Bostonians are known for year-round devotion to ice cream, but last winter challenged even the hardiest among us. Summer always means delicious dripping cones and the full array of frozen desserts. Without going all modernist on us, the area’s urban ice cream shops are offering a striking number of traditional-sounding treats that bear only nominal resemblance to their forebears, but are no less satisfying or fun to eat. And there are still plenty of options for the purists.
Ice cream sandwiches seem to be everywhere, but those rectangular blocks with soggy chocolate wafers and frozen vanilla-flavored middles so many of us grew up eating (and loving) have been given a facelift. The updates come on freshly baked cookies and feature a generous scoop, rather than a solid brick, of ice cream (or frozen yogurt). The Cookie Monstah truck offers some of the best iterations. Sandwiches are generously portioned, with 4 to 6 ounces of Richardson’s Ice Cream from Middleton or frozen yogurt between two ample cookies. Four to five specials are available every day, and customers can create their own combinations. Some of the most creative pairings have come from customer suggestions, writes owner Melissa Gale in an e-mail, citing salted caramel cookies with coconut ice cream and “Oreo-stuffed chocolate-chip cookies with coffee Oreo for a gigantic super sandwich.” Cookies are chewy and delicious, a perfect foil to the ice cream. Be sure to grab a couple of spoons from the truck. These thick sandwiches are not really finger food. The Cookie Monstah, 617-615-6595, check www.thecookiemonstah.com
In South Boston, Mohamed Nahas bakes the cookies for ice cream sandwiches at his Molly Moo’s ice cream shop, which opened in March. Gargantuan, but hard to stop eating, with roughly 8 ounces of ice cream sandwiched between chocolate-chip, oatmeal, or other cookies, these are definitely best shared. Nahas serves Gifford’s ice cream from Skowhegan, Maine, a fifth-generation family-owned business that uses milk and cream from local farms. “I really wanted to have a relationship with a farm,” says Nahas. Nahas has been making ice cream cake pops, surrounding small (2-ounce) scoops of ice cream with orbs of frosted cake and dipping the whole assembly, on a stick, in warm chocolate, then adding sprinkles or crushed nuts. The result is a pop, but don’t even try to eat it on the stick. Molly Moo’s, 687 East 2nd St., South Boston, 774-225-1003, www.mollymoosquincy.com
In a European twist, Amorino, Boston’s imported-from-France gelato shop in the Back Bay, offers eight flavors of gelato-filled macarons, each a delectable two- or three-bite treat. The dramatic contrast between the petite macarons and bulging-in-the-middle ice cream sandwiches could be a metaphor for the difference in sensibilities between our two cultures. Or simply two delicious options, depending on your mood and location. Amorino, 249 Newbury St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-585-3185, www.amorino.com
At Toscanini’s Ice Cream in Central Square, Cambridge, where ice cream flavors like khulfee, cardamom-ginger, and green tea are inspired by the beloved shop’s international customer base, don’t miss the brioche ice cream sandwich. If it isn’t on the menu, ask for it. Owner Gus Rancatore says he started reading about this Sicilian breakfast combination (in Italy it’s made with gelato) about three years ago. “[Ice cream] didn’t seem that different than cream cheese,” he reasoned. At Toscanini’s they use Iggy’s brioche buns and drizzle hot fudge over the ice cream. Maybe a bit rich for breakfast. Or not. If you ask, Alex Aroyan, who calls himself “primarily a barista,” will make you an ice cream soda. The shop doesn’t have a CO2 system, like traditional soda fountains, but it can make do mixing sparkling water into syrup and cream until it foams, then perching a scoop of ice cream on the side of the cup to produce a delicious version of an old favorite. Toscanini’s Ice Cream, 899 Main St., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-491-5877, www.tosci.com
Summertime birthday? Anniversary? Fourth of July party? You can’t go wrong with an ice cream cake (actually, you can never go wrong with an ice cream cake). Selections from Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream and Bowling Lanes in Hyde Park can serve anywhere from 12 to 65 people (the larger size must be custom ordered). Decorated by owner Ron Covitz’s daughter, Julie Shanks, the confections are as beautiful as they are delicious. The shop always stocks its three standard flavors, with one layer each of cake, ice cream, and fudge sauce. But custom orders are limited only by the recipients’ imaginations. Covitz says the shop is happy to combine two layers of ice cream with a layer of cake, two layers of cake, change the sauce, or go full-dairy-hold-the-cake. “It’s a pleasure doing it,” he says of the 35-year-old business. On-site parties, with bowling and pizza, naturally include a cake. Ron’s has a second, smaller (ice cream-only) location in Dedham. Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream, 1231 Hyde Park Ave., Hyde Park, 617-364-5274; 559 High St., Dedham, 781-326-8664, www.ronsicecream.com
Though cupcake mania has calmed down from its peak of a couple of years ago, its influence is still felt. At Jimmies Ice Cream Cafe in Roslindale, where an awning out front declares, “Ice cream fixes everything!,” ice cream cupcakes are a relatively new menu addition. In fact, the person answering the phone on a recent afternoon is surprised a caller knows about them, since the shop’s ice cream cakes have always been highlighted. The cupcakes — which, let’s face it, are more likely to be a spur-of-the-moment indulgence, requiring neither occasion nor crowd — are available as all ice cream or little ice-cream-filled cakes. The ice cream comes from Richardson’s; the cake is made in-house, and decorating is done in the shop as well. Jimmies Ice Cream Cafe, 48A Corinth Street, Roslindale, 617-325-0191, www.jimmiesicecreamcafe.com
For something a little different, Emack & Bolio’s offers a 12-inch ice cream pizza with vanilla-bean ice cream spread on a brownie crust, drizzled with fudge sauce and dotted with the shop’s own chocolate-raspberry hearts, candy confetti, and, in a nod to its late ’70s rock-’n’-roll roots, a chocolate peace sign. It comes in a pizza box with a Peter Max-style design. Kinda groovy and a bit retro. Emack & Bolio’s locations, www.emackandbolios.com
Speaking of retro, you can’t go much further back than an ice cream cone. And in recognition of its Union Square location, Somerville newcomer Gracie’s will dip the top of its cones in marshmallow fluff, invented right in the neighborhood, then torch the sticky stuff to an irresistible golden brown. Any flavor of ice cream goes with that, but malted-mint hot-chocolate called out on a recent visit. Co-owner Aaron Cohen says chocolate fluff is another favorite flavor, with any cone. In this famously ice cream-centric community, there is something for every craving — even if you didn’t realize you were craving it. Gracie’s,
22 Union Square, Somerville, 617-764-5294, www.graciesicecre.am
Andrea Pyenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.