By Stacey Ingram Kaleh Cover photo by Heather Barnes
Summers in Central Texas are unwaveringly hot. We often experience many consecutive triple-digit-temperature days. For as long as I can remember, Austinites have been surviving these sizzling summers by embracing two key strategies: refreshing dips in Barton Springs and Deep Eddy and ice cream breaks. Cold, creamy, packed with flavor and undeniably fun, treats like ice cream and gelato are summer must-haves. And our local ice cream shops have become the all-ages-welcome destinations of choice.
Passionate ice cream artisans give us a window into their creativity with each delicious bite, consistently concocting new flavors and combinations — in a rainbow of colors and textures — to customers’ delight. Ice cream makers provide an element of surprise with this inventive nature, but they can also serve up the kind of nostalgia that makes you feel right at home when you taste that signature flavor that’s remained unchanged for decades. It’s the kind of work that makes children jump up and down as they wait in line to pick out their flavor from the lineup, the kind of work that brings together friends and uplifts spirits, the kind of work that helps adults recapture their childlike joy — for one sweet break.
Ice cream breaks have a long legacy in Texas. We might say they’ve become tradition. When I was growing up here in Austin, where generations of my family have lived, I went to my grandparents’ house for ice cream. One thing you could always count on finding in my Nana’s freezer was a half-gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. Nana always had ice cream at the ready — Blue Bell in particular — much to her grandkids’ delight, and wouldn’t imagine a day passing without it. Today, I keep a half-gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla in my freezer. It goes over well for any occasion and adds a finishing touch to nearly every treat we mix up. My family enjoys it in its purest form, but also on top of pies, cobblers and brownies, or even plopped into a cup of espresso. It’s always there to brighten the day and make a little moment special. For me, the story of ice cream in Central Texas starts with Blue Bell.
Now one of the best-selling ice creams in the country, Blue Bell had humble beginnings in 1907 when a group of businessmen in Brenham, Texas, decided to make butter from the excess cream brought in by area farmers. They started a creamery and, a few years later, began making ice cream and delivering it to neighbors via horse and wagon. Ever since, they’ve been in the business of delight.
And no story about ice cream in Austin could exist without Amy’s Ice Creams. I have great memories of summer evenings with friends spent in the cool, A/C-filled refuge of weird that is Amy’s. In middle school, it was a treat to meet friends (and their parents) at the Guadalupe location. I was always amazed at the staff’s acrobat-like skills in mixing crush-ins and tossing the ice cream high into the air before catching it in a cup. In high school, our friend group would drop by the Westgate location next door to the Regal Cinema after a night at the movies to dissect and overanalyze whatever we just saw. Sometimes, we’d earn a free crush-in by answering Amy’s movie trivia question at the counter. And whenever we host visitors now, we make sure to stop by Amy’s on South Congress — always iconic. In a lot of ways, I feel like Amy’s is one of those few completely original businesses that taps into and funnels the authentic spirit of our city. Amy’s has been a consistent presence in our community for 38 years, and it’s hard to imagine Austin, or today’s celebrated ice cream and frozen treats culture, without it.
“Austin and Amy’s have grown up together,” says Amy Simmons, founder of Amy’s Ice Creams. After working at an ice cream shop while she was in medical school, Simmons fell in love with the culture of being part of people’s happiest moments. Thanks to a great mentor, she learned the tools to start her own business, and planted firm roots here in Austin after a two-day visit in 1984 when she received encouragement from some fellow entrepreneurs at Chuy’s and Texas French Bread. Amy’s started with one location, across the street from its current Guadalupe location, in 1984, and has since expanded to 16 locations spread across Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. Although Simmons has seen great potential to expand beyond Central Texas, she values “the regionality of ice cream” and remains committed to deepening involvement in our community. “I love going to different cities and visiting their local ice cream shops, enjoying that culture that’s just a little bit different than it is in other cities,” she says.
It’s easy to see why Amy’s has become one of our most beloved, continually growing local businesses. Simmons has always prioritized company culture and leads with her passion for being part of people’s happy moments. In the process, she has created a community of employees and customers who’ve co-created a meaningful and lasting culture of “being yourself and expressing yourself.” It’s the kind of culture that keeps customers coming back and keeps former employees flying in from across the country to join in on annual reunions. Dedicated to its mission to “make people’s day,” Amy’s has grown deep roots in the community by welcoming customers to be a part of the business by helping to create flavors, by providing flexible schedules and business mentorship opportunities for employees (Amy’s has transparent financials and Simmons has even helped former employees draft business plans) and by supporting charitable organizations that address issues customers care about, such as the Dell Children’s Medical Center and We Are Blood. “A company is a vehicle for building community,” Simmons emphasizes. If that’s not the genuine Austin spirit, I don’t know what is.
Both Blue Bell and Amy’s have contributed greatly when it comes to creating a community of ice cream enthusiasts here in Central Texas. And this ice cream-loving culture has opened the doors for many specialty shops led by highly trained artisans that prioritize sustainably-sourced, fresh ingredients.
“When we opened, the culinary scene here was starting to undergo a real transformation and Austinites were very enthusiastic and supportive of that. It was definitely the right time for us to show up on the scene with out of the box flavors like Roasted Beets with Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese, Thyme and Honey! We'll be forever grateful for the support the Austin community has shown us,” say Lick Honest Ice Creams co-founders Chad Palmatier and Anthony Sobotik.
Entrepreneurs like Palmatier and Sobotik, as well as ranchers and artisans like Phil Giglio of OroBianco Italian Creamery in Blanco — which makes gelato using water buffalo milk — have introduced us to exciting new flavors, textures and even milk-alternative ice cream options, friendly to every diet. These creatives are also lifting the curtain to show us the inspiring stories behind their endeavors and revealing the skilled art of delivering that perfect scoop. It’s clear that Central Texas’ ice cream culture is still being shaped and defined.
When writing this story, I brought the whole family along during my “research phase,” embarking on a grand, multi-week ice cream adventure to explore these new shops and rediscover favorites. My husband and our two daughters (ages 3½ and 6 months) raced to eat our ice creams, giggling as it dripped down our hands and faces, melting quickly in the Texas sun. We tried dozens of flavors, thrilled by the search for ones we felt were the most unique as well as the shop that made the best vanilla. We cooled off, refreshed and re-energized, dancing around during our short-lived sugar highs. We also learned a lot about the art form that is ice cream and our talented and thoughtful neighbors who have transformed their passion for sweet treats into welcoming places that make our communities more vibrant.
One of the things I love so much about ice cream is that it feels celebratory — it just feels good to eat it. “People eat ice cream because they’re sad, they’re happy, it’s their birthday, they’re celebrating special moments with family. All of these incredible moments of our lives, these moments are made around ice cream,” says Amy Simmons with a sentiment that resonates.
There’s something truly special about celebrating the everyday moments that bring us together. Whether your ice cream journey consists of making your own at home, heading to your nearest shop, or simply opening up your freezer, ice cream is all around us just waiting to help us appreciate and celebrate daily life.
Whether you’re a cup or a cone person, prefer vanilla or pistachio and lavender, want just the scoop or all the toppings, our local ice cream shops have you covered! From staples like Blue Bell and Amy’s to artisans like Lick and Manoli’s to Gati’s vegan ice cream or OroBianco’s water buffalo-milk gelato, there are plentiful opportunities to embrace joy and chill out with a delicious scoop, all while supporting local entrepreneurs.
Amy’s Ice Creams
It’s come to symbolize uniquely Austin businesses to locals and visitors alike — Amy’s is an Austin institution. After 38 years of serving up scoops and tons of fun, we know we can always count on Amy’s for great service, cool vibes and seemingly countless flavor/crush-in combinations!
Amy’s is known for the crush-in. Rather than placing mix-ins like cookies and brownies, which are baked at Amy’s own bakery (Baked by Amy’s), nuts, gummies and more on top of your scoop, ice cream artists “crush” your chosen ingredients into the ice cream in a sort of performance for each customer. It makes for an unforgettable and custom experience every time. And with a selection of over 350 flavors, there’s always reason to return. “We’re always pushing ourselves to create new and better flavors,” says founder and CEO Amy Simmons.
While you can always count on favorites like Mexican Vanilla, Belgian Chocolate or Strawberry (made with a base Sweet Cream flavor and blended with fresh roasted strawberries), there are also new and creative flavor options at the ready. For instance, Blackberry Turmeric, Maple Bacon, and Popcorn. Where do all of the flavor ideas come from? Amy’s co-creates flavors with staff, customers and suppliers.
Planning a celebration? Don’t forget about Amy’s beloved ice cream cakes! Re-discover an Austin favorite and express your creativity during your next visit to Amy’s.
Must-try flavors: Mexican Vanilla (try crushing in graham crackers and strawberries!); Peach Cobbler, Lit Mint and Becky’s Bear
Cruise down South First to find Manoli’s ice cream, pastry and coffee truck. This family-owned operation knows how to churn out authentic European-style treats. Everything on the menu is scratch-made with fresh ingredients, and, according to Manoli’s website, also made with “love and care!”
Visit the truck during its hours on weekend evenings to try decadent flavors like Tiramisu and Dulce de Leche. In need of a caffeine pick-me-up? Try ice cream plopped into their rich espresso. Dairy-free flavors like Piña Colada and Double Chocolate Chip are also available.
When the sun is scorching this summer, be sure to also try handmade ice pops, fruit sorbets and refreshing Italian Ice!
Must-try flavors: Almond, Coconut, Stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings), and Mint Chocolate Chip
Lick Honest Ice Creams
Chad Palmatier and Anthony Sobotik founded Lick Honest Ice Creams in 2011 in Austin to honor the local ice cream shops and homemade ice cream they grew up enjoying in small rural communities, committed to creating flavors with seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients from the outset. “We both grew up enjoying homemade ice cream and came to appreciate the need for local, small town ice cream shops that worked directly with a family-owned dairy and made seasonal flavors with locally sourced ingredients,” says Sobotik. “As we began to plan our move back to Austin, we realized the community truly needed this style of scoop shop, so in 2011 we opened our own! Working directly with family-owned farmers, food producers and supporting that community is still at the heart of what we do and continues to guide how we grow as a company,” he says.
For Sobotik and Palmatier, “honest” means using the purest ingredients they can find, completely free of artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrups and preservatives. All of the milk they use comes from family-owned dairies in Texas and Wisconsin, and every batch of ice cream is churned by hand in their North Austin kitchen. In terms of inspiration, we look to see what’s in season and what we are able to source from local farmers and artisans to add to our ice creams. We also look to nostalgic desserts that we grew up eating quite a bit for inspiration. It’s fun to marry those dishes to the ingredients that are in season and then reimagine it as an ice cream flavor,” says Palmatier.
Flavors such as Peach Leaf Graham Crunch (new this summer and made with peach leaves from Hausbar Farm); Blackberry, Lime and Basil; Blushing Blueberry and Mixed Berry Corn Cobbler highlight seasonal Texas-sourced ingredients and stand apart from offerings at chain shops, contributing to Lick becoming an Austin go-to.
Lick is also committed to giving back to our community. “The Austin community was so welcoming to us when we first moved here and opened our scoop shops, so we want to make sure we are always giving back,” say Palmatier and Sobotik. Their #ConesforaCause campaign has raised over $50,000 for local nonprofits to date, including the Sustainable Food Center, Urban Roots, the Central Texas Food Bank and others.
Can’t make it to their scoop shops? Half-pints are available at local Whole Foods, Wheatsville Food Co-Ops and other neighborhood grocery locations.
Must-try flavors: Goat Cheese, Thyme and Honey; Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint; Texas Sheet Cake; Peach Leaf Graham Crunch and anything seasonal!
Gati Ice Cream
Grab a seat on their cozy and vibrant patio and stay awhile when you fulfill your next craving at Gati Ice Cream on the East Side.
Gati’s standout ice cream is vegan and made with creamy coconut milk and packed with bold flavor. It was founded when Jam Sanitchat, owner and chef at Thai Fresh, had bought too many mangoes for the restaurant and needed to move them quickly. She whipped up a coconut milk-based mango lime ice cream to sell as a dessert which, according to Gati’s website, “went like hot cakes,” and the rest is history.
Gati serves up more than 40 ice cream flavors, most of which are made with fewer than four ingredients and all of which are vegan and gluten-free with a coconut milk base. Some favorites include Lavender Caramel and the vibrant blue Cookie Monster with vegan oreos. You can enjoy scoops in-store and also take a half-pint home with you! They also bake gluten free and mostly vegan treats like brownies and coffee cakes, and offer the highest quality coffee, with options like cortados to aztec mochas and mushroom lattes.
Need another reason to visit? Gati is a living wage establishment and is committed to paying its employees a higher wage than the industry standard, as well as providing benefits like paid vacation, paid sick leave and health insurance.
Must-try flavors:Lavender Caramel, Thai Basil and Cookie Monster
Translating to “sweet snow,” it’s hard to find a more refreshingly cool treat on a Texas summer day than Dolce Neve gelato. The inspired creation of three passionate gelato lovers — siblings Francesca and Marco Silvestrini and Francesca’s fiance, Leo Ferrarese — Dolce Neve came into being when the founders could not find a “proper Italian gelato” in the U.S.
Francesca received formal training at Carpigiana Gelato University in Bologna, Italy, and refined her skills working for Gianfrancesco Cutelli at Gelateria De’Coltelli in Pisa, Italy. In 2012, Francesca was invited to participate in the Serberth Festival Talent Show, a competition among the most talented emerging chefs in the gelato business worldwide, and won sixth place. All of this is to say, she really knows how to make spectacular gelato!
Francesca’s fiancé, Leo, grew up in a small town in Northern Italy and shares her passion for gelato. Her brother, Marco, inspired by gelato flavors found in New York when he was working there, joined the business to help create some of Dolce Neve’s most inventive flavors.
Visit Dolce Neve’s cute, old-Austin style house shop on South First or Plaza Saltillo location on East 5th Street to try staple flavors like Salted Caramel and Crema Dolce Neve (custard with lemon zest), and rotating flavors like Mascarpone and Figs, Almond Custard and Chocolate with Candied Orange Peels.
Must-try flavors: Crema Dolce Neve; Ricotta, Honey and Pistachio; Fromage Blanc and Apricot Jam
OroBianco Italian Creamery - Blanco
OroBianco Italian Creamery brings the taste of authentic Italian-style gelato to the Hill Country, serving as Texas’ first and only water buffalo dairy and creamery. A “pasture to palate” operation, co-founders Phil Giglio and Jason Peeler control all aspects of the production process, from raising livestock on a 100-percent grass diet to transporting, pasteurizing and processing milk into fresh gelato and cheeses.
Oro bianco translates to “white gold,” which Giglio says refers to the unique, porcelain-white color of water buffalo milk. Water buffalo milk has a significantly higher butterfat content than cow’s milk, creating a distinct full mouthfeel and signature richness that translates to creamier gelato. Giglio’s family is originally from the south of Italy, known for its water buffalo mozzarella. He first envisioned an operation focused on cheese and cured meat, which OroBianco certainly does with expertise. When he decided to open a café on Main Street in Blanco, Giglio and his mother traveled to Italy to learn how to make gelato, which has become a favorite at the cafe ever since it opened in March of 2021.
OroBianco’s gelato is crafted in small batches completely by hand using grass-fed water buffalo milk from their own livestock and other premium ingredients, locally sourced when possible. “We’re farmers and ranchers ourselves,” Giglio says of himself and business partner Peeler, “We want to support other local farmers and ranchers.” They source fresh fruits from Fredericksburg farms and orchards, which Giglio’s mom started out hand-picking, raise their own ducks and chickens for their egg cremas (custard gelato), grow herbs themselves and make chocolate in-house from raw, single-origin cacao beans. “There’s at least one Texas touchpoint in everything we make,” says Giglio.
Why set up shop in Blanco? Giglio loves the Texas Hill Country’s dedication to celebrating agriculture and inviting people in to understand the people and processes behind the products we consume — like wine and cheese, for instance. Here, we get a peek behind the curtain, with opportunities to see how milk products make their way from ranch to retail. “It’s a central part of the identity of the Hill Country,” Giglio says. “We’re blessed with a place that can sustain animals and fruits and also a population that wants to see it and be part of it.”
Must-try flavors: Chocolate (using scratch-made chocolate), Corn and Blackberry Crema
Clear River Ice Cream, Bakery & Deli - Fredericksburg
Headed out to the Hill Country? Design your itinerary around a stop at Clear River for “super premium” small-batch ice cream. Using high quality ingredients and fresh fruit and nuts, Clear River offers dozens of flavors with Texas flair, ranging from Snickerdoodle and German Chocolate Cake to Peaches n’ Cream and Pecan Pie.
Must-try flavors: Amaretto Peach and Pecan, Chocolate Pecan, Peach Sherbert, and pretty much anything with pecans and/or peaches!
Central Market Small Batch Craft Ice Cream
Central Market loyalists know not to skip over the store’s frozen section! During the summer, look for an explosion of delicious seasonal flavors in the Central Market super premium craft ice cream lineup. Their small-batch ice cream features recipes using regionally sourced ingredients, like blackberries, pecans and honey, and 16 percent butterfat for extra creaminess.
Must-try flavors: Goat Cheese and Texas Honey; Sweet Corn and Blackberry Jam; Pecan Praline Bourbon and Strawberry Thyme