I’ve lived in Washington, DC for seven (non-consecutive) years, so I don’t know why it took me so long to visit Max’s Best Ice Cream. Located north of Georgetown in the Glover Park neighborhood, Max’s has been dishing out homemade ice cream for over twenty years. Their list of clientele is impressive; Vice-President Joe Bide, Andre Agassi, and First Lady Michelle Obama are all fans.
This past Saturday, my friend Anna drove K and me back to DC after a long afternoon of tubing on the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Anna had the brilliant idea of stopping for dessert when we hit the District, and I suggested we test out the ice cream at Max’s. After all, Anna and I have been enjoying ice cream together since high school, when Anna would often join my family on evening trips to Rota-Spring Farm. And now – a couple years and graduate degrees later – here we were in DC, seeking out a homemade ice-cream shop on a balmy night in the nation’s capitol.
We had no trouble finding Max’s Best Ice Cream; the bright neon signs and large storefront window make it hard to miss. And even though it was quite late (nearly 11pm), a number of patrons were lingering both inside and on the sidewalk. Before I even opened the glass door, I spotted a thick head of shocking-white hair behind the counter. After seeing a couple photos of Max online, I knew this was the famous owner himself!
The ice-cream shop itself is colorful and memorable, but not quite as colorful or memorable as the man behind the counter. Max is a white-haired spitfire who serves up his ice cream with a side of humor in a thick Persian accent. When I asked Max which of the twenty-plus flavors was the best, and he replied that every ice cream was his favorite. “It’s like choosing a favorite child. You never hear your parents saying ‘I like you best!'” Well said, Max. Well said.
Anna and I were both feeling indecisive; every flavor sounded delicious! Thankfully, Max waited patiently as we debated our choices. When Anna asked for samples, and Max happily handed us big ol’ bites on little sticks. I have a theory that the bigger the sample at an ice cream shop, the more the owner loves his or her ice cream. I just tried one sample, the Orange Chocolate Chocolate Chip (or “OC3”, as the sign noted). It was delicious; rich chocolate ice cream with an essence of orange and nice bites of chocolate bits. I nearly ordered a full size of it, but I went with my gut and picked the Mozambique – which supposedly had “cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.” Anna decided to stick with one of her all-time favorite flavors, Coffee Oreo.
While Anna ordered a small cup with hot fudge, I went all out and asked for a sundae – but with Heath bar chunks instead of hot fudge. After dropping a generous scoop of ice cream into my bowl, Max he headed to the freezer and pulled out a large metal bowl full of freshly-whipped cream. No cans of fake cream at Max’s. Anna put it best when she whispered “Now THAT is true love.”
We paid around $6.50 for the small sundae and $5 for the single scoop with fudge sauce. That’s not cheap, but Max’s prices are pretty much par for the course here in DC. And I’m always happy to fork over some extra cash for locally-made ice cream.
The verdict? This is homemade ice cream at its best. Max’s ice cream is firm yet velvety-smooth, rich yet refreshing, and sweet yet complex. In his Mozambique ice cream, Max manages to create an extraordinary flavor using just three of the most-common baking spices. When I ordered the flavor, I figured it would taste like a fancy cinnamon ice cream… but it really didn’t. The best way I can describe the taste of Mozambique is like my mom’s pumpkin pie… minus the pumpkin. While most pumpkin pie recipes call for more cinnamon than other spices, my mom achieves a slightly-spicy flavor by using more nutmeg and cloves in her pies. Because I grew up in a kitchen where spice ratios were taken very seriously, I appreciated Max’s mastery of flavor combinations. Each bite of ice cream kept my taste buds interested. And the lightly-sweetened homemade whipped cream and chunks of Heath bar were – to use a dessert metaphor – just the icing on the cake. Oh – and Anna raved about the strong espresso flavor in her scoop of Coffee Oreo. We’ve already made a pact to return next month for the fall debut of Max’s Spicy Pumpkin, and I’d bet money that I leave the store with a pint or two to enjoy at home.*
Max’s Ice Cream
2416 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007
*NOTE: While searching online for Max’s phone number to include in this post, I was shocked to learn that Max is currently fighting to retain his 20-year-old lease in Glover Park. Apparently, Max might have to shut his doors on October 31st, as the BBQ joint next door is aiming to take over his lease in order to expand. The details are a bit unclear, but the Glover Park community has been rallying behind Max. I found this Change.org petition asking the leasing company to allow Max to keep his lease and stay in business. If you visit or live in DC, please consider signing this petition to ensure that you, too, can experience ice cream at Max’s!