them in, and it’s a big mystery as to why Roosters remains weirdly off-the-radar. I know Broadway can be a bit light on storefronts from Fraser to Commercial, but this is a spot worth stopping for.
2. Alyssa: Innocent Ice Cream
I hadn’t been to Innocent before this draft (thanks, ice cream lovers of Instagram, for tipping me off) but I’m a sucker for an ice cream sandwich. A DQ one is fine in my books, so a bite of two fresh-baked peanut butter cookies with salted caramel ice cream in between was a luxury—but it’s not all about the novelty.
The ice cream has a wonderful texture, it’s super-thick (likely to keep up with the structural integrity of the cookie) and stands on its own as a dessert. I also happened to see Nathan while I was there last Wednesday, so I’m extra-proud to be taking a spot he likely had on his list.
3. Anicka: Uno Gelato
I continued to feel VERY lucky with this draft. Uno totally blew my mind with their Akbar Mashti gelato—which also won our Made in Vancouver Awards (Sweet) category last year. The traditional recipe of saffron, rosewater, Iranian Devonshire cream and roasted pistachios gets a local twist with Avalon Dairy milk and B.C. birch syrup from Quesnel. The perfect accompaniment to a Coal Harbour seawall stroll with a good friend. (Neal McLennan is also a big fan of their mint chocolate chip—that’ll be up next.)
4. Neal: La Casa Gelato
Well, I even surprised myself when I took LCG with my second pick. But I just felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me and I remember fondly taking my daughters, here, pre-paying (always weird) and getting those odd token you could exchange for a cone. The staff have infinite patience with the endless request for samples of their massive selection of gelato. And the gelato is great—maybe not quite up there with the smaller handmade spots like Dolce Amore or Bella, but those places likely wouldn’t exist if LCG hadn’t paved the way, creating gelato fans in what was an ice cream town. So the early (probably too early tbh) nod goes to the OG.
1. Neal: Yum Sweet Shop
The best ice cream sandwich I’ve ever had in my entire life. Period. And only $9.
2. Anicka: Bella Gelateria
A number of my favourites are great with offering gluten-free cones, and Bella’s one of them. They’d been planning to open a spot on lower Davie Street when Covid hit, and I’ve still got hopes for it, some time. The amarena cherry is a beautiful thing—ditto the black sesame.
3. Alyssa: Elephant Garden Creamery
This commercial drive spot has absolutely delicious Asian flavours (on brand for me, thank you) and, not for nothing, was the least pricey of all of the creameries I visited. No matter how good any artisanal, small-batch ice cream is, I always have that feeling in the back of my mind as I’m paying: I could get a gallon at the grocery store for less. A reminder, my friends, that you get what you pay for—but in this case, it’s that small-batch perfection for a little less. My buddy got Mango Coconut Sticky Rice (vegan!) and I got Thai Iced Tea, and both cups (of the smallest size) added up to less than $8. It’s hard to a single scoop for less than $7 at good ol’ Rain or Shine. And the ice cream at Elephant Garden was out-of-this-world—nothing like your grocery store gallon.
This was another upset as Nate and I discovered we had both gone to Innocent and Elephant Garden last week—we even both got Thai Iced Tea at Elephant Garden. Sorry not sorry.
4. Nathan: Umaluma
Westsider Alyssa may have annoyingly plucked Elephant Garden from me—someone who actually lives in the vicinity—but that’s okay. I still get the excellent Umaluma. Generally, I’m not going to fight anyone on preferring gluten-free or vegan products. That’s awesome. And those things have come a long way in a few years, to the point that I often don’t hate them.
Umaluma, though, is another game entirely. There’s a good argument to be made that this place serves up the best “ice cream” in town. It’s absolutely delicious to the point that I had to double and triple check that it’s non-dairy. Yes, the price is a bit cumbersome. But hey, most of the spots on this list aren’t cheap. Might as well splurge for the good stuff. Umaluma is very much worth it.
1. Nathan: Popina Canteen
After appearing in our burger (Popina Canteen) and taco (Popina Cantina) drafts, the Granville Island stalwart makes it a three-peat. The soft serve ice cream is dolloped into a cream puff here, and the results are extraordinary.
Most places that roll up soft serve give you a few of the basic flavours and call it a day. Not at Popina, where you can get flavour profiles ranging from malted milk chocolate and oreo cookies to chickpea crumb and Chicago mix popcorn. Just make sure the seagulls aren’t scouting you out.
2. Alyssa: Timothy’s Frozen Yogurt
Frozen yogurt counts. Richmond counts. Now that we’ve got that sorted:
Even if you haven’t been getting froyo at Timothy’s all your life, there’s an instant nostalgia when you walk through the roll-up garage doors. It’s frozen fruit, not ready-made dessert, in the long deep freeze counter, and once you take your pick (I like Blackberry but Mango is great, too) they take a big scoop and grind it all up in a single machine right before your eyes. That means that you generally get a bit of the tail end of the last customer’s flavour (sorry allergy-havers, there’s ice cream to the right) which has always been part of the joy for me. A landslide final pick for me.
3. Anicka: Dairy Queen
No, you won’t get the gorgeous attention to detail from the local shops I love. But some days I just want a dipped cone, dammit. It breaks my heart that they closed on Denman Street. Magic shell + vanilla soft serve = blissful summer night.
4. Neal: Mister
Votes wise, getting the beloved Mister in the fourth round is a major coup. Huge. And, full disclosure, I may have been a bit of a sneak in how this came about. When we first started talking about the Ice Cream draft, I related a story of heading to Mister just before a meeting downtown and ordering their Creme Brulee in a cup. They make the ice cream right there with liquid nitrogen, which is supremely cool and then they proceed to “brulee” some sugar on the top with a small torch, until it hardens. Just read that again and tell me if you see something askew (hint: it involves a blow torch getting near ice cream). The result is a huge mess and when you press on the hard top to break it, the melted ice cream layer below goes all over hell and creation. It’s very messy. But I never said it wasn’t tasty! In any event, maybe a dick move, but here we are, with a killer 4th round steal.
Neal: Honestly most soft serve tastes pretty similar to me. Good, but similar—sorry. So why not hit Costco, where the portions are huge and the price, she is low. Not the worst idea.
Neal: La Glace, La Casa Gelato, Yum Sweet Shoppe, Mister
Anicka: Earnest Ice Cream, Uno Gelato, Bella Gelateria, Dairy Queen
Alyssa: Rain or Shine, Innocent Ice Cream, Elephant Garden Creamery, Timothy’s
Nathan: Dolce Amore, Rooster’s, Umaluma, Popina
Who made the best calls? And what did we miss? Vote below or share your thoughts on our Instagram page. Voting results will be shared when we come back for our next draft.
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