Ask five locals to name the best ice cream in Rhode Island and you're likely to get five different responses.
Rhode Islanders love ice cream...and tend to have very strong opinions about what constitutes "the best."
Most of the following ice cream shops are award-winning favorites. They've been in business for decades and have a loyal following. Others may be newcomers to the ice cream scene, but they're already making their mark.
Gray's Ice Cream Exhibit at
Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts Museum
As I discovered when researching this article, you really can't go wrong with any of the names on this list. I hope while you're in Rhode Island you can sample as much as possible. (You'll probably form your own opinions about which shop has the best ice cream.)
Keep in mind that while some of these ice cream shops are open year-round, many are only open seasonally. Also, a surprising number are "cash only." (I found this out the hard way!)
I've included the cost of the cones at each shop to give you a point of comparison, but prices can change at any time.
(Update 2013: Unfortunately, Donick's is now out of business.)
At the top of this "best ice cream" list is Rhode Island's newest shop, Donick's Ice Cream Spa in Newport. Since opening for business on April 15, 2011, Donick's has quickly developed a loyal following.
My daughters and I loved the homemade-in-store Tropical Storm (think banana, coconut and pineapple), as well as the Graham Central Station, Coconut Almond Bar and Blackberry Chocolate Chip (all homemade by Bliss Bros. Dairy in North Attleboro, Massachusetts).
The kids were thrilled with the large portions, and were happy to pick two different flavors for their "medium" cone. They had fun playing the Ms. Pac Man machine and we all thought the 80s-themed music and decor was great. The super-friendly service sealed the deal and helped this shop land at the top of our "best ice cream" list.
Donick's is open almost around the clock, making it easy to stop by the next time you're in Newport. Look for two-hour street parking on Broadway.
26 Broadway, Newport
6 a.m. - 2 a.m. daily
Small $3 / Medium $3.50 / Large $4
Over the years, Gray's has probably won more "best ice cream" awards and been mentioned in more articles than any other ice cream shop in Rhode Island.
The business started in Tiverton back in 1923, and that location is still open year-round. If you're driving to scenic Little Compton or visiting the shops and galleries in Tiverton's Four Corners region, definitely plan an ice cream stop.
We pulled in around 3 p.m. on a weekday and I was surprised to see so many adult customers in business attire. Maybe they were taking a break from work to get their ice cream "fix."
The Coffee Oreo and Frozen Pudding were very good, and the Pistachio was even better. (The shop makes more than 40 flavors on the premises.) As we ate our cones, the kids got a kick out of watching the resident cows. (Kids will also love the Bristol location, which is on the waterfront.)16 East Road, Tiverton/259 Thames Street, Bristol
Tiverton: 6:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. ('til 9 or 10 p.m. during the summer)
Bristol: Noon - 10 p.m. daily
Small $3.50 / Large $4.75
Cash only at Bristol location.
Don't you just love stories about people who follow their passion and become successful? Well, that's the story of Deb and Bob, owners of The Daily Scoop.
Inspired by their love of ice cream, the couple took courses on ice cream manufacturing and started their own business in 2000, making ice cream and selling it in their hometown of Barrington. They've since added a second store in downtown Bristol.
The Barrington location is on the main drag in town, close to shops and the East Bay Bike Path. In addition to a small seating area inside, there is a deck out back.
We tried the Peppermint Stick, which was very sweet and refreshing on a hot day, and the Kahlua Fudge Brownie, which had a very strong coffee flavor and chunks of fudge. Both were soft, creamy and delicious!230 County Road, Barrington/446B Thames Street, Bristol
For many Rhode Islanders in Westerly, it wouldn't be summer without ice cream from St. Clair Annex. This small family-owned restaurant and ice cream parlor has been a fixture in the village of Watch Hill for nearly 70 years.
Visiting Watch Hill can be a nice day trip. There's a beach, old-fashioned carousel and a few boutiques, antique shops and restaurants. If you're not going to the beach, park in the free two-hour lot right across from the Olympia Tea Room.
St. Clair Annex has two counters inside: one for ordering food and another for ice cream. The restaurant can get crowded, but there is seating inside and benches out front if you're just getting ice cream.
The Coffee Oreo was good, although it didn't have the intense coffee flavor we prefer. The Pistachio was also very good, but be prepared for a very green shade of ice cream.
The real standout was the Peach Cobbler. The chunks of real peaches and cobbler made it one of our overall favorites.
St. Clair Annex makes all their own ice cream, as well as frozen yogurt, sherbet and soft-serve. When it comes to portion size, the "small" is just that…one carefully shaped scoop with nothing "extra" on the top or sides.141 Bay Street, Watch Hill
For many Rhode Islanders and visitors, Jamestown is just an island you cross on the way from South County to Newport. It's a shame, because the town has a lot to offer, including a great ice cream shop right on the water.
Spinnakers serves homemade super premium ice cream from the award-winning Richardson's Dairy in Massachusetts. We tried the Elvis Banana Split, which included three scoops of ice cream (Moose Tracks and Banana) in a chocolate cake bowl, with bananas, hot fudge, peanut butter topping and whipped cream. Heaven!
After getting your ice cream, you can sit out front at the tables with umbrellas, or walk through the shop to the back deck, which has a beautiful harbor view. If you need more than ice cream, Spinnakers has a small café with fresh-brewed coffee, breakfast items, soups and sandwiches (the "Fool's Rules" Italian sub was outstanding).
Overall, we loved the atmosphere and friendly service. (They even offer free "baby" cones for toddlers with an adult purchase.)3 Ferry Wharf, Jamestown
This family-run ice cream shop was chosen "Best Ice Cream in South County" for 2011 by Rhode Island Monthly readers.
Customers can select from about 45 flavors, made fresh daily at the North Kingstown location. This shop is off a busy main road, with four picnic tables outside (no indoor seating).
I ordered the Banana Peanut Butter and wished it had more flavor, but the Cotton Candy was a hit with my daughter and the Coffee Oreo had a great coffee taste with big chunks of Oreos.
If you visit the Cranston location, you can also order chowder, clam cakes and doughboys.30 Ten Rod Road, North Kingstown/70 Brown St, Wickford/1105 Scituate Ave, Cranston
At the risk of enraging all the ice cream aficionados in Rhode Island, I'm including an ice cream stand that doesn't serve homemade ice cream and generally has only eight flavors available on any given day. Let me explain.
For most families vacationing on Block Island, every evening ends with a stroll through town and a stop for ice cream. In fact, there are more than five ice cream and gelato shops within a few blocks of one another.
So why choose Rebecca's? Price. Pure and simple.
Spend a week on Block Island and you'll quickly see your food budget dwindle, whether you're picking up supplies at the grocery store or eating out at one of the fabulous (but pricy) restaurants.
Sometimes you don't want to drop $20 on ice cream for a family of four. At Rebecca's, you'll spend half that. Your kids won't care that it's not homemade; on a warm summer night, they'll think it's the best ice cream around.
And don't worry, there's bound to be a flavor to please everyone in your group, whether that's coffee, mint chip, cookie dough, strawberry, heath bar or black raspberry. (The ice cream tastes great and portions are generous, too!)435 Water Street, Block Island
This family-owned business makes its own ice cream and has stores in Narragansett and South Kingstown. This shop has won many "best ice cream" awards over the years, and is known for its large portions and flavors that include Bing Cherry, Orange Pineapple and Malted Milk Ball.
921 Boston Neck Road, Narragansett; 322 Main Street, South Kingstown; brickleys.com.
When this ice cream stand opens every year on April 1, there's usually a line of customers around the building. Choose from regular ice cream flavors (Moose Tracks and Pistachio are favorites) or try the chocolate/vanilla soft serve swirl.
496 East Main Road, Middletown; frostyfreez.com.
Aldo's is well known on Block Island for their restaurant, bakery and ice cream parlor. The homemade ice cream includes locally grown ingredients, and the family also makes their own gelato and frozen yogurt. (Look for coupons in the free Block Island Times and Block Island Guide.)
130 Weldon Way, Block Island; aldosbakery.com
Susanna's Ice Cream
Susanna's was just named "Best Ice Cream in New England" by Yankee magazine. Handmade at Sweet Berry Farm, flavors vary depending on the season. Summer might bring Louisiana Banana and White Peach & Ginger, while autumn's choices might be Pumpkin or Damson Plum. Available only in pints and half-pints.
915 Mitchell's Lane, Middletown; sweetberryfarmri.com.
This local chain has 10 locations throughout the state, including Middletown, Newport, Barrington, Providence and North Kingstown. They've been a Rhode Island fixture since 1940 when they began making and serving super premium ice cream at the flagship store in Middletown. Rhode Islanders love the Awful Awful, a super thick milkshake made with ice milk instead of ice cream. Try the coffee flavor! (Also available in junior sizes for kids.)
I hope you have fun visiting some of Rhode Island's best ice cream shops. Contact me (using the "Contact Me" button) to let me know if you think there's another store that should be on this "best ice cream" list.