It's a cool summer -- Lincoln's best ice cream experiences

It's a cool summer -- Lincoln's best ice cream experiences


The original plan was to select Lincoln's best ice cream, but what we quickly realized that such an endeavor is impossible. Most times, there's no such thing as bad ice cream, unless you're counting calories (which we aren't in this story).

That said, we asked three of our unsung newsroom heroes -- City Editor Todd Henrichs, Assistant City Editor Shelly Kulhanek and Weekend Editor Alex Lantz -- to give us the scoop (pun intended) on their favorite ice cream experiences.

They filled their notebooks and their bellies -- and here's what they found.

You'll notice we didn't include the frozen custards found at Freddy's or Culver's. Nor did we include frozen yogurt, with all due respect to Yogurtini, a south Lincoln staple, is simply delightful. Despite their deliciousness, they aren't ice cream.

Feel free to drop us a line to tell us about any incredible ice cream experiences we failed to mention. Just remember, it's ice cream. It's to be enjoyed. The best ice cream in town is usually inside the cone that's in your hand.

Have fun.

402 Creamery

311 N. Eighth St.

What I had: Cinnamon snickerdoodle

Owner Tyler Mannix said he was working in finance when he decided he wanted to do something he was passionate about. “I started on a $50 ice cream machine and fell in love.”

After my first visit to his shop, I’m in love, too. I’m going to say it’s possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

The store’s most popular flavor is monster cookie, which is one of eight signature flavors. Popular with families is the four-scoop flight for $8.80.

When I asked for his secret, Mannix said it’s all homemade, including ingredients he’s made from scratch working to ensure they mix with the ice cream and keep their flavor and texture. So, for instance, rather than hard balls of snickerdoodle cookie dough, the experience is soft and chewy, like the cookie.

In addition to the signature flavors, you can enjoy seasonal flavors, like banana bread, key lime, blueberry muffin and strawberry lemonade.

-- Shelly Kulhanek

Baskin Robbins

3111 N.W. 12th St.

What we had: Chocolate and orange sherbet

My chocolate ice cream was just that: plain old chocolate ice cream. No complaints here. The orange sherbet was, well, very orange. Neon orange. It tasted like an orange dreamsicle you get from an ice cream truck.

Baskin Robbins has a special place in my heart, having grown up a block away from the Meadowlane Shopping Center. Those days are long gone, though, and the only location in Lincoln now is near the airport in the LNK Food Court.

We were the only visitors at the time on a recent Wednesday afternoon, and I was mostly just disappointed my bowl of ice cream didn’t come with a pink spoon like it used to.

-- Alex Lantz

Cold Stone Creamery

2910 Pine Lake Road Suite P

What we had: Chocolate with Oreos in a waffle bowl and Chocolate with graham cracker pie crust and Snickers.

You’re encouraged to choose from a variety of add-ins and I appreciated the build-your-own concept. The waffle bowl, however, was stale and didn’t add to the experience like I hoped it would.

Sarah was initially excited about the possibility of graham crackers in her ice cream — she thinks they are an under-appreciated desert option — but the chocolate ice cream was not rich enough for her taste. The Snickers bits were good, though, because you can’t go wrong with Snickers.

It’s location at SouthPointe Pavilions is super convenient if you’re looking for a snack between shopping stops or desert after pizza at Old Chicago, which is a stone's throw from the front door.

-- Alex Lantz

Dairy Joe’s

8235 W. O St., Emerald

What I had: Dulce de leche

If you’re looking for Joe at Dairy Joe’s in nearby Emerald, you’re going to be disappointed. But you won’t be disappointed with the quality of ice cream or the friendly service.

In addition to ice cream, you can get a cup of joe and you might meet the owner of the building, JoAnn Benes, if she’s in at her adjacent small antique shop, Emerald Hen’s Nest.

Benes’ daughter, Kathryn Benes-Pierce, and her husband, David Pierce, who live in Denton, run the ice cream/coffee shop, which has an old-style malt shop vibe. They get their ice cream from Hiland Dairy and try and source other products locally, like the Dogurt (yogurt for dogs) from Omaha.

I brought my niece and nephew with me and both gave Dairy Joe’s a thumbs-up.

When asked to describe his chocolate ice cream, 7-year-old Cam said it had “a deep flavor.” Sydnee, 9, declared her chocolate chip cookie dough “the best ice cream ever.” Both may have been taking their jobs as reviewers a bit too seriously, but I also thought my dulce de leche-flavored cone was top-rate.

-- Shelly Kulhanek

Dairy Queen

3835 South St. (several Lincoln locations)

What I had: Zero Gravity Blizzard

For a limited time, DQ is offering a Zero Gravity Blizzard to celebrate the moon landing's 50th anniversary. The blue-colored treat is made with Oreo cookie pieces, chocolate swirls, sweet cotton candy crunch topping and glittery star sprinkles. Yep, glitter in ice cream.

This Blizzard was probably more appropriate for smurfs and 6-year-old girls, but it did share one ingredient with the South Street DQ's most popular Blizzard -- Oreo.

I quizzed the server about why they serve Blizzards upside down and she stated the obvious "so you know it's not runny," but I did a little research and found out the trademark move had its beginnings with an obnoxious 14-year-old.

In 1959, the owner of a custard stand in St. Louis had a boy who biked to his stand nearly every day for a malt. The boy kept challenging the owner to make it thicker. Finally to shut the kid up, he served it upside down.

The custard stand owner had a competitor who owned a Dairy Queen franchise and he copied the gimmick and also came up with the idea to put fruit or broken-up candy bar chunks in DQ's soft serve ice cream. At first Mars, which owned M&Ms and Snickers candy brands, refused to ship broken pieces to DQs, as did Oreo. But they finally relented.

-- Shelly Kulhanek

Freezing Thai

210 N. 14th St. No. 6

What I had: S'mores Galore

A treat from Freezing Thai will cost you a little more, but after all, ice cream is a treat. And watching servers whip up the frozen treat by hand makes Freezing Thai a unique experience.

Seeing it all come together is unlike other sweet shops in town.

Freezing Thai is more than ice cream. Every serving comes with something extra. Like the graham cracker and marshmallows roasted with a hand-held torch as part of my S'mores Galore.

Other choices? Morning Latte ice cream. Key Lime Pie. Mango Tango. The cigar-shaped ice cream rolls and toppings are a ready-made Instagram post.

Freezing Thai's downtown location is convenient to campus, and since servings are huge, two people can share a treat, minimizing some of the sticker shock.

-- Todd Henrichs


6940 Van Dorn St. No. 107 (several Lincoln locations)

What we had: Brownie nut fudge and Cookies and cream.

The addition of brownie chunks and fudge mixed throughout the chocolate ice cream was a walk on the wild side compared to my standard boring chocolate. The chocolate ice cream itself was not especially flavorful, so for those who prefer a less rich and more subtle chocolate, this ice cream is for you.

Sarah said the cookies and cream was a bit of a disappointment. She wished there were more cookies in the plain vanilla ice cream.

The play here is to get your ice cream and head over to Holmes Lake, which is a short drive south. The problem with that approach is this is July in Nebraska, so by the time you get to the lake, your ice cream is likely to be soup. Or, if you eat as fast as Sarah does, just plain gone.

So instead of making the trip to the lake, we had our eyes on the lone bench outside the store. There was a problem, though: The bench was occupied after we ordered. So we settled for a seat on the curb.

-- Alex Lantz

Ivanna Cone

701 P St. No. 101

What we had: Dutch chocolate and lemon cake

The dutch chocolate was very sweet and thick, almost gooey. You get stalagmites when you pull the spoon out of it. But if you’re into that sort of thing, I wouldn’t talk anybody out of it.

Sarah said the lemon cake was the perfect balance of sweet and tart and had the added bonus of cake pieces. It was the equivalent of having a brownie in your chocolate ice cream, without being boring chocolate ice cream. The flavors change daily.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the building is the smell of fresh waffle cones. The second thing you notice is the rabbit statue that acts as the door stop, which Sarah said she remembers from when her and her dad visited when she was young.

There’s also disco lights, bright-colored walls, the massive ice-cream makers in the entryway, and when we went, the Jackson 5’s “ABC” was playing in the background.

It’s a great excuse to go for a walk in the Haymarket and an A+ option for dessert to wrap up a hot date on a hot day.

-- Alex Lantz

Nevería Arcoiris

1035 G St. and 1317 N. 10th St.

What I had: Mangonada made with mango ice cream

I've seen a tourism slogan urging people to be a tourist in their own hometown. I felt like one when I stepped into Nevería Arcoiris, which translates to rainbow ice cream.

Bright colors, lots of Spanish-speaking neighbors and about 16 different homemade ice creams in freezer cases with names like chicle rosa (pink gum), menta (mint), fresa ague (strawberry water), rompope (eggnog) and maracuya (passion fruit).

Owners Adela Sanchez and her husband, Lucio, were among those running behind the counter scooping and creating colorful concoctions.

Adela said they make nearly all the ice cream for their shop on G Street and another restaurant that shares the same name in the North Bottoms, although they sold the second location because they were too busy to run both.

She said the most popular flavor is mango, which is water-based and reminded me of a sorbet. I had my mango ice cream in a manganado, a spicy Mexican fruit treat with chamoy sauce, mangoes, lime juice, chili powder and decorated with a tamarind straw. It was as tasty as it was pretty.

I also tried the horchata-flavored ice cream, their newest creation, and the queso flavor, which is far better than it sounds.

-- Shelly Kulhanek

UNL Dairy Store

114 Food Industry Complex (East Campus)

What I had: Cherry almond

For someone who grew up on a dairy farm in Nebraska, the UNL Dairy Store is a treasured piece of the state's agricultural history. The store opened in 1917 as Varsity Dairy, serving as much milk as you could drink for a nickel (just bring your own cup.)

The modern-day Dairy Store remains a test kitchen of sorts for food science students, who work to research and create products while managing the business. Over the years, the store's focus shifted to ice cream.

I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon and found the 16-flavor dip cabinet devoid of Scarlet & Cream, the so-called fan favorite, so I went with a seasonal choice, cherry almond. Good stuff.

Inside, the Dairy Store doesn't serve a heaping helping of nostalgia. Other than a few photos on the wall, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference from a food court.

But exploring East Campus with your ice cream, you're reminded of agriculture's role in the state. And the Dairy Store's role in reminding visitors of that vital link.

-- Todd Henrichs


1100 South St. (also at 1501 Pine Lake Road No. 3)

What I had: Hot fudge sundae

Since the 1950s, the ice cream shop on South Street has been a summer tradition in Lincoln. The city was much smaller then, but returning to the Zesto's drive-in always takes me back to a small town, with families stopping for ice cream as a treat to end the day.

In Nebraska, Zesto's has always maintained a special link to the College World Series in Omaha, with fans walking across the street to enjoy a cone or a malt for decades at Rosenblatt Stadium and now at the new stadium downtown.

Perhaps that is why the ice cream from Zesto's just seems to have a more nostalgic feel than what you might enjoy elsewhere. And though the ice cream is the same, there's something extra special about the treats from the drive-in location, versus a more strip mall setting.

Lincoln lost a similar drive-in when a tornado wiped out C & L Dairy Sweet near Pioneers Park this spring. Let's hope the Zesto's tradition lives on.

-- Todd Henrichs


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