It’s hot. It’s as simple as that. And whether you’re eight or 80, the best way to beat this insufferable heat is with a big, drippy ice cream cone. To that end, it’s a no-brainer to head up to Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor, from 14th to Summit Ave., where there are enough frozen treats to satisfy an Augustus Gloop-sized appetite. By my count, there are at least a half-dozen dedicated ice cream shops, some of the city’s best, within a ten-minute walk.
Seriously, the choices are effectively endless (if you value your health). Just want classic strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla? Hit Seattle staples like Molly Moon’s. Want to have your ice cream and eat cake too? Seek out Cupcake Royale. Want soft serve? Head to Old School Frozen Custard, Trove, or Rachel’s Ginger Beer, where you can even get a float.
But because there’s really only so much ice cream one can eat in an hour, this crawl focuses on three of the more, shall we say, eclectic shops: boundary-pushing Salt and Straw, vegan dream Frankie and Jo’s, and ultra-local Kurt Farm Shop. Sure, you can find some kind of chocolate or vanilla, but that chocolate might also have zucchini in it, and the vanilla will definitely be spiked with nutritional yeast — and somehow, miraculously, it all comes together.
Salt & Straw
714 E Pike St, Seattle WA 98122
Price: $6 for a split scoop
Unintentionally, we set this ice cream crawl for what must’ve been the coldest afternoon of summer. It was cloudy with a hint of a drizzle — and it was glorious. I swear the clouds are the only reason there wasn’t a line out the door at this normally mobbed Portland transplant with a reputation for offbeat flavor combinations. Case in point: a summer seasonal menu called “Eat Your Vegetables” featuring flavors like radicchio jam and soft cheese and freckled chocolate zucchini bread. Yes, savory-sweet is a specialty here, and the long lines are warranted.
But no matter how many people are in the shop when it’s your turn, whoever is helping you acts like you’re the only person there. Want to try their personal favorites or underrated combinations? Hear details about which flavors contain gelatin? Try every single flavor? These things are practically required during your brief but meaningful relationship with a staff member.
Although it’s tempting to just peep the seasonal menu, don’t sleep on the classics; they’re Seattle through and through. Beecher’s Cheese is paired with peppercorn toffee and super-rich Ellenos yogurt is mellowed by matcha. And a vegan flavor, coconut mint, is every bit as creamy and decadent as the others on the menu; the chocolate cupcakes that stud each bright scoop remain soft and chewy.
Frankie and Jo’s
1010 E Union St, Seattle WA 98122
Price: $8 for a standard scoop and waffle cone
The instant this vegan ice cream place opened in 2016, Instagram was maxed out with shots of cashew- and coconut-based scoops of inky salty caramel ash against a tropical wallpaper backdrop (and comment threads were bombarded with disgruntled accusations that non-dairy products didn’t deserve the title “ice cream”).
Aside from the hip decor, though, the first thing you notice when you walk into this pint-sized shop is the smell. Unlike many scoop shops that blitz you with sugar and vanilla, Frankie and Jo’s trends nutty and earthy. It’s mostly due to the cones, made here with oat and almond flour and a hit of maple syrup. The end result is chewy and rich, and the best damn waffle cone in the neighborhood.
Like at Salt and Straw, seasonal items here incorporate farmers market darlings like kale, zucchini, and tomato. And even seemingly standard flavors here all have a twist (yes, beyond the revelation that there’s no milk involved): The coffee ice cream includes trendy chaga mushroom powder, the vanilla has brown sugar and umami-rich nutritional yeast. The stars of the “everyday” flavor list include California cabin — a surprisingly satisfying infusion of pine needles, black pepper, and cardamom — and tahini chocolate, made with cocoa butter, every bit as rich and nutty as needed.
Kurt Farm Shop
1424 11th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
Price: $7.20 for a split scoop and waffle cone
Squeezed into bustling Chophouse Row is this tiny storefront, dispensing products from Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island: ice cream, cheese, and neon-yellow bricks of butter for $15 a pound. The shop draws you in with potted plants for sale near the door and gorgeous backlit pin-ups of Timmermeister’s Jersey cows, the source of the goodness on offer.
Things move a little slower here. There’s no rush to get you in and out. There’s nary a sprinkle, chip, or ribbon of caramel in sight. And according to staff, there’s at least one regular passionate about each and every flavor, from the light touch of plum to the herbal smack of rosemary or lemon verbena. Scoops come in regular-old cake cones or fresh waffle cones, baked lacey thin, crisp, and sometimes with a hole in the bottom, allowing your ice cream to drip all over your shoes.
But the chocolate, oh, the chocolate. Where nearly all other flavors in the case are a delicate caress, Kurt Farm Shop’s chocolate is a delicious smack in the face. It’s rich, fudgy, and pairs perfectly with the low buzz of a Szechuan peppercorn scoop.
This is only a smattering of what’s available when it comes to frozen treats on the Hill, but these shops are a fascinating trio in a modern ice cream lover’s paradise.