When it comes to food, everyone has a favourite, no matter what the category. But when it comes to ice cream, people tend to get their backs up over which brand is best.
Photo By R. Jeanette Martin
Server Karen works the Dutch Dreams counter
For the past few weeks I've been cycling about the city looking for the best ice cream and gelato in our sweltering town (an envious assignment, certainly, but not as easy you think).
To find Toronto's supreme ice cream, I only visited businesses that make their own product. And, to make the survey as level a playing field as possible, I only taste-tested the most popular flavours of each genre: pistachio for gelato and chocolate for ice cream.
I also ate my way through locally produced store-bought brands and sampled alterna-ices and Indian kulfi in my search for the ultimate ice.
The results will surprise. Some old favourites have slipped in the overall rankings, but a few new names crowd the top of the list. Who knew the most deeply flavoured and flawlessly executed chocolate ice around can only be found in an uptown French patisserie, where it's only made as a side for the house's spectacular baked desserts and not sold by the scoop? And who would've guessed that one of the most authentic gelati in the GTA can be found at your neighbourhood supermarket?
Now, will that be cup or cone?
1 Dutch Dreams 78 Vaughan, at St Clair, 416-656-6959. Like something out of Willy Wonka, Theo and Dina Alben's Old World ice cream parlour has been offering a taste of Holland since 1985. Now with a recently renovated rear room for those who want to hang around and decked out with even more kitschy Dutch bric-a-brac (faux Tiffany lampshades, garden gnomes on swings, shelves stacked with cow figurines), this hallucinogenic space sells more than 30 rotating flavours of house-made ice cream and frozen yogurt. Watch for a new extended menu this fall with the likes of white chocolate fondue and chocolate ice cream pizza. Bonus: economy sized bottles of Maggi sauce and wooden shoes, too! Warning: expect long lineups on sweltering summer evenings. Best: Moose Droppings (Reese's Pieces mixed with fudge, chocolate and banana); shocking-pink watermelon sherbet complete with chocolate-covered oats as seeds; seven types of cone alone: waffled Little Karfunkels, toasted almond, chocolate chip, Smarties, sprinkles, Reese's Pieces and crushed Skor bars; Dutch waffles piled high with three scoops of ice cream, freshly cut seasonal fruit (melon, kiwi, strawberry), toasted almond, chocolate 'n' caramel sauce and real whipped cream; hot fudge sundaes; pina colada smoothies; litre-sized shakes replete with sliced banana, whipped cream and chocolate-dipped strawberry; to go, retro ready-to-flambé baked Alaska or syrup-poached peach Melba topped with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open daily noon to midnight in summer (5 to 11 pm in winter). Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
2 Solferino 38 Wellington E, at Church, 416-364-8478. The best gelateria in town isn't owned by an Italian but a tax lawyer from Hamilton named Lawrence Rotenberg. His swellegant two-year-old downtown café serves 24 flavour-intense different varieties from a repertoire of 48 on a daily basis alongside a short card of designer panini and dolci. Unless you enjoy crowds, visits are best undertaken at off-hours - mid-morning, mid-afternoon - when the usually hectic space can be quite relaxing. Inspirational verse: "I always said I wanted a nice little tax shelter but I never expected one this big." Bonus: vintage ice cream memorabilia and bovine-themed artwork. Best: Toronto's best pistachio gelato, free of artificial colouring or flavour and surprisingly nutty; Belgian chocolate with date; gimmicky Oreo cookie and Skor chocolate bar takes; sugar-free vanilla; traditional flavours like vanilla, blood orange, cream caramel, Mochaccino, passion fruit, pineapple, banana, apple and one-of-a-kind avocado; sorbetti like Andean blackberry, guava, champagne-soaked strawberry; to drink, fair trade organic coffee. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Monday to Thursday 8 am to 10 pm, Friday 8 am to 11 pm, Saturday 10 am to 11 pm, Sunday and holidays 10 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
3 Dolce 697 College, at Montrose, 416-915-0756. Launched two summers ago kitty-corner to the Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe, this gorgeous gelateria has atmosphere to spare. Deep coffee-coloured walls flank sleek halogen-lit glass cases stocked with a multitude of Italian ices that look as good as the joint's hip decor. Want more than dessert? Dig into Italian deli-style sandwiches liberally stuffed with chicken, prosciutto, salami and veggies, cups of first-rate fair trade custom blend and slices of Dufflet cake. It's open seven nights a week till 2 am and licensed, too! Best: from a revolving and effusive card of 48 house-made flavours, artfully swirled and oft fruit-topped gelati like frutti di bosco ("smooth forest berry blended with layers of Berries Arabesque"), Dolce Rocher, limone, strawberry, banana, passion fruit, raspberry, hazelnut, white chocolate and French vanilla cappuccino; more traditional straciatella and Bolognese amareto, as well as "not-so-classsic" rum and raisin; dairy-free vegan ices like the intense Very Berry and the slightly more health-conscious soy vanilla. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
4 Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream 650A Queen W, at Palmerston, 416-835-7781. Now tucked away in a garage behind Hero Burger, Brad Kurtenbach's quirky parlour started out in even more humble digs in the back of a Kensington Market fruit stall in 2003. Since then, he's become the king of local ice cream, his iconoclastic health-concious ices currently carried by Whole Foods, the Big Carrot and the Healthy Butcher among others. With a lineup that's 100 per cent certified organic - except his mango slushie - and 30 flavours on tap, is it any wonder his devotees are legion? Bonus: gumball machines filled with optional toppings like roasted peanuts, sesame seeda with tahini and lemon, candied ginger and toasted pecans. Best: from a list of 80-some types of ice cream, spicy dark chocolate, ground coffee and chili ripple; romantically sentimental I Love You ice - lavender with Ontario blueberry; Emotional Rescue, cardomom-scented vanilla; Vanilla Proper with milled triple-fold fair trade Mexican vanilla beans; fruity Quebecois framboise; just-like-Christmas-cake ginger chai; rose petal vanilla; licorice-like anise with black pepper. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open daily 1 to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN
5 Il Gelatiere Artigianale 647 Mt Pleasant, at Hillsdale, 416-488-2663. We blame the bloggers. From the day it opened its doors in May, this heavily hyped gelateria moderna with ties to two in Rome has been swamped with well-heeled customers looking for their frozen fix. Sleek and sophisticated, the white-on-white space has tables in its bright front window and larger rear area. More than 30 gelati and sorbetti are offered daily from a cookbook that includes over 100 recipes. Confused about which is which? If it's fruit, it's dairy-free sorbetto. Everthing else is gelato. Bonus: gluten-free cones and real whipped cream toppings at no extra cost. Best: spicy Chocolato al Peperoncini, dark chocolate mixed with red chili pepper; classic stracciatella dusted with cocoa; Maria, cinnamon with walnuts; Macedonia mixed fruit salad; pompelo grapefruit; lemony limone; arguria watermelon; creamy mascarpone; to drink, imported Italian Santos espresso, latte and capuccino; milkshakes, smoothies and slushies, too. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Tuesday to Thursday 10:30 am to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 10:30 am to midnight, Sunday 10:30 am to 10:30 pm. Closed Monday and holidays. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
6 Greg's Ice Cream 750 Spadina, at Bloor, 416-962-4734. Since launching from a below-street-level Annex storefront near U of T 26 years ago, Greg Mahon's superior ice cream parlour has only featured all-natural ingredients. Now ensconced on the ground floor of the not-that-Al-Green Theatre, he continues to draw from a repertoire of more than 100 different varieties, 15 or so of the most popular listed on a chalkboard behind the counter marked "flavours of the moment." Bonus: Greg's famous ices can also be found at All the Best Foods on Yonge at Summerhill, Village Chill on Spadina Rd, Harbord Bakery and Summerhill Market. Warning: his signature flavour, gooey roasted marshmallow, isn't always available; seating is minimal; and lineups are long at peak après-dinner hours. Best: extraordinary roasted marshmallow ice cream (Mahon claims he roasts the 'mallows on sticks over a campfire round back), Japanese-inspired green tea ices, specialty stout flavour for those who think beer and ice cream are the perfect match, pumpkin raisin, Malt Ball Crunch, lime dacquiri, 23 types of chocolate ice cream alone; optional toppings like hot fudge, puréed strawberries or pineapple, crushed chocolate chips, walnuts and sprinkles; "build-your-own" customized shakes, sodas and deluxe banana splits as well as take-home ice cream by the litre. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Sunday to Thursday noon to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to midnight in summer. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN
7 Ed's Real Scoop 2224 Queen E, at Birch, 416-699-6100. This deceptively normal-looking shop at the east end of the Beach near the Fox Theatre - two refrigerated cases, a cupboard of hand-dipped truffles, a window counter stacked with car magazines - has been shovelling cones full of one-of-a-kind house-made ice cream since 2002. While others rely on rich butter and cream, ice-meister Ed Francis's creations' depend on all-natural ingredients and 100 per cent real fruit for flavour. Gelato, too! Best: from a lineup of more than 80 flavours - 23 on offer at all times - Belgian Callebaut chocolate, kiwi sorbet, Bordeaux cherry and Tahitian vanilla bean, white chocolate with raspberry, all in cups or several cone options (plain, sugared, chocolate-dipped, waffle and "fancy") and toppings (sprinkles, whipped cream, hot marshmallow sauce); house-baked apple pie, complete with buttery crust, crumbled into vanilla ice cream, old-fashioned chocolate peanut butter fudge or baked fudge brownie ices; parlour-perfect sundaes topped with whipped cream and a retro maraschino cherry; Coca Cola ice cream floats; homemade cookies and fudge; in the fall, traditional-with-a-twist pumpkin ice cream pies in graham wafer shells. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open daily 11:30 am to 10:30 pm in summer. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
8 Summer's 101 Yorkville, at Bellair, 416-944-2637. Originally known as Summer's Sweet Memories and found around the corner on Cumberland, this old-fashioned parlour only does cones, no cups. But when they're house-made waffle cones piled with quality ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt, who's complaining? Long lineups and limited seating, though there are a couple of park benches out front. Bonus: since it's just down the block from the ritzy Four Seasons Hotel, Summer's gets swamped with celebs during the film festival. Best: from a roster of more than 60 flavours, 24 of which are always on offer, the legendary Toronto Pot Hole (a delicious mix of Heavenly Hash and Rocky Road), the Credit River Turtle (with crushed chocolate caramel), chocolate fudge brownie, chocolate chip cookie dough, Espresso Mud Pie, Jamaican rum and raisin, mocha pecan chocolate swirl; from the sorbets, blood orange, passion fruit; blueberry frozen yogurt. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open daily noon to midnight. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: 10 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
9 Gelato Milano 2156 Queen E, at Glen Manor, 416-699-1200. It takes a certain chutzpah to open up a gelato shop a block away from one of Toronto's best-loved ice cream parlours. This recently launched café in the Beach, all blond wood, caramel-coloured walls and gleaming display cases of dramatically fluted ices, takes on Ed's Real Scoop and manages to better the Scoop when it comes to Italian ices. Smaller crowds, too, but not for long. Best: from a card of 24 rotating flavours, almond amaretto, nutty pistachio, tiramisu, maple walnut, white chocolate, Ferrero Rocher with crumbled chocolate wafers; takeout litres $13.99; to accompany them, house-baked cannoli. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
10 Bravo! Gelato 411 Roncesvalles, at Howard Pk, 416-516-2122. Open only a month, this west-side storefront painted fruity deep purple and lime green attracts a steady stream of both local hipsterati and proud parents showing off the progeny. Flavours are simple and straightforward - no stunt ices here - and service is congenial without being overly friendly. A good spot to kick back with a book while low-key 50s jazz soothes on the sound system. That is, till some rug rat inevitably starts howling. Best: gelati like chocolate peanut butter swirled with caramel strawberry, chocolate hazelnut Bacia, old school straciatella, herbal green tea, cappuccino, strawberries 'n' cream, amaretto, wild berry frutti del bosco. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Monday to Wednesday 11 am to 9 pm, Thursday and Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday 10 am to 10 pm, Sunday and holidays noon to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
11 Hollywood Gelato 1640 Bayview, at Manor, 416-544-9829. Hooray for Hollywood! Offering both gelato and sorbetto, this busy café caters to its upscale neighbourhood with flavours and presentation that lean more to Leaside than Lombardy. Provided you can accept this untraditional uptown spin, the gelato is still rich, dense and satisfying. Warning: don't let the corporate look of the joint put you off - Hollywood's as indie as they come. Besides, who notices window dressing when there's a line out the door? And you're not seeing things. That really is an animatronic duck riding a bicycle and waving a cone on the patio out front. Best: made daily in house using all-natural flavourings, gelati like Cookies 'N' Cream; crushed s'mores; and double chocolate walnut brownie; mint chocolate chip with irregular chunks of dark chocolate in its frosty, minty green; intense but not palate-crushing Valrhona chocolate; full roasted hazelnut flavour with no bitter edge; novel coconut with graham cracker crumb crust; lemon sorbetto, not too sweet, not too sour; to drink, house-made iced tea and coffee; helpful and knowledgeable counter staff. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Sunday to Thursday 7 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 7 am to midnight. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, women's washroom on same floor, 10 steps to men's washroom in basement. Rating: NNN
12 La Paloma Gelateria 1357 St Clair W, at Caledonia, 416-656-2340. In operation since 1967, this Corso Italia institution introduced white-bread Toronto to authentic Sicilian gelato back when pizza was considered exotic. Open from early morning till after midnight, this enduring emporium is always busy, especially as an after-dinner destination for customers of nearby Italian trats. Bonus: monogrammed paper napkins! Warning: the set-up confuses at first - pay at the back then pick your pleasure at the display cases. Other locations: Piazza del Sole, 200 Windflower Gate, Woodbridge, 905-851-5151; Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre, entrance #3, 905-760-2841; Tuscany Place, 3175 Rutherford, Vaughan, 905-532-1496. Best: from a list of some 30 gelato flavours, dark Belgian chocolate; cinnamon apple pie; bourbon vanilla 'n' cherry; zuppa inglese, a fluorescent frozen trifle of pink and yellow birthday cake studded with candied cherries, chocolate chunks and slivered almonds, dribbled with strawberries; cranberry cheese cake; peppermint cotton candy; soy-based vegan gelato like hazelnut cream; classic vanilla; sorbets like pear drizzled with chocolate; pink grapefruit; sour green apple; seasonal flavours like watermelon; roasted chesnut; sweet fig. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open daily 7 am to 1 am in summer. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
13 St Clair Ice Cream Factory Outlet 2859 Danforth, at Dawes, 416-699-1248. Established in 1932 on St Clair - where else? - and relocated to the Danforth some 30 years later, this inexpensive east-side emporium is primarily the supplier to some of Toronto's most prominent ice cream chains, including one local burger franchise whose name would suggest otherwise. Complete with generic 60s decor, fluorescent lighting, rec room panelling and a tinny radio tuned to AM in the background, it's the only place in town that openly sells its product. Bonus: even cheaper 4-litre tubs to take home. Best: from a lineup of more than 40 varieties, blueberry cheesecake, Boston Cream Pie, Scottish toffee, chocolate peanut butter, classic Neapolitan, traditional high cocoa-content chocolate; Cotton Candy, Rocky Road, Swiss mocha; five types of fat-free sorbet - blackberry, mango, peach, raspberry and strawberry; old-school hot fudge sundaes, banana splits, and milkshakes. Complete desserts for $3 per person, including all taxes. Average main $2.50. Open daily noon to 9 pm April to Thanksgiving. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms on other floor. Rating: NNN
14 Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe 712 College, at Montrose, 416-531-7755. Founder Aurelio Galipo first introduced Italian-style ice cream to Toronto back in 1959 at this Little Italy landmark. Though the joint's a lot fancier than it was back in the day - now a large, airy room decked out with wrought-iron café chairs and marble-topped tables fronted by two hopping curbside patios - the family-run business's frozen product hasn't changed a bit. Bonus: table service! Best: from a selection of 50 flavours, 20 always available, hazelnut Bacio, terrific textbook ladyfinger tiramisu, marsala-soaked zabaglione, bitter chocolate stracciatella; traditional flavours like banana, lemon, piatachio and nougat. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open daily 9 am to 2 am. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
15 Soma Chocolatier 55 Mill, bldg 48, unit 102, at Trinity, 416-815-7662. Located next door to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District, this former 19th-century warehouse comes with the theatricality that one expects from a high-profile Oliver Bonacini (Canoe, Jump, Auberge du Pommier) enterprise. A gorgeous space, it contains a retail store stocked with Soma's tremendous truffles - almond clusters dipped in creamy milk chocolate, say - as well as nibbles like salted pumpkin seed snaps, crunchy hazelnut Bones of the Dead and Venetian cornmeal cookies. Bonus: Belle and Sebastian on the sound system. Warning: tourists! Best: from the in-house gelato lab, flavours such as Madagascar vanilla, Meyer lemon, roasted almond; oddly richer, though they contain zero dairy, sorbets like dark Venezuelan chocolate, tart pomegranate, anti-oxidental Ontario blueberry, Thai coconut; to garnish, optional handmade wafer-thin almond crisps. Complete desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Average main $4. Open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 8 pm, Sunday and holidays 11 am to 6 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN