Buffalo’s ice cream shops are a lot like the city itself: historically underrated and off-the-radar. Buffalo wings and beef on weck have traditionally gotten all the attention from food-loving visitors, while old school ice cream parlors and roadside stands have often gone unnoticed.
But just as Buffalo is experiencing a renaissance, so is its frozen dessert culture. Classic ice cream parlors that have spent years making creamy concoctions with milk from local dairy farms and perfecting homemade toppings have been joined by innovative newcomers who have broadened the city’s palate by introducing new ingredients and exotic flavors that excite even the most adventurous eater.
Go ahead, order a traditional Buffalo meal of pizza and wings, but make sure to save room for dessert.
Antoinette’s has spent more than a century perfecting every detail of the ice cream experience. Four generations of the Morphis family have owned and operated this confectionery staple since 1915, and each has instilled in the next the importance of maintaining quality – of never compromising top-notch ingredients, producing ice cream in small batches and every topping except the nuts in-house.
The aroma of freshly made chocolate greets customers as soon as they walk into the candy store and ice cream parlor in Depew, where Antoinette’s has been located since 1958. Wood paneling and neon signage line the walls, and rows of glass and tin ice cream sundae bowls cover the shelf behind the ice cream counter.
The scene stealer here may be the sundae toppings. The whipped cream – squeezed on by staff from a pastry bag – is fluffy, pillowy and puts any can of Redi Whip to shame. Custom made sundaes with add-ons like homemade hot fudge, peanut butter sauce and marshmallow topping produce a symphony of flavors out of this world. Antoinette’s access to ingredients in its candy store makes its ice cream and sundae toppings all the more unique. With nearly 20 different topping options and a dozen ice cream flavors to choose– from a potent cinnamon to coconut with real coconut pieces inside –the possibilities here are endless.
A glass of water accompanies every sundae order – a nice touch in for a Buffalo institution that knows as much about ice cream as anywhere in Western New York.
Nearly every small town has a seasonal ice cream stand – a place to park, get out of the car, grab a cone and watch a summer afternoon go by. But few can lay claim to a stand as storied as Hibbard’s Original Frozen Custard, a staple of the village of Lewiston since 1939.
Hibbard’s often surprises first-time customers who expect their custard to be twisted out of a machine; employees scoop it out of a cooler instead. The hand-dipped custard’s texture – richer than soft serve, smoother and creamier than hard serve – is in a league of its own in this part of the state. Hibbard’s makes custard fresh on-site every day and uses considerably less air than average when producing it, resulting in a denser product that needs to be scooped.
Not much has changed since Harold Hibbard first started scooping custard from the same spot eight decades ago; Hibbard’s even still uses one of its original ice cream machines. The stand rotates over five dozen different varieties and serves six at any one time; can’t-miss options include vanilla, which uses a proprietary extract found nowhere else, and peach, the perfect combination with the Niagara County Peach Festival taking place across the street each September.
The Hibbard family knows a thing or two about longevity – its ancestors were among Lewiston’s first settlers in the early 1800s. If the long lines on summer days and legendary reputation are any indication, Hibbard’s – now in its third generation of family ownership – will be scooping its custard for a long time to come.
The aroma of freshly roasted pecans and cashews often greets customers entering King Condrell’s Candy & Ice Cream. Owner Rick King spares no detail in creating the ultimate ice cream sundaes – right down to roasting the nuts in-house that top some of his confectionary treats.
King and his manager Karen Nowak have been making all the sundae toppings themselves since they first purchased the store over 20 years ago – from fresh whipped cream concocted multiple times a day to the apple topping that’s an autumn favorite– and just started producing their own ice cream in early 2017, meticulously finding the exact vanilla flavor that would pair perfectly with their signature hot fudge recipe handed down from original owner Nick Condrell. King wouldn’t have it any other way. The Buffalo native was an apprentice of Clarence Drescher, who ran Drescher’s candy store on Buffalo’s East Side for over 50 years and taught King the importance of hard work and maintaining the highest quality ingredients.
The size of some Condrell’s sundaes also stands apart: the “Ultimate Brain Freeze,” ten scoops of ice cream with strawberry and pineapple topping, bananas, whipped cream and nuts, is a treat only eight people have finished in its 16 years on the menu (there’s a free T-shirt and bragging rights for anyone who does), while the shareable “Kitchen Sink” is 16 scoops of ice cream (there are more than two dozen flavors altogether) served inside a portable sink that King constructed himself. For a more modest treat, try “The Turtle,” a menu staple since Condrell’s first opened a half-century ago, with vanilla, hot fudge, housemade caramel sauce, whipped cream and roasted pecans combining to create a perfect symphony of creamy, salty, sugary goodness.
King Condrell’s remodeled in recent years to resemble a vintage ice cream parlor: candy-themed photos and posters, including Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland sharing an ice cream float and a “Golden Ticket” guaranteeing admission to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory hang from the walls. But it’s the commitment to quality and house made ingredients that will really bring customers at King Condrell’s back to another era.
Browsing the handwritten menu on the wall of Lake Effect Ice Cream is akin to taking a food tour of Western New York.
There’s the Revolution Coffee, blended with a fine, Turkish ground roasted at Buffalo’s Public Espresso. The Paula’s Glazed Donut features chunks of real fry cake baked at the region’s most popular donut shop. Other local options incorporate sponge candy – Buffalo’s favorite confectionary treat – from Platter’s Chocolates and Crystal Beach Loganberry. And the same cinnamon and sugar crumbles that E.M. Chrusciki Bakery sprinkles onto its Polish pastries cover the “El Guapo” sundae.
Neighborliness – working with nearby businesses to create flavors found nowhere else – is the scoop at Lake Effect, which has evolved from a seasonal hobby into one of the region’s most recognizable brands. Owners Jason Wulf and Erik Bernardi are next door neighbors and teachers at Lockport High School who began making ice cream during their summers off. They’ve grown from selling their first pint at a craft show more than a decade ago to operating two locations and distributing their product to local grocery stores.
Lake Effect’s hard serve has a higher than average butterfat content – 14 percent – and is less airy than most ice cream, resulting in a richer, creamier product. Indecisive customers don’t have to settle on one flavor: they can order a “Flight of Five” small scoops – a nod to the five Erie Canal locks near the store’s flagship Lockport location – or a Flight of Nine.
Buffalo’s soft serve game hadn’t changed much for decades until a newcomer arrived in 2017 and churned up the scene.
There’s something about Churn’s custard that stands apart. Maybe it’s the milk sourced from grass-fed cows just a few hours down the road. Or the toppings, from cinnamon coated churros whose aroma fills the store to bits of Aztec brownie and cookies, baked on site by one of Buffalo’s most renowned pastry chefs and adorning highly Instagrammable sundaes. Or that vegan coconut is one of its most popular flavors. This new kid on the block is doing things differently and producing custard that might be Buffalo’s smoothest, creamiest yet – with a lasting flavor that lingers on the tongue.
Churn owners Chris Dorsaneo and Pete Cimino have trailblazed a career out of the unconventional, founding Buffalo’s premier, taco-slinging food truck, Lloyd, in 2010. Their first restaurant, Lloyd Taco Factory, opened on Hertel five years later, followed soon after by the interconnected Churn. The pair describe Churn as “Lloyd’s little sister” and modeled the shop’s interior after a late 1980s teenage girl’s bedroom, complete with walls painted bright yellow and pink and New Wave tunes on the radio.
With acclaimed pastry chef Jennifer Boye helming day-to-day operations, Churn is concocting some of Buffalo’s most innovative frozen treats, from the “de La Lloyd” cone (coffee soft serve made with local Public Espresso Coffee covered in homemade Aztec Brownie bites, oreo crumbs and spice dust) to the “Carmelicious” sundae (Vanilla, bananas “foster style,” churros and whipped cream). The unusual pairing of Lloyd and Churn, of tacos and ice cream, has quickly caught on in this corner of North Buffalo, a testament to the owners’ motto that “If you make what you love, it always goes well.”
Some teenagers get the keys to the family car when they turn 16. Nick Charlap received the keys to his family’s ice cream making facility.
Charlap grew up next door to Charlap’s Dairy Farms Inc., a milk plant his grandfather built in the rolling hills of Boston, 25 minutes south of Buffalo, in the early 1960s. Nearly 20 dairy farmers from the surrounding fields in the Southtowns drove up in pickups to drop off their milk that Charlap’s pasteurized, bottled, and shipped off to surrounding businesses. Charlap’s added ice cream to its production by 1974, and placed young Nick in charge soon after.
After a 42-year career that had more twists and turns than a soft serve cone, Nick Charlap is still making ice cream and has branched out to several locations across Buffalo, including one where his grandfather’s dairy plant started all those years ago. Nick Charlap’s still uses the same Crepaco freezer- one of two of its kind left in the country – to make its ice cream just as it did back then, and its original three flavors (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry) have expanded to nearly four dozen varieties.
Charlap’s vanilla ice cream, a closely guarded family recipe, is a base for nearly a quarter of those flavors. Nick Charlap has scoured other ice cream spots to sample their vanilla and has yet to find one he likes more. It’s easy to see why; the vanilla in the hard serve immediately jumps out and complements longtime flavors like the cashew caramel crunch – a menu staple since the 1980s – perfectly. And the vanilla milkshake – made with 14 percent butterfat ice cream and whole milk – is irresistibly thick, sweet and creamy.
Charlap’s Angola, Kenmore and Hamburg locations are seasonal outdoor stands, while the original Boston location runs from March through December and features a 50s-themed parlor with black and white tiled floors, stainless steel walls and Johnny Cash on the radio. Customers don’t just keep coming back because of Charlap’s remarkable quality and consistency. They’re also returning to experience the legacy of Nick Charlap, who turned a teenage passion into one of Western New York’s most recognizable ice cream brands.