Anyone who ends up on Capitol Hill with an ice cream craving has some very tough decisions to make.
Over the course of the 2010s, ten square blocks of Capitol Hill have played host to a veritable ice cream renaissance. Of course there’s Molly Moon’s—one of their massive scoops on a homemade waffle cone is practically a rite of passage for incoming freshmen—but they’re one among many. There’s Bluebird and Old School and Cupcake Royale, there’s D’Ambrosio Gelato (now operated as a franchise within Gnocchi Bar) and newbie Kurt’s Farm Shop and one vegan scoop shop to come.
Artisan ice cream has been cited as a 2015 food trend, but Capitol Hill’s creameries seem to scream that ice cream will always be a classic.
“Ice cream’s been going on for a long time. It’s just good,” said Kurt Timmermeister, whose farm shop opened in the new Chophouse Row development earlier this month. His ice cream is about as small-batch as it gets, with all the milk and some of the eggs sourced directly from his Vashon Island farm.
Timmermeister makes his ice cream base—the mixture of milk, sugar, cream and eggs that underlies all specialty ice cream—from scratch, before stirring in locally-sourced add-ins like salted plums, fresh mint, and rhubarb.
Many of Timmermeister’s peers share his passion for local sourcing.
“There are actually lots of other reasons [aside from the artisan ice cream trend] we put the thought and care that we do into our ingredients and flavors,” said Molly Moon’s spokeswoman Emilia Arnold in an emailed statement. “Using locally-grown ingredients is better for the environment… it also gives us the chance to support local farmers.”
As Bluebird Ice Cream’s Josh Reynolds sees it, responsible sourcing has one other notable benefit: taste.
“Ours isn’t cheap ice cream, but it’s really special. And there’s a time and a place if you want cheap ice cream, I’m not against it!” Reynolds said. “But I think Bluebird Ice Cream is something special because we really use the best ingredients.
Reynolds cites his shop as one of the first of its kind to open on Capitol Hill, back in 2009. According to Reynolds, an uncertain economic climate is actually good for the ice cream business.
“It was right at the height of the recession. Ice cream is a small-ticket item, and it’s a happy item,” Reynolds said. “In uncertain times, it’s a low-priced happy thing that makes you feel good.”
Time Magazine also reported an uptick in ice cream sales nationally in 2010.
A few other creameries opened alongside Bluebird, including Molly Moon’s, which set up shop just a few months before. Arnold cited the neighborhood’s density and diversity as a factor in the store’s success.
“Our Capitol Hill shop draws college students, young professionals on dates, families with kids, school groups, empty nesters, concert-goers, you name it,” Arnold said.
Old School Frozen Custard, which specializes in a high-density version of ice cream with a high proportion of egg yolks, also opened just after the recession.
“Of all the areas that we looked at, we felt that Capitol Hill was the best location for a small, independent type of business,” said manager and part-owner Rick Drouet.
While most of the hill’s ice cream shops do surprisingly good business in the cold months, they really hit their stride in the summertime.
At Bluebird, the summer will bring a handful of new collaborations with local companies like Ballard Bee Company, as well as a presence at Capitol Hill Block Party (last year, that pairing begot a popular new flavor: A$AP Rocky Road).
As for Molly Moon’s, local farm collaborations will bring a slew of special flavors: vegan cherry chunk with Theo Chocolate and local cherries, a Skagit Valley blueberry lemon custard, and a Washington watermelon sorbet. They also plan to sponsor KEXP’s Concerts at the Mural, and will be serving scoops at shows every Friday in August.
For Timmermeister, the summer could bring new flavors and later nights, but no major plans to expand beyond his 300-square-foot space.
Caroline may be contacted at [email protected]