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