Many obsessive ice-cream hobbyists will tell you that they have a “bucket list,” or list of ice cream shops they’d like to visit during their lifetime. I don’t exactly have a bucket list (I want to try them all!), but there are some iconic ice cream shops that I dream of visiting. These include Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s original location in Columbus, Ohio, Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon, the Penn State Creamery (where you can take a 7 day ice-cream science course), and a handful of others. Up until last month, Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco was high on that list.
Bi-Rite Creamery started out as a local neighborhood favorite in San Francisco’s Mission District, but it has gained national notoriety in recent years. Heck, one of the owners has even appeared on the Martha Stewart Show! The Creamery opened in 2006 as part of the Bi-Rite Market, a historic family-owned business across the street, and quickly took off. Co-owners Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker share a commitment to locally grown and organic ingredients, and their ice creams are made by hand in small batches. They were two of the pioneers of the “locally sourced” movement that’s so popular among the trendy ice cream shops today
I finally got my chance to visit Bi-Rite Creamy during a recent work trip to San Francisco. I arrived a day early so I could grab dinner with a college roommate who lives in the Bay Area. Because of the time difference, I arrived in San Francisco with plenty of time to kill before dinner. It was a abnormally warm, summery day in San Francisco and ice cream sounded like a great way to cool off.
The Mission District was quick BART ride from my hotel on Union Square. The neighborhood was particularly busy this Sunday afternoon, and the people watching entertained me on the short walk to Bi-Rite Creamery. I knew that I was getting close when I passed the Bi-Rite Market, which looked smaller than I’d anticipated but so packed with shoppers that I didn’t dare venture inside.
I spotted the waiting line before I saw the Bi-Rite Creamery itself. For 3:30pm on a winter afternoon, this line was seriously impressive. Okay, it was 80 degrees out, but still! Luckily, the line moved fairly quickly and I soon found myself inside. On any given day, there are well over a dozen flavors available at Bi-Rite. Some are staples of the menu, like Vanilla and Chocolate but also their famous Salted Caramel, Honey Lavender, and Balsamic Strawberry flavors. Whereas the Orange Cardamom, Earl Grey, and Maple Walnut were late-winter specials.
I had a difficult time picking flavors; the Roasted Banana with fudge swirl was very tempting. And if I didn’t have to avoid gluten, I would have definitely tried the infamous Ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle cookie pieces). In the end, I decided on the seasonal Crème Brûlée and the vegan Chocolate Coconut ice cream (made with local TCHO chocolate). Because so many people in my life are lactose-intolerant or vegan, I pay attention to non-dairy options. This one looked too good to pass up.
The verdict? I have to admit that Bi-Rite Creamery is worth the hype! I was already impressed with the variety of flavors and the accommodations for special diets. But it was the ice cream itself that truly had me “wowed.” The Crème Brûlée was amazing. It has everything I love about the traditional dessert: a thick custard base and plenty of shards of blow-torched caramelized sugar. Like the real thing, this ice cream is seriously rich. It’s not something I could eat every day, but it was incredibly flavorful and fun to eat. I later learned that this flavor was created by Chase Cho, who won a recipe competition hosted by Bi-Rite. And I can see why this one! The vegan Chocolate Coconut also exceeded any expectations I had. While many coconut milk-based ice creams are heavy and dense, this one was light and velvety. The chocolate flavor was definitely predominant, with slight coconut undertones. I’d definitely recommend this to anybody who loves ice cream but avoids dairy.
All in all, Bi-Rite Creamery was everything I had hoped for. An innovative company with a serious commitment to fresh local ingredients and unique (yet authentic) flavors. I’m already looking out for an opportunity to return.
3692 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110