Ice HOT cream!

With new stores, gourmet flavours, top-notch in­gre­di­ents and tal­ented ‘glaciers,’ Montreal’s ice-cream scene has never been bet­ter

Montreal Gazette - - Weekend LIfe - LES­LEY CH­ESTER­MAN GAZETTE FINE-DIN­ING CRITIC

When the heat hits, nothing halts the sweats quite as ef­fec­tively as a gen­er­ous scoop of ice cream. It’s cold, it’s creamy, it’s sweet, and the best ones of­fer se­duc­tive flavours rang­ing from sul­try pis­ta­chio to ex­otic kulfi. Sure, you can reach for a car­ton of Häa­gen-dazs dulce de leche or an Oreo Bliz­zard from Dairy Queen. And who among us didn’t grow up en­joy­ing a cone of choco­late chip, cookie dough or rocky road ice cream from one of many crèmeries in the city that fea­tures the gen­er­ally ex­cel­lent in­dus­trial brands like Québon and Coat­i­cook?

Yet, if you head to what turns out to be a very con­cen­trated area that en­com­passes the Plateau, Mile-end and just a lit­tle be­yond, you’ll find sev­eral ice-cream par­lours that are churn­ing out some fan­tas­ti­cally fun flavours as well as clas­sics that will make you fall in love with good ol’ choco­late and vanilla all over again.

Seven years ago, I re­viewed Montreal’s to par­ti­san alice-cream and gelato mak­ers, rank­ing seven of them ac­cord­ing to the qual­ity of their in­gre­di­ents, the va­ri­ety of flavours and con­sis­tency and taste of their prod­uct.

Most of my top picks, in­clud­ing Havre-aux-glaces, Meu Meu, Rip­ples and Le Bil­bo­quet, are still go­ing strong. But there are sev­eral new ice-cream par­lours on the scene pro­duc­ing a fan­tas­tic prod­uct made from scratch and of­ten on-site.

Save for one ex­cep­tion (Leo le Glacier), this time I chose to forgo the gelato and sor­bet and fo­cus solely on ice cream.

Though no doubt pop­u­lar with frozen-dessert lovers, Montreal gelato mak­ers tend to stick to a for­mula that in­cludes a neu­tral base to which flavour­ings are added.

When you see a large gelato dis­play that counts flavours like Nutella, tiramisu and nougat, I can guar­an­tee the gelato be­ing served was made from flavoured pastes sold in cans, the best of which are im­ported from Italy. Some are even made with a pow­dered mix.

No harm done if it tastes good, but what I was look­ing for in this roundup was ice cream made from fresh in­gre­di­ents: milk, cream, fruit, choco­late, maple syrup, nuts, nat­u­ral flavour­ings, sugar and spices. Best-case sce­nario, egg yolks are used to en­rich and thicken the fi­nal prod­uct, yet an in­creas­ing num­ber of ice-cream mak­ers avoid them be­cause of al­ler­gies, us­ing thick­en­ers made out of sea­weed in­stead. Pow­dered milk is also an ac­cept­able in­gre­di­ent in ar­ti­sanal ice-cream mak­ing be­cause it in­creases the dry-mat­ter con­tent of mix, thus mak­ing it creamier, as does pow­dered glu­cose.

As for sor­bets, yes, there are many fan­tas­tic ones to be rel­ished in Montreal. How­ever, there are still many ice-cream shops that rely on pur­chased fruit purées to make sor­bet, which means there is a uni­form­ness in flavour on the scene when it comes to pop­u­lar va­ri­eties like mango, apri­cot and pas­sion fruit. If I can track down enough ice-cream mak­ers who make their sor­bets from fresh sea­sonal fruit (hap­pily, that num­ber is in­creas­ing), I will de­vote an­other rank­ing to sor­bets. But for now, the fo­cus is on ice cream.

So, with so much de­li­cious “glace” on the Montreal scene, how could I de­ter­mine which ones are best?

Like all fine foods, ice cream is about bal­ance. The best ice cream is sweet without be­ing over­whelm­ingly so. The first im­pres­sion you should come away with is not sweet­ness, but in­ten­sity of flavour. Ice cream must also be creamy, and when I say creamy, the word that first pops to mind is unc­tu­ous. Ice cream is not ice milk, so the tex­ture should not be thin or runny.

Some ice creams have a light tex­ture, but, to me, that’s dis­ap­point­ing. Ice cream should not be icy on the tongue, but vel­vety. Fun­nily enough, I did not find one ice cream that was too creamy – quite the op­po­site.

If I have one over­all crit­i­cism to make about Montreal’s ar­ti­sanal ice-cream mak­ers, it’s that they are mak­ing ice cream that is too thin and melty. Like a thick steak, a slice of foie gras or a white truf­fle-topped plate of but­tered lin­guini, when I choose to in­dulge in an ice- cream cone, I want some­thing that re­minds me more of Brigitte Bar­dot than Kate Moss.

We all or­der ice cream ac­cord­ing to flavour, and cap­tur­ing the ideal when it comes to fa­mil­iar tastes like ginger, cof­fee or maple wal­nut is a chal­leng­ing as­pect of ice-cream mak­ing. Choco­late ice cream should be bold, whereas vanilla ice cream should be quite sub­tle. If the listed flavour is pis­ta­chio, it should not taste sim­ply of al­monds, as bit­ter al­mond essence is of­ten used to flavour lesser pis­ta­chio ice creams. And as for the colour, take note: the good pis­ta­chio ice creams have a brown­ish hue, whereas the cheaper ones are tinted with lep­rechaun green food colour­ing. If the flavour is cheese­cake, it can’t just taste like sweet­ened cream cheese.

All th­ese points may seem ob­vi­ous, but af­ter sam­pling al­most 30 scoops of ice cream dur­ing a two-day tour of Montreal’s top ice-cream em­po­ri­ums, what most im­pressed – or dis­ap­pointed – was the in­ten­sity and pre­ci­sion of the promised flavour. Vanilla ice cream shouldn’t taste like bark, caramel ice cream shouldn’t taste burnt, and choco­late ice cream is far bet­ter when it comes on with a bang than a whim­per.

I tend to pre­fer my ice-cream runs post-din­ner­time, and I’m ob­vi­ously not alone, as most of the shops I vis­ited had long lines out the door, some of which amounted to a 20-minute wait. And, yet, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, line­ups do not sig­nify qual­ity. At two of my favourite ice-cream shops, I didn’t wait in line at all.

Though th­ese es­tab­lish­ments’ prod­ucts are rated ac­cord­ing to my taste pref­er­ence, ev­ery ice cream listed here is out­stand­ing, and def­i­nitely a win­ner for some­one whose tastes may vary from mine. The scores are very close, and keep in mind that I sam­pled only three ice-cream va­ri­eties at each par­lour: vanilla, choco­late and a sig­na­ture flavour that grabbed my at­ten­tion. The prices are for a small cone. Need­less to say, they ALL come highly rec­om­mended.

Here are my rat­ings, in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der, of the top eight “glaciers” in Montreal. Crème Glacée Bo-Bec, 1300 Lau­rier Ave. E., 514-527-1396

Open since 1989, this neigh­bour­hood ice-cream shop was new to me this year. Though not as chic as some of the city’s other ice cream­eries, this hid­den gem sells some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted. One bite of owner Gilles Prud­homme’s clas­sic vanilla, and I was trans­ported back to a New Eng­land seashore ice-cream par­lour where the ice cream is thick, creamy and dreamy. Ev­ery flavour I tasted here scored. A new favourite.

Num­ber of flavours: 24 at a

■ time with up to 75 in ro­ta­tion. Best­seller: cookie dough. ■ Also pop­u­lar: crème brûlée, ■ dark choco­late mousse, Fer­rero Rocher, kulfi. Least pop­u­lar: vanilla (!) ■ Price per cone: $3.95. ■ Amount pro­duced weekly: ■ 2,000 litres.

The test

■ Vanilla: ev­ery­thing a vanilla ice cream should be. Per­fect tex­ture. Sim­ple vanilla flavour. Text­book creamy tex­ture. Flavour even gets bet­ter when the ice cream starts to melt. The real deal. 9.5/10

Choco­late: dark choco­late

■ mousse – de­li­cious choco­late flavour, unc­tu­ous tex­ture. Gor­geous. 8/10

■ Fun flavour: kulfi – made with three kinds of nuts and a wel­come hit of car­damom, this ex­otic ice cream is light and not over­spiced. Sweet, but hardly as sickly sweet as kulfi tends to be. 8/10 Havre-aux-Glaces, at the Jean Talon Mar­ket, 514-278-8696

Open since 2004, this tiny ice­cream store, owned and op­er­ated by Robert and Richard Lachapelle and Julie Pla­m­on­don, sells su­perb “glaces” and sor­bets that score not only on taste, but tex­ture. The Lachapelles are true ar­ti­sans who shop at the sur­round­ing mar­ket stalls and stores to seek out the sweet­est, most flavour­ful fruit and spices. My favourite ice-cream shop in 2005, Havre-aux-Glaces is still go­ing strong and adding new flavours as well as ice-cream cakes and its own maple syrup. Just when I think I’m get­ting bored with ice cream, I head to this friendly shop and fall in love all over again. Num­ber of flavours: 24. ■ ■ Best­seller: choco­late 72 per cent.

Also pop­u­lar: caramel brûlée

■ à l’érable, New Guinea vanilla, matcha. Least pop­u­lar: ch­est­nut. ■ Price per cone: $2.75. ■ Amount pro­duced weekly: ■ 2,500 litres.

The test

■ Vanilla: not woody, nor too flow­ery or per­fumy. Clean vanil­l­abean flavour. Creamy tex­ture. Though a bit soft and a tad sweet, I still love it. 8.5/10

■ Choco­late: 72-per-cent choco­late, fudgy, pud­ding-like, so­phis­ti­cated. 7/10

■ Fun flavour: ginger – sharp, pep­pery, with chewy hits of can­died ginger. Fab­u­lously bold. 9/10 Kem CoBa, 60 Fair­mount Ave. W., 514-419-1699

Open since 2011, Kem CoBa means “third aun­tie’s ice cream,” a nick­name given to the co-owner, Diem Ngoc Phan, who along with Vin­cent Beck form the pas­trychef cou­ple be­hind this funky ice­cream shop sit­u­ated next to Fair­mount Bagel. Th­ese two tal­ented ice-cream mak­ers of­fer fresh ice cream and sor­bet prepared with pre­mium-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, with no preser­va­tives or ar­ti­fi­cial flavours. In­deed, their vi­brant ice creams are a treat and, as the long line­ups prove, very pop­u­lar. Don’t miss their two home­made soft­serve ice creams as well.

■ Num­ber of flavours: 10, as well as two flavours of soft-serve ice cream. ■ Best­seller: salted but­ter. ■ Also pop­u­lar: peanut and honey, masala chai, cheese­cake and straw­berry (soft serve).

■ Least pop­u­lar: they don’t have a lag­gard. ■ Price per cone: $3.27. Amount pro­duced weekly: ■ about 350 litres.

The test ■ Vanilla: per­fumed, but not overly so. Lovely creami­ness. 8.5/10

■ Choco­late: 73 per cent. Dense, like ganache. Fudgy, but not too cloy­ing or too sweet. De­lec­ta­ble! 8.5/10

■ Fun flavour: salted but­ter. Caramelized salted but­ter (brown but­ter) gives it a sub­tle salty taste with a hint of but­ter flavour. In­ter­est­ing without be­ing over­whelm­ing. Might have a tough time eat­ing a bowl of it, but would love it on a slice of warm ap­ple pie. 9/10

Leo le Glacier, 916 Du­luth Ave. E., 514-658-9660

Opened in 2006, this pe­tite ice­cream par­lour spe­cial­izes in lighter-style Ital­ian ice creams (gelato). Owner Ma­teo Sterzi says his in­flu­ence comes from Italy’s Grom Gelato, which like­wise makes ices from scratch. A sec­ond store on Bernard St. closed this year be­cause of con­struc­tion in the shop’s build­ing, yet the orig­i­nal Du­luth lo­ca­tion is still go­ing strong and is lo­cated near Parc La­fontaine, an ideal des­ti­na­tion to en­joy your gelato.

Num­ber of flavours: 16 gelatos,

■ 13 sor­bets. Best­seller: pis­ta­chio. ■ Also pop­u­lar: choco­late hazel■ nut, rasp­berry/thyme, Cam­pari/ grape­fruit. Least pop­u­lar: licorice. ■ Price per cone: $3.20. ■ Amount pro­duced weekly: 400 ■ litres.

The test

■ Vanilla: lovely smooth tex­ture, but the vanilla flavour is sub­tle. 7/10

■ Choco­late: fudgy, de­li­cious, ter­rif­i­cally choco­lately. Good stuff ! 8.5/10

■ Fun flavour: roasted fig and al­mond – per­fectly bal­anced and tastes just as one would imag­ine roasted figs and al­monds would. 8.5/10 Les Givrés, 3807 St. De­nis St., 514-373-7558

Opened just a year ago, this invit­ing ice-cream par­lour is known not only for its ar­ti­sanal ice cream, but also for its home­made soft serve and cones made with or­ganic flour. Part­ners Julien Le­buis, Martin Ma­heux-Pi­card and Alexan­dre Des­lau­ri­ers are com­mit­ted to serv­ing ice creams, ice milks, sor­bets and frozen desserts made with top­notch in­gre­di­ents. Their won­der­ful “glaces” are sold in fun flavours like big ap­ple pie, caramelized ba­con and maple, and vanilla with choco­late-dipped mac­arons. Th­ese ice creams are lighter than most as the own­ers pre­fer to rely on nut oils like pis­ta­chio or hazel­nut rather than milk fats to thicken some of the ice creams. ■ Num­ber of flavours: 30. ■ Best­seller: camp­fire. ■ Also pop­u­lar: pis­ta­chio (made with home­made pis­ta­chio pra­line), maple made with maple taffy mar­bled with maple but­ter, caramel with roasted caramelized al­monds. ■ Least pop­u­lar: matcha. ■ Price per cone: $3.25. Amount pro­duced weekly: ■ 1,000 litres.

The test

■ Vanilla: nice vanilla bean flavour and not too sweet. Tex­ture is light, lacks creami­ness, but that’s their style. 8/10

■ Choco­late: grand caraque; could use a stronger hit of choco­late, but nice and unc­tu­ous. 7/10

Fun flavour: camp­fire– caramel

■ ice cream has a pitch-per­fect caramel flavour with marsh­mal­lows swirled within. Good fun and oh-so orig­i­nal. 8/10 Crèmerie Meu Meu, 4458 St. De­nis St., 514-288-5889

Owner and ice-cream maker Guy Mo­rad has been pas­sion­ately churn­ing out ice creams, sor­bets and much more at this Plateau hot spot for 23 years. Not only are his lovely ices made with top-qual­ity, 100-per-cent nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, all his prod­ucts are cer­ti­fied or­ganic. Mo­rad was the first in Montreal to in­tro­duce ice creams with spices. His cin­na­mon, car­damom and curry with co­conut milk ice creams are not to be missed when avail­able. On top of his clas­sic cus­tard­based ice creams (all made with egg yolks), there’s soya-milk ice cream, frozen yo­gourt, soft serve and ter­rific milk­shakes. En­joy your cone on the bench out­side and soak up the blues tunes play­ing in the shop while watch­ing the world pass by.

Num­ber of flavours: 16 at a time,

■ but many on ro­ta­tion.

Best­seller: there are three: salted

■ caramel, vanilla and choco­late.

Also pop­u­lar: car­damom, pista

■ chio, key lime pie.

Least pop­u­lar: or­ganic or­ange

■ sor­bet. Price per cone: $3.75. ■ Amount pro­duced weekly: ■ 1,000 litres.

The test

tex­ture. Sweet, but bal­anced. Flavour ac­cu­mu­lates and strength­ens. Point G, 1266, Mount Royal Ave. E., 514-750-7515

Open since 2008, Julien Reg­nier and Thierry An­drieu’s shop spe­cial­izes in mac­arons, ice creams and other sweet “gour­man­dises.” This colour­ful Mont Royal Ave. sweet shop is well known for its mac­arons – it pro­duces 10,000 a day and sells them in su­per­mar­kets and gourmet shops through­out the city. Yet in sum­mer, food­ies head to Point G for its very spe­cial ice creams, which, in the win­ter hol­i­day sea­son, in­cludes a unique “glace” made with foie gras. Though the ice creams here are very good, the sor­bets of­fer even more in­no­va­tive flavours.

Num­ber of flavours: 18.

■ Vanilla: a bit sweet, but a divine vanilla bean flavour that’s slightly flow­ery with no bit­ter­ness. Ter­rific light-but-creamy tex­ture. 8/10

■ Choco­late: strong, quite sweet, deca­dent! 7/10

■ Fun flavour: caramel with sea salt – gen­tle caramel flavour with a wel­come hint of smoke. Fan­tas­tic

Best­seller: Hazel­nut Rocher

■ made with home­made hazel­nut pra­line.

Also pop­u­lar: pis­ta­chio, dulce de

■ leche. Least pop­u­lar: rum raisin. ■ Price per cone: $3.10. ■ Amount pro­duced weekly: 200 ■ litres.

The test

■ Vanilla: the Tahi­tian vanilla has more of the light tex­ture of an ice milk, yet this is the only ice cream made here with egg yolks. Could be richer. Per­fumy and sweet. 7/10

■ Choco­late: again, a bit on the sweet side, with more of a milk­choco­late flavour than in­tense dark. 7/10

Fun flavour: Hazel­nut Rocher –

■ lovely hazel­nut flavour, the creami- est tex­ture of the three. Sweet, again, but se­ri­ously de­li­cious. 8/10 Rip­ples, 3880 St. Lau­rent Blvd., 514-842-1697

Rip­ples is em­bark­ing on its 28th sea­son of churn­ing su­perb ice cream well-known to Mon­treal­ers who line up re­li­giously at this tiny shop on The Main. Owner Richard Ber­nett makes all the ice cream and sor­bet on site in a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity be­hind this 300-square-foot store. The ice creams are lus­cious and his flavour choices are good fun, with a new one com­ing on the scene each year to re­place one less pop­u­lar. My one re­quest: Please bring back the peach/Grand-Marnier! Num­ber of flavours: 30. ■ Best­seller: choco­late 6X. ■ Also pop­u­lar: kulfi, black rasp■ berry cheese­cake, cap­puc­cino chip.

Least pop­u­lar: they say there

■ isn’t one. Price per cone: $3.27. ■ Amount pro­duced weekly: ■ 2,000 litres.

The test

■ Vanilla: en­tic­ing “Jer­sey Cream” colour. Nice thick-’n-creamy tex­ture. Wanted more vanilla flavour, though. 7/10

■ Choco­late: 6X choco­late – in­tense. Not too sweet. The def­i­ni­tion of cho­co­latey. Ex­tra boost of choco­late flavour from lit­tle choco­late chips. Yum! 9/10

Fun flavour: choco­late cheese

■ cake: tastes just like the real deal and in­cludes pieces of cheese­cake and small chips. Scrump­tious and just a lit­tle piggy. 8/10

PHO­TOS: PIERRE OBENDRAUF THE GAZETTE

One lick of Crème glacée Bo-Bec Gilles Prud­homme’s clas­sic vanilla, and one is trans­ported back to a New Eng­land seashore ice-cream par­lour where the ice cream is thick, creamy and dreamy.

Crème glacée Bo-Bec of­fers 24 flavours at a time – and all of them are worth tast­ing.

Ice cream at Havre-aux-Glaces at the Jean Talon Mar­ket scores for both taste and tex­ture.

PIERRE OBENDRAUF THE GAZETTE

Jacinthe Leger-Le­duc at Havre-aux-Glaces at the Jean Talon Mar­ket. The own­ers shop at the mar­ket stalls and stores for the fruit and spices.

PHO­TOS: PIERRE OBENDRAUF THE GAZETTE

The Kem CoBa par­lour has 10 flavours, in­clud­ing peanut and honey and masala chai as well as two flavours of soft-serve ice cream.

Crème glacée Bo-Bec, a hid­den gem on Lau­rier Ave. E., has been open since 1989. Its vanilla ice cream is “the real deal.”

Kem CoBa’s Vin­cent Beck with a cone of salted but­ter ice cream, one of the par­lour’s best­sellers.

Jacinthe Leger-Le­duc serves up a cone of ginger ice cream at Havre-auxGlaces in Jean Talon Mar­ket.

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