With spring here and summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start recognizing those “go-to” ice cream shops to quell your frozen-treat fetishes. Both McConnell’s Ice Cream, located on Mission St., and Spoon, located on State St., serve as excellent choices for indulging in delicious, homemade ice cream. With one thing on my mind, I ventured to these locales to get the scoop on two of the hottest gelato, frozen yogurt and ice cream parlors in all of Santa Barbara.
McConnell’s Ice Cream
201 W. Mission St, Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 569-2323
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Located away from the hustle and bustle of State Street and perched on the corner of De La Vina and Mission, McConnell’s Ice Cream parlor acts as a beacon to those in search of frozen indulgences. Besides earning a respectable reputation for hefty portions and meandering lines stretching out the door, McConnell’s also boasts a history that is as nuanced as their ice cream and yogurt.
Gordon McConnell, a glider pilot and prisoner of war in World War II, founded McConnell’s in 1949 after making ice cream in his garage. Back then, McConnell used local, homemade ingredients, which the current owner proudly affirms are still used today. The store is currently owned by Bob and Jean Moss, and as asserted by Bob Moss, McConnell’s ice cream “sits somewhere in-between big ice cream production companies and really small places.” According to Bob Moss, McConnell’s tends to place within the top five in national ice cream taste competitions. In addition, Time magazine featured McConnell’s as among the top three best ice creams, and McConnell’s won third place in the New Yorker.
About 15 to 20 of McConnell’s stores dotted the California map in the 1980s, but currently only the Santa Barbara location and a store in Ventura remain open.
The Santa Barbara location is as inviting as it is beautiful, with Gerbera daisies decorating tables and plenty of seating space available. Upon entering the parlor, the customer is greeted with abundant selections of frozen yogurt, ice cream, coffee and smoothies, and rows of toppings to adorn their frozen treat with, from bananas to mochi. Flavors of ice cream range from traditional to exotic, with Swiss chocolate, peanut butter, Turkish coffee and cinnamon, all for the taking. According to Bob Moss, popular flavors of ice cream include Brazilian coffee chip and mint chip.
Local ingredients and neighboring manufacturing sites are recurring themes with the McConnell parlor, as the ice cream is manufactured on the corner of East Canon Perdido and Milpas in Santa Barbara. In addition, all of McConnell’s ice cream is organic and made with premium cream and flavorings. The ice cream is bound with eggs, as opposed to artificial binders, giving it an old-fashioned and creamy taste that never goes out of style. While all ice creams must have a cream content of above 10 percent, McConnell’s ice cream boasts one of 16 percent, attesting to the first-rate nature of their product.
“To my knowledge, McConnell uses the highest percentage of cream of any national branch,” Bob Moss said. “It is the use of premium, natural ingredients and the high cream content which makes the ice cream taste so good.”
Not only are the ingredients premium-grade and homemade, but the employees are not afraid to serve heaping, generous portions that dwarf the skeletal scoops of competing parlors. A “small” comes in a large 16-ounce container and comes to a modest $3.95 a pop.
1222 State St, Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 962-1838
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The fun, spunky atmosphere of the chic Spoon gelateria, located on State Street, accurately reflects the personality of its bubbly owner, Erin Casey. A lover of the color pink, Casey decorated her small, 2-year-old dream of an ice cream shop with white countertops, bubblegum-pink trim, snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, brown and hot pink walls and a disco ball hanging above the cash register.
“Every girl needs a disco ball!” Casey exclaimed.
The simple and chic ambience of the store creates a feeling of childhood nostalgia. Casey’s female employees spend many a work day hula hooping in front of the store, luring customers in with their smiles and skills. Large paintings of smiling strawberry and chocolate ice cream cones decorate the store’s front windows, casting sunshine-fueled fluorescent tints of pink and yellow onto the tiled floors of the interior.
The simplicity of the store is also expressed through the prices: $4 for a small serving, $5 for a medium serving, and $6 for a large serving of their finest ice cream.
The store exudes a whimsical, summer-day vibe combined with the accents of an authentic Italian gelateria. Upon entering, the customer is greeted with various gelato and sorbet flavors, all of which are made by Venetian chef Allessandro Fontana, who was a member of the World Champion Gelato Team in 2003 for Italy. The store carries the same chocolate gelato that won Fontana the competition. According to Casey, all of the produce, from nuts to fruit, is locally grown, and most of it is organic. No artificial flavorings are used and the store even makes its own waffle cones.
The all-natural flavors make the ice cream taste authentic, not processed. The “Strawberries and Chocolate Chip,” a special Valentine’s Day item that stayed on the shelf due to popularity, actually tastes like real strawberries and chocolate chips. The pistachio contains whole pistachios that are ground and made into a paste, giving the gelato the strong, natural flavor of a pistachio nut.
The store also accommodates its vegan and vegetarian guests, serving a dairy-free chocolate gelato, which Casey accurately describes as “fudge on a spoon.”
Casey, who had been dreaming of starting an ice cream store for “billions of years,” started this quaint location two years ago on her birthday, April 25. She was previously in the wine industry in Santa Ynez, and before that a principal at a private school.
“It took me five years to find the location, but once I found it, I knew this was the place,” said Casey.
It is worth acknowledging Casey’s ability to keep such a small store open during such a detrimental economic recession. She personally expressed surprise at the store’s thriving success.
“If I can do this now with a $4 item in this economy, it will be a piece of cake later,” Casey said.
Spoon’s prime location in downtown Santa Barbara makes it an ideal spot for dates or after-dinner desserts. The hot pink standing table that sits in the right corner of the store is perfect for cozying up, and customers can take advantage of the many benches dotting this area of downtown State Street to enjoy their homemade, authentic gelato.