Cream of the Crop

The scoop on small-batch, artisan ice creams

Need a remedy to beat the sweltering heat outside this summer? Some finely crafted ice cream will provide some cold comfort.

These local artisan ice cream producers know how to hit the sweet spot every time. And here’s the good news: You don’t have to go far to get your desserts.

Milk Lab

Inspired by Thai street vendors, Milk Lab’s rolled ice cream can be customized with a variety of mix-ins and toppings. Popular flavors include, clockwise from top: Unicorn Poop, caramel ice cream with Fruity Pebbles cereal; Bang Bang, featuring house-brewed Thai tea; and matcha, green tea ice cream with fresh strawberries.

BACKSTORY: Bin Chen and Sandy Lam met while attending North Carolina State University. Chen has a special interest in Thai-style rolled ice cream, while Lam appreciates Taiwanese boba tea (also known as bubble tea). The two joined forces and opened Milk Lab, a buzzworthy rolled ice cream and milk tea bar, in December 2017.

SELECTIONS: Among the fanciful ice cream picks include Oreo-permeated Cookie Monster, Campfire Delight (graham crackers, chocolate syrup and toasted marshmallow) and Unicorn Poop, a caramel base with Fruity Pebbles cereal. Unlimited toppings means you can add Gummy Worms, mixed nuts, vanilla wafers, M&Ms, honey and more.

“All the fruits we use are fresh, and we’re committed to using quality ingredients,” Bin said.

DISTINCTIVENESS: Customers can watch as ice cream is made to order on a large, steel-plated machine that looks like an extremely cold pizza pan.

“It’s essentially a powerful condenser that operates between minus 16 and minus 25 degrees Celsius,” said Bin.

The milk-based mixture is poured onto the flat surface and skillfully stirred as it freezes, eliminating large crystals of ice to create a creamy texture. Once frozen, the mixture is spread across the icy grill and pushed into rolls.

MUST-TRY FLAVOR: Monkey Business, a superlative comingling of fresh banana and Nutella hazelnut spread.

6418 Tryon Road
(Wellington Park Shopping Center), Cary
(984) 200-0016
milklabcafe.com

Andia’s Homemade Ice Cream

Andia’s ice cream can be ordered sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies or sealed in a doughnut. Flavors change frequently, but shown here are mint chip, chocolate, French vanilla and rose pistachio.

BACKSTORY: What began in 2014 as a catering/special-events enterprise called The Freezing Pointe has rebranded and added an accessible retail spot. Owners Andia and George Xouris earned a 2017 red ribbon from the National Ice Cream Retailers Association for their French vanilla and a Maggy Award for Best Small Business earlier this year.

SELECTIONS: Andia’s serves 22 traditional and eclectic flavors, including a vegan ice cream and two sorbets. Choices like rose pistachio, dark chocolate raspberry and salted caramel keep things intriguing.

“One of our most popular flavors is toffee caramel crunch with locally sourced Durham Toffee,” said Andia.

Consider ordering an ice cream cookie sandwich, baklava sundae or a tempting sampler flight containing seven mini scoops of ice cream. Takeaway quarts are also available.

DISTINCTIVENESS: Ice cream is made in small batches using premium, all-natural ingredients free of additives and hormones. What’s more, the shop’s staff is super-friendly. “We take time to sit with our guests and get to know them,” Andia said. “People either come here after having a bad day, and they leave with a smile, or they’ve had a great day and leave even happier.”

MUST-TRY ITEM: The doughnut sundae is a glazed doughnut stuffed with any flavor ice cream and topped with caramel sauce, chocolate syrup and sprinkles. “We put the doughnut in a warmer that seals in the ice cream, making it gooey,” she explained.

10120 Green Level Church Road, Suite 208
(Cary Park Town Center), Cary
(919) 822-1866
andiasicecream.com

FRESH. Local ice cream

A classic Madagascar vanilla cone from FRESH. Local Ice Cream is hard to beat on a warm summer day. The family-owned shop sources its dairy from Jackson Dairy Farm in Dunn, N.C., so you know it’s fresh.

BACKSTORY: Brett Hillman opened the original FRESH. Local Ice Cream on Raleigh’s Glenwood Avenue in 2011. Six years later, son and daughter-in-law Jason and Casey Hillman followed the family tradition and opened the downtown Cary location.

“I grew up in Cary, so it was a dream come true for us to open one here,” Jason said.

SELECTIONS: Flavors range from Madagascar vanilla and butter pecan to strawberry cheesecake and Carolina Crunch, a salted-caramel base mixed with crushed Heath and Butterfinger candy bars. Four specialty flavors appear each month. There’s also a couple of non-dairy frozen desserts made with almond milk.

For special gatherings, consider the make-your-own-sundae bar delivered wherever you need it. A nifty cooler bag arrives with pre-made cups of ice cream accompanied with all the necessary toppings.

DISTINCTIVENESS: Locally sourced ingredients are free of artificial hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. A large, open window at the front of the cozy storefront allows for a pleasant breeze.

“We want to serve the best possible product while providing the highest-quality customer service,” Casey said.

MUST-TRY FLAVOR: Midnight Brownie Crunch fashioned with Old-World chocolate, Oreo cookies and brownie pieces will elicit a nearly religious experience.

138 East Chatham St., Cary
(919) 234-1155
freshlocalicecream.com

Pints Ice Cream & Beer

The folks at Pints Ice Cream & Beer combine lavender and white chocolate for a rich, refreshing frozen delight. The store is set to open this summer in Fuquay-Varina.

BACKSTORY: After losing his high-tech job and his father within a few months, Terrence Morrison decided to do something different with his life. His wife Robyn, a licensed real estate agent, joined him for an ambitious venture that melds ice cream and beer.

“People can get just get ice cream if they want, or they can pair it with a beer like Guinness or a Mason Jar lager,” Terrence said.

SELECTIONS: With a projected opening date of mid to late summer, get ready for inventive ice cream flavors such as brown-sugar vanilla, white-chocolate lavender, Irish coffee and Coconut Dreams. The shop will also sell waffle ice cream sandwiches, which involve hot, Belgian waffles filled with any flavor of ice cream your heart desires.

DISTINCTIVENESS: Need we say more than boldly pairing ice cream and beer? How about the fact that the Morrisons grow their own herbs and source dairy products from Homeland Creamery in Julian, N.C.? The ice cream is scratch-made with passion and purpose.

MUST-TRY FLAVOR: Extraordinary rosemary ice cream crowned with olive oil and sea salt.

“It’s something you wouldn’t think would go well together, but it works,” Terrence said.

512 Broad Street, Fuquay-Varina
facebook.com/PintsIceCream

Other Cool Spots

Goodberry’s, multiple locations: Rich, creamy custard made hourly with pure ingredients equals long lines worth waiting in.

Ice Cream Shop, Apex: Owner Bryan Marshburn keeps the focus on simple goodness at this vintage downtown parlor that sells Hershey’s frozen treats.

Mama Bird’s Cookies + Cream, Holly Springs: All-natural ice cream and freshly baked cookies make for a winning combination at this mom-and-pop shop.

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