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I judge a city by its ice cream.

The licked and the fed 

Two critics' tasty tour of Rochester's stand-out ice cream parlors

Craig Brownlie: I judge a city by its ice cream.

Adam Wilcox: You're tough. Mostly, I just like to eat it.

CB: Nowadays the supermarket is filled with high-end and down-market varieties of myriad flavors. Yet nothing quite matches the decadence of hitting an ice cream parlor. Without ice cream, the United States would not be quite so charming. Sitting outside Bill Wahl's (45 Schoen Place) on the canal is a very democratic experience, populated with smiles and children and activity, as opposed to the sterility of our other great experience of democracy: elections. I love Bill Wahl's because of its location and friendliness, and the taste of its treats. The great parlor in the sky definitely serves Bill's Private Stock (coffee with chocolate chunks and toffee bits) among its 77 flavors.

AW: It's great ice cream; homemade and "super premium" (that means 14 percent butter fat). Love the t-shirts. And it's a great place to take a walk (though I'm always concerned my boy is going to launch himself into the canal).

CB: Then there is Bruster's (2255 Ridge Road East), for which I have a soft spot since it seems to have followed my family as we've moved over the past decade and a half. Even its yogurt is hard and tasty which is more than you can say for many ice creams.

AW: I get chain rash when I walk in, but that's the worst thing I can say about the place. I had thought it was expensive, but with kid portions, I got out of there for 10 bucks for me and my three kids.

CB: I Scream (1683 Mt.Hope) probably has better prices. I'm not a fan of Hershey's ice cream, with its reliance on additives. That being said, a shop would have to go pretty far afield for a bad ice cream experience. The wonderful thing that Justin, the owner, has going is the home-made stuff that he's doing. His sorbet is outstanding, like blossoms on ice. Did you scream for I Scream?

AW: Not so much for the Hershey's ice cream. But a groovy non-chain place, a pile of milkshake possibilities, decent prices, and a cool owner make for a good going-out-for-ice-cream experience. And I grew up on Hershey's, so additives or no, I have a soft spot for it.

CB: In some respects, I see the temptation to open a shop, but not make your own ice cream. Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's, to my tastes, do the franchise thing the best, so why go with one of these other brands? Rumor has it that there is a Ben & Jerry's on the RIT campus. The nearest Häagen-Dazs is in Toronto. The current 20-ton elephant of chain ice cream, though, has to be Cold Stone Creamery (PittsfordPlaza).

AW: You turned me on to Cold Stone. Grrreeaaat coffee ice cream.Very slick, with all those mix-in possibilities, and the pretty presentation.Too slick. But I really liked the ice cream.

CB: Cold Stone tries hard to be your friendly neighborhood parlor. The employees sing songs and wear cutesy t-shirts. The chain uses trays of fresh ice cream as opposed to the notorious cardboard buckets of yore. I agree that Cold Stone makes one of the better coffee ice creams. The price is high, but the ice cream is that airless variety promulgated by Ben and Jerry's. Our younger companions noted that the chocolate was not quite in the same league as the other flavors.

AW: The South Wedge also has Hershey's cones at Patrik's Culinary Kreations (847 South Goodman). It's great to be able to walk there, and Lila loves the chocolate moose tracks. Until we hit Shark's, Patrik's was my wife's favorite, though I don't see much quality difference among all the places that serve Hershey's, Perry's, or Byrne Dairy. Sometimes it's the feel of the place, I guess. Lugia's (4719 Lyell Road, Spencerport) is a popular West Side Perry's joint. Aside from fairly high prices and cool, rimmed cone holders, we didn't see what distinguished them.

CB: Tom Wahl's had a "hand-crafted ice cream" shop in Marketplace Mall, but it recently closed. Maybe Wahl's will continue selling hard ice cream at its regular restaurants. (Though hopefully not the infamous haddock flavor.)

AW: Homemade and local both mean a lot to me, and my favorite spot hasn't changed since I last wrote about ice cream, though the owner has. Shark's Custard & Candy (Routes 5 and 20, Bloomfield) just has it: great, creamy ice cream with all natural flavors; value (huge portions and no charge for waffle cones!); slick shop; and super-friendly service. Lynn Shepard bought it from founder John Haluch two years ago, and has kept all the essentials intact (including John's recipes). She named it for her late husband, a serious amateur golfer who bore an uncanny resemblance to Greg Norman. It's a drive, but it's worth it.

CB: It would have to be a drive if it's named after Norman.... I'm very fond of Read's (3130 East Henrietta Road, Henrietta) which relocated from Greece a year ago. It has good parking, which must be a necessity since I don't see too many folks walking there. The shop makes its own ice cream and ices. I've never liked the flavored ice thing before, but I would go there just for the lemon and tangerine ices --- amazing texture and taste. The made-on-the-premises ice cream was outstanding. Their selections in flavors, styles, shakes... Ah, geez, I have to go there now.

AW: Craig? Craig! He's a slave... Anyway, this is just the tip of the ice-cream-berg. For homemade, the only other single-location joints I know of are Gitano's (240 Waring Road.) and Buckman's (2576 West Ridge Road), and I hate to give them short shrift. Buckman's has been making its own ice cream since --- get this --- 1914, and shows no sign of letting up. It is "super premium" and super yummy. Plus, where else you gonna go for a cone at 5 a.m.? Gitano's isn't open at such obtuse hours, but it has been making homemade ice creams and ices for years. I particularly like the sorbet, which is inexpensive and available various places around town.

CB: OK, I'm back. Read's makes orange chocolate ice cream! Hey, did you mention Abbott's yet?

AW: We'd be flayed alive if we didn't mention Abbott's. Arthur Abbott started making his smooth, frozen custard on Long Island more than 100 years ago. The first local Abbott's opened at Charlotte 60-some years ago, and the franchise has become a Rochester institution with 24 upstate New York shops (not including Bill Gray's locations). I'm an ice cream guy myself, but for folks born and bred on this stuff, there isn't really anything else.

And there are a ton of places that serve Perry's, Hershey's, or another commercial brand. My family likes Hank's (235 North Avenue, Webster). ChooChoo Express (5138 Ridge Road West, Spencerport) combines rock-bottom prices with a train and big dinosaur models; naturally, it's a hit with kids. And the combination of Thai food and ice cream makes Churi's (4615 Culver Road) another winner. Must admit, I'm feeling a bit queasy at this point, though.

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    Fairs and celebrations Adventures at Treasure Island Fri, July 14.

  • I judge a city by its ice cream.

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