Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Pittsburgh furry Rhythm poses inside Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor.

“Where’s the best ice cream in Pittsburgh?"

Throughout the summer, this is a question asked by locals and visitors alike. It reignites a never-ending debate with no right answer. There’s no “best” because Pittsburgh has it all: old-timey scoop shops that have been around for decades, roadside storefronts twisting the perfect soft serve, and ice cream that resembles a science experiment, scraped flat and rolled into a swirl.  Each shop has its own niche, its own personality, and its own flavor. 

In a city full of ice cream, here are a few spots doing something different. It's an incomplete list, but if you're looking for something a little unorthodox, it's a good place to start. 

The Candy Shop - Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor
2801 Penn Ave., Strip District. klavonsicecream.com

Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor opened in 1923 as a neighborhood apothecary and ice cream shop. And more than 90 years later, you can still swing on bar stools while sipping on a milkshake with two straws and nibbling on penny candy. It’s a soda-shop time machine.

Klavon’s interior may travel back to the Jazz Age, but its ice cream doesn’t. There are the classics — floats, milkshakes, and ice cream sodas — along with a long bill of inventive sundaes (peanut butter and jelly, anyone?) and quite possibly its best creation, ice cream pizza. Yes, that’s right. Klavon’s, only by pre-order, stacks its ice cream on top of a Prantl’s Bakery cookie. With five cookie options and 10 ice cream options, the combinations are limitless. It’s a Pittsburgher’s dream come true, two beloved ‘Burgh businesses coming together for a sweet, tasty union. 

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop
CP photo: Maggie Weaver

The "Just Happens To Be Vegan" - Rooted Ice Cream
Emma Neely started Rooted Ice Cream in her apartment.

In 2018, with nothing but an ice cream maker she bought at Goodwill and a love for the frozen treat, Neely took her first steps toward Rooted, Pittsburgh’s latest vegan, small-batch ice cream brand. 

She uses a cashew base with just a touch of coconut oil (the flavor isn’t detectable). Her flavors incorporate the artisanal side of ice cream — black sesame with a rose vanilla swirl, roasted pistachio, and fig — but her plain vanilla evokes nostalgia. It tastes like family gatherings, when someone drags out a worn ice cream maker and hours later, dishes out the perfect vanilla. 

This summer, Neely has a residency at the Butterwood Bake Consortium in Lawrenceville and sells her pints at farmer’s markets across the city. Come fall, look out for a possible ice cream CSA.

For now, Neely’s content serving up good ice cream that “just happens to be vegan.”

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop
CP photo: Maggie Weaver

The Roadside Assistants - Page Dairy Mart
4112 E. Carson St., South Side. pagedairymart.net

The options at Page Dairy Mart are endless. Its soft serve goes way beyond chocolate and vanilla — though Page's vanilla is truly one of the best in the city — with options for amaretto, pina colada, key lime pie (with graham cracker crumbs), cheesecake, pistachio, and more.

 But sundaes are the shop’s primary claim-to-fame. If you've been in the market for a hot apple dumpling sundae, look no further than Page's. Plus, city-themed flavors abound: The Yinzer sundae sports a blonde brownie from A-La-Carte in Pleasant Hills; the new Grandview sundae offers slices of cake from Grandview Bakery; waffles from Waffleonia in Squirrel Hill adorn the Belgian waffle sundae; and the milkshakes can be ordered "South Side" with a scoop of vanilla and a sundae topping of your choice on top. 

They are even able to source cookies from the coveted ovens of Nancy B’s in Homestead. One of the bakery’s famous chocolate chip cookies is warmed, then placed on the side of a mound of Page’s soft serve. Hot fudge and whipped cream top it off, making for a delicious, truly Pittsburgh treat.

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop
CP photo: Sam Weaver

The Sweet Fleet - Millie’s
Millie’s Shadyside, 232 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside.
Millie’s Market Square, 246 Forbes Ave., Downtown.
Summer of Softserve, 6425 Penn Ave., Bakery Square.

You can’t talk about Pittsburgh ice cream without mentioning Millie’s.

Originally planned to be wholesale-only, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream has quickly grown into a small fleet of pop-ups, scoop shops, and an adorable 1974 Morrison Bedford ice cream van.

Millie's ice cream, as a whole, is incredible. Flavors rotate and can be served in homemade waffle cones. (They are hard to resist; the whole shop smells like fresh waffles.) It’s the vegan options that keep me — not a vegan — coming back for more. 

Millie’s vegan ice cream doesn’t taste plant-based. There’s no grainy texture left in your mouth or a not-so-subtle addition of coconut. The vegan dark chocolate is one of the richest, most satisfyingly chocolate scoops I have ever eaten. 

It's also one of the only shops to offer dairy-free soft serve. At the summertime pop-up in Bakery Square, Summer of Soft Serve, Millie’s twists a non-dairy flavor every day. It’s not your typical soft serve. It’s better. 

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop
CP photo: Maggie Weaver

The Innovators - Sugar Spell Scoops
1014 N. Canal St., Sharpsburg. Sugarspellscoops.com

Sugar Spell Scoops has spaghetti and meatballs in its freezer.  Or, at least what looks like spaghetti. In reality, it’s cheesecake ice cream strung out to look like noodles, topped with red sauce — aka strawberry jam — and two chocolate ice cream meatballs.

This “'sketti and meatballs” sums up Sugar Spell Scoops' vibe pretty well: a little wacky, whimsical, and completely fun.

Sugar Spell Scoops started in 2016 as a pop-up. Owner Amanda Burk introduced her line of vegan ice cream to crowds at VegFest, and as one of the first all-vegan ice cream options in Pittsburgh, her scoops were in high demand. Three years later, Burk opened a brick-and-mortar shop in Sharpsburg.

Her childlike creativity shines in the flavors, like Dunkaroos or Cosmic Brownie. Sugar Spell Scoops takes the pretension out of vegan dessert while maintaining quality. It’s a little zany, but always tasty, and always fun. 

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's confectionary [ice] cream of the crop
CP photo: Maggie Weaver

The Sandwich Specialists - Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches
Multiple locations. leonaspgh.com

Katie Heldstab and Christa Puskarich take ice cream sandwiches to a whole new level. Eating one sandwich requires two hands. They’re huge — an entire half-cup of ice cream is stuffed between two homemade cookies — and seriously delicious.

Leona’s is built on a stand-out foundation: giving an ice cream option to “every belly.” Heldstab is lactose intolerant, which was part of the motivation behind Leona’s. Every pint and every sandwich is 100 percent real dairy and 100 percent lactose free. 

Leona’s cookies and ice cream, though stunning solo, are even better together. The duo’s flavor combinations — rhubarb on brown sugar shortbread, honeycomb on double chocolate chunk — are simple and expertly crafted. There’s nothing else like them.