Don’t let the local ice cream stand fool you: soft serve and ice cream are not the same thing. While the most noticeable difference is that soft serve almost always comes from a churning machine (which infuses more air for a softer texture), it all comes down to milkfat. To be considered ice cream, the frozen dessert must have at least 10 percent milkfat, while soft serve often has half that amount. To celebrate this classic American treat—National Soft Serve Day is August 19—make a stop at any of these scrumptious shops.
1. COW TIPPING CREAMERY // AUSTIN, TEXAS
If you’re going to live in one of the warmest parts of the country, top-notch soft serve is a must. At Cow Tipping Creamery, soft serve is dished up in a cup sundae-style, filled with layers of unexpected ingredients such as green tea mochi cake, crumbled Ritz crackers, a Dr. Pepper chocolate sauce, and a brown sugar hot fudge drizzle. And if you need a little savory with your sweet, Cow Tipping Creamery has plans to partner with a Dallas pizza shop to offer a variety of baked goods.
2. HOT CAKES MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKERY // SEATTLE
’ creations include chocolate-inspired desserts and dollops of creamy soft serve. But what sets this dessert destination apart from other soft serve purveyors is its crafted "magic shell." Hot Cakes transforms the classic milk chocolate topping into a refined, smoked chocolate version, and most recently, a salty summer berry flavor.
3. BIG GAY ICE CREAM // NEW YORK CITY
When Doug Quint served his first cone from a New York City food truck, he wasn’t expecting to launch a successful soft serve shop. The co-owner of Big Gay Ice Cream, which serves dishes with names like "Salty Pimp" and cones named after Golden Girl Bea Arthur, was just looking for something to do. "We didn’t set out to build an ice cream business. I wanted to do something fun one summer and an ice cream truck presented itself to me through a friend. So I became an ice cream trucker," Quint says. Since 2009, he and co-owner Bryan Petroff have upgraded to three brick and mortar locations.
4. BOILER ROOM // CHICAGO
offers an adult take on soft serve. The Logan Square restaurant offers boozy soft serve infused with Jameson whiskey or Red Bull—which sounds like the perfect summertime nightcap.
5. SALT & STRAW'S WIZ BANG BAR // PORTLAND, OREGON
Tacos or soft serve? There’s no reason to choose between the two. At Portland's Wiz Bang Bar, you can satisfy both cravings with a chocolate tacolate. Taco-shaped waffle cones are stuffed with ice cream and dipped in chocolate. But if tacos for dessert isn’t your thing, hit up Wiz Bang Bar’s soft serve bar to fill up on a classic with countless toppings.
6. PUTZ'S CREAMY WHIP // CINCINNATI
Throughout Ohio, soft serve goes by another name: the creamy whip. Traditionally served at family-owned stands operated for generations, Ohio’s soft serve lovers are loyal to their creamy whip destinations, and many Cincinnatians consider Putz’s Creamy Whip—in business since 1938—to be a top soft serve spot. Constantine and Anna Putz launched the business with hand-dipped cones, which transformed to a soft-serve stand managed by daughter Gertie and her husband, Ray Ehrhardt, by the mid-'50s. And in the decades since, the stand has kept its original 1954 soft serve machines operational.
7. BI-RITE CREAMERY & BAKESHOP // SAN FRANCISCO
has been considered a top stop for U.S. ice cream lovers, featuring small-batch, handmade ice creams. But for soft serve aficionados, Bi-Rite offers something a little different—its soft serve is made from water buffalo milk provided by a nearby dairy. With a higher butterfat content, the creamy consistency and naturally sweet milk gives the soft serve a richer, more smooth texture compared to cow-milk ice creams.
8. FRANK'S HICKORY HOUSE BBQ // CLINTON, ARKANSAS
Don’t be fooled—Frank’s Hickory House is, in fact, a barbecue joint, but it happens to dish up a worthwhile soft serve cone. For $5.99, dessert seekers can order the Dang Revenoor, a giant spiraled cone nearly a foot tall.
9. MORSE FARM MAPLE SUGARWORKS // MONTPELIER, VERMONT
Vermont has its own take on soft serve called the creemee, a blend of soft serve and maple syrup. It makes sense that the country’s leading maple syrup producer would have a few ideas of how to incorporate refined sap into desserts. Like Cincinnati, Vermont creemee lovers are particular about where they get the smooth, frozen treats, and Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier is considered to be a top spot. Morse Farm blends in its 100 percent pure maple syrup and serves creemees year-round.
10. GODIVA BOUTIQUES // NATIONWIDE
It makes sense that a company known for its refined chocolate would consider countless ways to serve it, including in a cone. In 2014, Godiva Boutiques began offering chocolate soft serve topped with raspberry, chocolate, and caramel sauce, not to mention more of its specialty chocolate. You can sample these upscale cones at the 180 Godiva boutiques nationwide.
11. PIED PIPER CREAMERY // NASHVILLE
into ice cream has been popular for several years, but that doesn’t mean those flavors are widely available as soft serve. At Nashville’s Pied Piper Creamery, soft serve fans can reminisce with cereal-infused flavors, including Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Fruit Loops. And for some tongue-in-cheek fun, consider sampling a variety of pop-culture inspired tastes such as "Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita," "Baby Got Baklava!" and "Snoop Dizzle Sorbizzle" (a gin and juice sorbet).
12. AMPLE HILLS CREAMERY // BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
became nationally popular in late 2015 after releasing its Star Wars-inspired "Light Side" and "Dark Side" ice creams. And while the creamery is know for its ice cream flavors, it also creates soft serve with a twist—as in, you can make it yourself. Ample Hills's ice cream bike allows peddlers to motor an attached churn. After 20 minutes, the soft-style dessert (which arguably could be soft serve or ice cream depending on ingredients used) is ready for some time in the freezer before becoming a sundae. Definitely worth a little legwork!