For a city where a new fitness studio seems to pop up weekly along with a restaurant devoted to clean eating, we San Franciscans still relish our sweet treats. There is no shortage of cupcake shops, patisseries, and artisanal chocolate makers. But come summer (which starts now), a treat that’s sweet and cold often hits the spot. So the opening of two new outposts of the city’s favorite gourmet ice cream shops is perfectly timed. Both Smitten and The Baked Bear opened second locations over the Fourth of July weekend, Smitten on Chestnut Street in the Marina, and The Baked Bear on Columbus Avenue in North Beach.
SMITTEN WITH SMITTEN
Smitten was born and bred in San Francisco, a labor of love by founder Robyn Sue Fisher, an ice cream lover who was dismayed by all of the “unpronounceable ingredients” of preservatives, emulsifiers, and stabilizers that she found in most products. Sure that she could make high-tech ice cream more old fashioned, she set about researching how to make the frozen treat without all the additives necessary to preserve shelf life. Fisher found that freezing ice cream at ultra-low temperatures created a smoother product more quickly. With more research and the help of engineers, she created a one-of-a-kind ice cream machine that uses liquid nitrogen to churn exceptionally small ice crystals resulting in smooth, dense, flavorful ice cream—the kind for which Smitten is known. Fisher called her ice-cream maker Brrr; it already has three patents.
In 2009, Fisher teamed up with pastry chef Robyn Lenzi, and began selling made-to-order ice cream from a Radio Flyer wagon on the streets of the city. The ice cream had such a strong following that Fisher went on to open the first Smitten Ice Cream shop in Hayes Valley in 2011. The chain opened its latest shop on July 2, in what fittingly used to be Eastman Ice Cream on Chestnut Street in the 1930s and 1940s. Local artists created the mural for the shop, and its exposed beams, mezzanine, and outdoor seating with custom-built milk crates hearken back to earlier times.
The ice cream is thoroughly modern, featuring a variety of flavors based on locally available and in-season fruit. Coming in fall (September) is crème fraîche with pear caramel. In the winter you’ll find maple brown sugar pumpkin, and blood orange with pistachio cookies; in the spring there’s lemon gingersnap; and summer offerings include nectarine crisp and sweet corn with berries. Classic vanilla, salted caramel, and TCHO chocolate are always on the menu, and others including choc full o’ mint and berry crisp are often available. Toppings include brown sugar caramel, organic whipped cream, toasted almonds, and many more.
In its new location, Smitten has introduced ice cream sandwiches using a combination of cookie dough with pretzels and vanilla ice cream with Guittard chocolate chips. And you can get an ice cream sundae too, as well as a pint to take home. Prices range from around $5 for a small scoop, to $6-plus for more ice cream and toppings (2268 Chestnut Street, 415-757-6617, smittenicecream.com).
BAKING THE BEST
The Baked Bear is the dream child of childhood friends and co-founders Rob Robbins and Shane Stanger, San Diego natives who had always dreamed of opening a restaurant together. In 2012, the two opened the first Baked Bear, specializing in customizable ice cream sandwiches, in Pacific Beach where lines began forming down the street almost immediately. Robbins and Stanger create their own cookie recipes, baked from scratch in each location and served with house-made craft ice cream.
The Baked Bear opened its first San Francisco location in February 2016 at Fisherman’s Wharf and was an instant hit. Over the Fourth of July Fourth weekend, The Baked Bear opened its second city spot on Columbus Avenue run by co-owner Joseph Halloum and his family. It offers 16 ice cream flavors, all hand made, and more than a dozen cookie varieties.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR SAMMIE
Baked Bear’s ice cream sandwiches are completely customizable. Customers can select a top and bottom—cookie, brownie, or hot glazed donut—in flavors that include regular and gluten-free chocolate chip, red velvet, cookies and cream, and snicker doodle, just to name a few. Then comes the ice cream—everything from chocolate and vanilla to butter pecan, coffee, rocky road, strawberry cheesecake, and salted caramel fudge. Toppings include almonds, fruity pebbles cereal, mint chocolate chips, hot fudge, sprinkles, and whipped cream. The Baked Bear also offers scoops of its ice cream in cones, cups, or waffle cones as well as sundaes and root beer floats. Prices range from about $5 for a cookie sandwich to $5.95 for a donut sandwich. Halloum intends to offer a small selection of dessert wines at the Columbus Street location (303 Columbus Avenue, 415-993-2327, thebakedbear.com).
In the famous words of the 1927 song: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” — now you know exactly where to go for the best.