We introduce some of the state’s best makers and share ideas for classic treats with a few grown-up twists.

The many faces of ice cream sundaes.

Photo by Fred + Elliott

It’s nearly impossible to eat ice cream without smiling at least a little. Maybe it’s the old-timey appeal or the sugar rush, or, more likely, some combination of the two. Fortunately, ice cream is one of those rare, precious things that so often is still made from scratch, with just a few simple ingredients that surpass the sum of their parts.

Smiley’s Ice Cream, Mt. Crawford

Smiley’s in Mt. Crawford opened its mobile business in 2001 with this idea in mind: Make the kind of ice cream that people grew up on, and they’ll follow you wherever you go. From a small trailer equipped with wooden ice-cream-making buckets to a 20-foot trailer with small batch ice cream makers, the concept grew as Smiley’s spread across Rockingham County. Now in its 17th year of business, Smiley’s has a brick and mortar shop with a front porch where guests can relax and enjoy the easy, slow pace of an ice cream afternoon. 

Owner Derek Smiley says he uses ice cream produced by neighboring Mt. Crawford Creamery as a base for his flavors: “It’s made with milk, cream, and sugar, and that simplicity makes our ice creams’ origins unique.” Freshness is a key component in all of Smiley’s flavors, whether it’s the brownie ice cream for which he bakes triple chocolate brownies from scratch, or the peach ice cream, which is only available during the height of peach season. 

Says Smiley, “I even have a small orchard, and I was fortunate enough last year to harvest enough peaches so that we didn’t need to buy any to make our fresh peach ice cream.”

The Scoop: Salted caramel chocolate chunk is the shop’s most popular flavor-—Smiley says he makes gallons of the salted caramel sauce from scratch each week to keep up with demand. 

Stoplight Gelato, Richmond

Though the flavors look more to the future than the past at Stoplight Gelato, the vibe is still very much old fashioned, with owner Barbara Given, 83, striking up meandering conversations as she scoops. Her small Jackson Ward storefront channels a bygone charm, where flavors like charred coconut, smoked Cajun peanut and raspberry hibiscus are made on-site. The menu changes weekly (sometimes daily) with seasonal flavors often rotating in and out.

The Scoop: No matter which flavors you combine, pick two and get them on one of Stoplight Gelato’s doppio, or double, cones, which situates scoops side-by-side to ensure you get the best of both bites every time. Flavors change with the whims of the gelato-makers, but if you see black pepper and smoke, try pairing it with strawberry or cherry—unlikely bedfellows that were really always meant to be together.

Dippers Ice Cream, Ridgeway

Deep in the heart of the southwestern part of the state, the ample patio at Dippers swells with families all summer long. They’ve come as much for the small batch ice cream—18 flavors on offer at a time—as for the service, which delivers on smiles and fun. That’s the Dippers way—a feeling of being on a never-ending summer vacation, as drips of ice cream slide lazily down your wrist.

Owner Tracy Cox says that during the past five years of making their own ice cream, Dippers has created approximately 240 flavors, including a particularly special one called Southern Tradition, which pays homage to her grandmother. As the story goes, when Cox’s grandparents were married, they didn’t have much money for a fancy wedding cake, so the newlyweds split an RC Cola and a MoonPie at a corner store down the road. Southern Tradition was inspired by the anecdote, blending RC Cola and bits of MoonPie in a vanilla ice cream base. Cox says, “It blew my mind how popular that flavor was, how many people that resonated with. Apparently it’s a big tradition among the older generation.” Cox says her grandmother’s from-scratch baking also inspired many of the recipes Dippers uses to this day. 

The Scoop: Dippers is known as much for handmade ice creams as for sundaes, especially seasonal ones like strawberry, peach and apple dumpling, which combine flaky pie dough and fresh fruit, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And once you’ve tried Dippers Ice Cream, you’ll want to buy a couple of their freshly baked cinnamon rolls for the road. 

Moo Thru, Remington

At Moo Thru in Remington, even the cows are smiling. A happy herd of Holsteins supplies the milk used in each batch of handmade ice cream. In a surfeit of riches, the milk, which is also sold on-site, is topped with a layer of thick cream. The taste is unlike anything you can buy in a plastic jug. It’s like an artist’s canvas—a rich, creamy blank slate from which the Moo Thru crew starts from for their 20 or more flavors.

The Scoop: Moo Thru connoisseurs can’t get enough of the dairy’s banana pudding ice cream, and they want it in a fresh waffle cone, made from scratch everyday on-site. Another favorite is the banana split, a monstrous tour of ice cream—three scoops of any flavor—on a bed of bananas, topped with any three treats your heart can conjure.

Brown Dog Ice Cream, Cape Charles

Those feelings of slow, easy nostalgia are at the heart of Brown Dog Ice Cream in Cape Charles, where they’ve been making sweet treats on the Eastern Shore since 2012. There, you’ll find a balance of classic flavors and new ideas, all made with premium, locally-sourced ingredients, including Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Co. coffee, Island View Farms figs, Pickett’s Harbor Farm peaches and Belmont Peanuts—giving anyone passing through Cape Charles another reason to smile. 

“It’s important to me to source as many local ingredients in season whenever possible,” says owner Miriam Elton. “We have been in business long enough that local farmers know to contact us when their offerings are at their peak. We always credit the farmers when naming our flavors so that we can promote whatever it is that they grow. Our customers can then buy produce from them at the Cape Charles Farmers’ Market.”

The Scoop: After you’ve satisfied your own sweet tooth with flavors such as lemon poppyseed or Shockley’s Farm sweet corn, take advantage of Brown Dog’s love for man’s best friend, and grab a poplickle or a scoop of tailwagger ice cream, with peanut butter, bananas and honey.

So Sweet to Eat: More handmade ice cream across the state.

Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream, Richmond
Chaps, Charlottesville
Island Creamery, Chincoteague Island
The Split Banana Co., Staunton
Sugar Mama’s Ice Cream, Fairfax

Can’t get enough? Click here for inspired recipes you can make at home.

This article originally appeared in our June 2018 issue.

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