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RESTAURANT GUIDE

The (Ice) Cream of the Crop

The Tech’s Guide to the Best of Boston’s Premium Ice Cream

By Katherine S. Ryan

staff writer

Boston is no coffee connoisseur. Its beer samplings are lame. It has paltry seafood for a harbor-town, and no one here has bumped the culinary choices much up from the label “Beantown.” Ice cream, though, is where Boston truly shines. This fatty, sugary treat abounds in the city, from hyper-chocolate scoops to the subtleties of a vanilla bean.

As someone who will gulp milk in any guise and who thrills at consuming sugar packets at diners, I had trouble putting on the robes of an ice cream snob. But, lately, I have learned to tell the cream from the crud. Here are the choicest of the choices:

Emack and Bolio’s

290 Newbury Street, Boston

Price of a scoop: $3.15

Closest T: Hynes (Green Line)

Other locations: 1663 Beacon Street, Brookline

Emack and Bolio’s is a store draped in a swirl of bright colors, with visions of the cosmic 1970s oozing across the walls. The shop, with the best ice cream collection in town, offers flavors like “I Want You to Want Me: Passion Fruit Sorbet.” The tastes sail in, true to their glowing names, and the ice cream is thick, perfectly flavored, and surely stocked with copious amounts of milkfat and sugar. The choices aren’t huge: there are only 16 kinds of ice cream. What is lacking in sheer numbers of flavors, though, is made up for in creativity. There is “Lucuma,” the fruit of the Incas, and “Monster Mash,” complete with caramel, M & M’s, Whoppers, Oreos, and peanuts. The best of all is “Chocolate Addiction” -- a rich chocolate dessert swirled with perfectly sized chocolate chunks and brownie bits. The only unfortunate part of Emack & Bolio’s is that there is nowhere to sit except in an awkwardly placed bench outside the store.

Christina’s

1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

Price of a scoop: $2.70

Closest T: Central or Kendall (Red Line)

A cozy, wood-paneled establishment in Inman Square, Christina’s is well-aware of its reputation: magazine covers from a slew of local and national publications cloak the wall behind the counter, each lauding the ice cream made on-site. The product, after all, is good: not too thick and not too thin, with an appropriate balance of cream and sugar. The best choices here are the Japanese-inspired scoops: “Green Tea,” “Adzuki Bean,” or “Ginger.” On a quiet afternoon, the wide tables are a perfect spot for contemplating the current art show; on busy evenings, patrons linger outside the orange-painted storefront, savoring each bite of this quietly delectable treat.

Salumeria Toscana

272 Hanover Street, Boston

Price of two scoops: $3.50

Closest T: Haymarket (Orange Line)

Gelato -- the Italian version of ice cream, made with skim milk -- is a healthy sort of treat compared to the cannolis and tiramisus doled out in the North End. On a little stand jutting out from a quaint Italian grocery store is the unassuming blue sign: “Bindi World’s Best Gelato.” Here, in an array of pastels, are the simple choices of fragola, limone, vaniglia, and more. The gelato is subtle and pure, a light dance across the taste buds, and there is no stinginess: two scoops for the price of one, complete with a delicately crispy cookie. There is nowhere to sit, but Hanover Street is a lively few blocks devoted to food, food, and more food. The street is also fun to wander along, savoring the scents of this tiny Italy.

Toscanini’s

899 Main Street, Cambridge

Price of a scoop: $3.10

Closest T: Central (Red Line)

Other locations: 1310 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Everyone remembers Toscanini’s. In the Midwest, where there is not ice cream so much as custard (that is, a heart attack on a cone), former Cambridge dwellers will glow when they recall the homemade delight of Toscanini’s: the mouth-watering concoctions of eclectic flavors served within the calm ambiance of the Main Street shop. The ice cream at Tosci’s is, after all, rich but not overwhelming, and the tastes capture their titles (“Ginger Snap Molasses” or “Cake Batter” or “Khalfee,” which is cardamom and nuts) without blasting away the senses. But I arrived here too eager after all the hype. To me, Toscanini’s serves just ice cream, the store is just a pleasant refuge from the land of technology, and the flavors are just a little too quiet -- I crave the ostentatious bursts that a name like “Belgian Chocolate” implies. The prices, too, offend my strip-mall roots. Toscanini’s, though, is not to be missed, if only for the cultural literacy of Massachusetts’ favorite ice cream.

Herrell’s Renaissance CafÉ

155 Brighton Avenue, Allston

Price of a scoop: $2.40

Closest T: Harvard Avenue (Green Line B)

Other locations: 15 Dunster Street, Cambridge

Herrell’s Allston outlet dishes out plenty of choices with its vintage-style ambiance. From cheap breakfasts to chocolate-dipped ice cream balls, from the non-fat, low-carb, de-lactosed “Wow Cow” to exotic teas, Herrell’s rightly calls itself a cafÉ, not an exclusive vendor of frozen dairy treats. The ice cream, though, has all the necessary features, and the hosts are willing to please: “We have 30 flavors of ice cream and 30 different toppings, and whatever you want we can do,” said one worker. Herrell’s is a good place to settle in, a pleasant cafÉ for an afternoon chat or a chance to play with the magnetic poetry on the wall. But don’t cross the river expecting to be blasted away by taste-bud exploding butterfat.

J.P. Licks

352 Newbury Street, Boston

Price of a scoop: $3.10

Closest T: Hynes (Green Line)

Other locations: 674 Center Street, Jamaica Plain; 311 Harvard Street, Brookline

J.P. Licks is an ice cream shop set out in honor of the sacred beast of the industry: the entire counter at the Newbury outpost is crafted to resemble a huge cow, and a neon pink light in the shape of an udder shines down from the wall. The theme here is milk-fat, richly employed to produce an overwhelming treat. The flavors absolutely holler: “White Coffee” pounds forth in an espresso-powered experience and “Chocolate” ice cream pulsates with theobromine. It is an all-encompassing consumption: too much, too hard, too busy. Luckily, they will sell their kiddie cup to adults, which provide the total experience and allow for a quick escape from this shrine to the dairy world.

Slugger’s Dugout

254 Quincy Market, Boston

Price of a scoop: $3.95

Closest T: State Street (Blue/Orange Line)

Slugger’s Dugout, a hideout in the midst of the tourist-infested Quincy market, is perfectly epitomized by its cotton candy flavored ice cream, with its syrupy, sugar-chunked taste, it is a hard portion to finish. Everything at Slugger’s is unsurprisingly devoted to baseball and its associated artificially-flavored treats. There are bats, gloves, and autographed photographs draping the interior, and kids slurping down melting ice cream on cones. The experience here is the sugar; far better, though, would be to save the money for an equally high-priced treat at an actual Sox game.

Other spots to fix your ice cream urge

Ben & Jerry’s: 36 J.F.K. Street, Cambridge; 100 Cambridgeside Place, Cambridge; 174 Newbury Street, Boston; 20 Park Plaza, Boston; Prudential Center, Boston

JB Scoops: 2 South Station, Boston

Steve’s Ice Cream: 120 Faneuil Hall Market Place, Boston

Temptations on Devonshire: 295 Devonshire Street, Boston

Baskin Robbins: 1 Bow Street, Cambridge; 616 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge; 244 Elm Street, Somerville; 1020 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston; 1 Broadway, Cambridge