I’ve been sampling ice cream and gelato from top-rated shops around the country. Along with craft breweries and independent bookstores, the idea was to produce a series of reviews as we traveled, rating and contrasting regional and national champs. I have spreadsheets with partial, disorganized 'nation’s best' lists in a variety of categories, but no long-form beer, bookstore, or ice cream reviews.
What prompted this post, then? After nearly six months, we visited an ice creamery that shot right to the top of my list, and it is Humphry Slocombe in San Fransisco. I'm not easily impressed by ice cream. Kathryn has asked me “What did you think?” about many famous eateries along our journey and has decided that I am impossible to please, because my usual reaction is a shrug and an “it’s ok”. For me, “it’s ok” is a favorable response, meaning: “If served this in NYC, I might return here instead of trying another (ice cream, sushi, thai, lobster roll, fish taco, whatever) place next time.” My feeling regarding Humphry Slocombe in this context is: “If this place was in NYC it would be my new #$%ing place”.
Ice cream shops these days seem to come in several types:
Humphry Slocombe falls into the last category and I hesitated to commit to the flavor that made them famous, 'Secret Breakfast', which is Bourbon and Cornflakes. I love both, but I’ve seen too many of these poorly executed. The line for ice cream was conspicuously long and I had plenty of time to make my choice.
This brings me to a topic for which I have great emotion. The explosion of ‘fun flavors’ has led to a) delays in service while people share on social media and b) delays in service while some people taste every flavor before buying. I understand the desire to taste them all, believe me, but allowing people to do this hurts everyone. I heard that recently a kitten starved and died while the owner was busy tasting every single flavor at Max and Mina's in Queens. A lot of people are saying that a puppy or a baby bunny will be next.
The phenomenon is not new. Everyone in line can’t believe how long each incompetent person being served/helped is taking, but when it is their turn, and no other humans are in front of them so the whole problem is solved, they take just as long to get everything perfectly right for themselves. Only it isn’t just that they weren’t ready to order ice cream in this case, they want to have a personal taste test and hold an unmoderated panel discussion with their friends before any scooping or paying can begin.
Here is some free business advice to Humphry Slocombe and all of the Slocombes out there – provide TWO lines. One for tasting and one for ready-to-order customers. Make the tasting people happy and get your social media marketing, without losing customers from the end of the line who have limited time or patience for watching people taste ice cream.
That said, I tasted a few flavors at Humphey Slocombe because just this once. Secret Breakfast does live up to the hype, but I chose 'Duet', which was billed as “Tahitian vanilla with limoncello swirl and fennel biscotti”. One of the best cones I have ever had anywhere. So creamy that in order for my world to make sense I had to invent a conspiracy theory where they have been evading/bribing FDA agents and are using unpasteurized cream and milk to cheat the UCI doping investigators. The next day we returned and ordered 'Spotted Dick', which was top quality but less of a favorite.
They've been around since 2008 and you can find a ton of professional reviews on the place and all of the flavors. Even Wired, a tech magazine, covered them back in 2012.
If I've piqued your interest, but you can't make it to San Francisco, they now have their own Ice Cream Book with instructions for making many of their popular flavors. Apparently they add some condensed milk in their “modified anglaise ice cream base", which may be what gives it that suspiciously not-pasteurized taste. I’d love to know which local creamery supplies them (there is no shortage around the bay area). Also, if anyone buys this book and wants to know if their home product is as good as the original, contact me to arrange dry ice shipment and I will taste it for you.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.