by Rich Eber
In an era where few people can be found without an iPod or smartphone, one aspect of classic American culture that is still going strong is the neighborhood ice cream parlor. These relics of yesteryear have managed eternal popularity by converting customers into families full of smiles. As Phyllis Diller once said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
I decided it’s time to find the cream of this creamery crop. So I went on an exploratory mission, searching beyond the 31 flavors worlds. My goal, to identify Diablo Valley’s most preferred purveyors of this creamy intoxication. Where are these titans who tantalize our taste buds with palatable perfection?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to go far. In Concord, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill, I found several locales that offer ice cream enthusiasts a satisfying selection of unique flavors and textures.
Rick’s Rather Rich in the Willows Shopping Center in Concord is one of those places. They began producing products in Palo Alto in 1956 using a rich cream base (which is why they call themselves Rick’s Rather Rich) using milk from local dairies. The rest of their formula consists of high-quality ingredients such as rose syrup imported from India, saffron imported from Spain, pure vanilla imported from Indonesia and Madagascar, nuts and fruits that are grown locally in California and E. A. Guittard chocolates from Burlingame.
Rick’s is a mixture of new and old. Known for their original recipes such as Salty Caramel, Industrial Chocolate and Coffee Molasses Chip, Rick’s team is always cranking out new flavor experimentations. Some of their most recent are Masala Chai, Mango, and Toffeeness.
They try to cater to all ages and ethnicity. Choices such as Lavender Honey, Kulfi (Indian flavor made with rose water and spices) appeal to different ethnic populations. Rick’s prepares several flavors especially aimed at kids. Most notable are Blue Moon, which tastes like fruit loops, Cotton Candy, and Red Velvet cake, thus tackling the basic flavors of today’s breakfast cereals. You can peruse their entire menu of 48 flavors of gourmet ice cream and sorbet on their website at www.ricksicecream.com.
For a totally homemade experience, we have Lottie’s Creamery on 1414 North Main in Walnut Creek. The brainchild of Deb Philips, Lottie’s has been around for three years. Virtually everything in the shop including the waffle cones is made in-house. Ice cream Chef Alex Logemann delights in demonstrating the many steps involved in making each flavor.
Organic heavy whipping cream mixed with half-and-half from Strauss Dairy provides the base for their popular Vanilla Salted Almond Toffee, which contributes about one-third of their sales. The almond toffee component is made separately by hand each day and is added when the ice cream is near completion. Oh man, it’s really “out of this world”. I think that might even be an understatement.
Because of their obsession with quality, Lottie’s produces their product in small 14 quart batches. They offer but a few flavors at a time due to their dependence on seasonal ingredients. Lottie’s also makes several sorbets for those who want fewer calories to feel guilty over.
On to Loards. Loards is a real throwback in time. Located at the square at Todos Santos in Concord, the décor and style reflect how ice cream parlors are remembered 100 years ago or more. In addition to selling cones and sundaes, Loard’s also features candy and accessories from a different era.
Co-Owner Nancy May puts special emphasis on pleasing children and families. The staff wears colorful outfits and puts an enjoyable focus on their presentation of each order. Most premium ice cream is hard because of the 15% content of butterfat. However, Loards offerings are creamy, soft and very flavorful.
Some of Loards more unique flavors include Mocha Almond Fudge, Fresh Banana, Purple Colored Ube Yam (from the Philippines) and the ever-popular Rocky Road, overrun by marshmallows and crunchy nuts.
With my mission near completion, there is one last notable performer – Guanatos. Guanatos is unique in that it features flavors appealing to Latin tastes. Located inside Los Montanas on Monument in Concord and at the shopping Center at Treat and Bancroft, you will find south of the border flavors such as Mango, Guava, Tequila, Coconut, Papaya, Mexican Chocolate, and Tamarind.
Guanatos manufactures their ice cream at their facility in Pittsburgh. Using fresh fruit ingredients blended with the richness of the ice cream, Guanatos stands out and is rewarded with a long parade of return visitors. They also make several varieties of tropical ices and 7 specialty bars, each having a special flavor and texture consistent with the quality associated with Guanatos traditional offerings.
While these local places attract many visitors, there is plenty of competition. The franchise “Cream” which has a store in downtown Walnut Creek is soon scheduled to open a store next to Pete’s Coffee on Salvio in Concord. Rather than merely serving cones, Cream features different combinations of ice cream sandwiches which are made to order.
There you have it. With the determination of a Lewis and Clark expedition, I blazed a path to ice cream parlor paradise. These are my picks for some of the best gourmet ice cream parlors in the area. I’m sure some of you have your favorites that I failed to mention. Feel free to make your recommendations on our website, www.diablogazette.com. We’d love to hear from you.