From charcoal soft serve to old-fashioned scoops, we recommend second servings.
Sometime in 2015, Toronto became an ice cream city.
That was the year Sweet Jesus opened its shop at 106 John Street. Torontonians, not known for enjoying standing in line, lined up in droves. We liked soft serve ever since Dairy Queen moved to Canada in 1954, but this was different.
They’d do the DQ thing, blooping the soft serve out into a cone or cup, but then they’d roll it in stuff. Like crushed-up Oreos, or crumbled red velvet cake. Sometimes, they’d add a little cotton candy around the edges that looked like clown hair. It was weird, and we loved it. And we loved Instagramming it.
Soon, La Diperie moved in across from Trinity Bellwoods park, offering equally grammable multi-colour soft serve with various highlights and cereal sprinkles that people would take into the park and pose with.
These days, lineups in front of ice cream places on hot days are commonplace. If your Insta’s been a little dull lately, you should stop in, but there are worlds of chilled treats beyond the dress-up cones. Here are some of the best.
iHalo Krunch specializes in the charcoal black soft serve. Line-ups, phones, poses, the whole deal.
Dessert Kitchen specializes in pan-Asian treats with a Taipei-cool bent. Try the kyoho grape seaweed balls with grape shaved ice, mini rice balls, grapes and vanilla mochi ice cream. For starters.
Kulfi is a milk-based popsicle that’s been a frozen treat on the Subcontinent since the 16th century. You can get it in a lot of places in Little India, but try the ones at Desi Burger first. You can get the regular ones, or the slightly more expensive and much creamier ones that have been churned for 90 hours before being formed and frozen. Traditional flavours include cardamom, mango, pistachio and rose.
Summer’s is the sort of ice cream you get at the cottage. Old-fashioned scoops, made in small batches by the Helka family, who started making ice cream in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, this ice cream’s been served from its little hutch below street level in Yorkville (summers only) since 1985.
Dutch Dreams is another single-location family business, serving kosher, Dutch-style hard ice cream since the 1980s in Wychwood Park.
The Big Chill is soda-fountain style ice cream in the middle of Little Italy. They’ve got the usual flavours but maybe try the Smartie-sprinkled and mini-Oreo-topped banana split.
Hollywood Gelato calls itself Toronto’s first gelateria. The truth to that claim is lost in the mists of time, but it is good, and a real hangout on a weekend summer’s evening in the heart of Leaside, on Mt. Pleasant just south of Eglinton.
If you want actual diner-style ice cream confections in a diner that started out life as a modern retro spot, but has been around long enough now (it’s been around since the late 80s) to have earned its cool chrome stripes, Flo’s Diner is where you go in Toronto for floats, shakes and malts.
If you’re vegan, frozen desserts can be tough, and though Dessert Kitchen (see above) has several options, there’s an ice cream parlour dedicated specifically to chill-seeking vegans called Nanashake in North York on Yonge Street just south of Sheppard. They’ve got chocolate and strawberry but maybe try the date-flavoured concoction, or maybe the affogato.
Bang Bang may be the most popular, most lined-up-at spot in the city, which is why I’m putting it last here. Those lines don’t need to get any longer. But if you’re curious about why people would wait up to two hours for ice cream, often served in a little mason jar in flavours like amazake and sjcb, you should stop by the Ossington storefront to find out.