The stinking hot, soul-melting Pittsburgh summer is stealthily stalking us as we speak, but there’s a solution: ice cream.
Picking Pittsburgh’s best ice cream spot is a bit like choosing the cutest puppy: They’re all pretty great. Still, some shops do stand out. Pittsburgh ice cream spans generations, from old-school ice cream parlors with devoted followings to unusual newcomers trying new flavors and approaches. Here’s the scoop on the best places to get ice cream right now.
If you get to all 15, you officially win summer.
Mercurio’s Pizza and Gelato, Shadyside
Begun by a doctor and his wife in Kittanning and specializing in the gelato they had enjoyed so much on vacations to Italy, Mercurio’s is enclosed inside one of Pittsburgh’s best Neapolitan-style pizza places. Their frozen Italian dessert is superficially similar to ice cream, but with less fat and frozen by a different method that makes it smoother and denser. Distinctive flavors rotate frequently, including Tiramisu, Stracciatella (vanilla with flakes of chocolate), Caffe’ Cannela (coffee gelato with cinnamon), Lemon Sorbetto, Black Cherry Bordeaux and Margarita Sorbetto (tequila, orange and lime, with a hint of salt).
Klavon’s, Strip District
Klavon’s is easily the most picturesque ice cream shop in Pittsburgh — and maybe in all of America. This charmingly old-timey, mom-and-pop soda fountain is so blissfully trapped in its own little world that it seems like everything should turn black-and-white when you open the door. Klavon’s dates to the 1920s and wears its streamlined design well — although the line on the wall from the floodwaters of ’36 shows that it hasn’t always been cheerful sundaes and penny candy in here. Klavon’s also features a display of antique medicine bottles, dating from the days when pharmacists doled out cherry phosphates and ice cream alongside pills and elixirs.
Beyond the atmosphere, the ice cream here is fantastic. Get a Strip District Split — the classic banana split — or an ice cream soda like the Nutty Englishman, featuring English toffee syrup, soda water and butter pecan ice cream. Or just get a Large Pecan Ball — vanilla ice cream rolled in pecans, then covered in hot caramel, chocolate or hot fudge.
Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, Shadyside and Downtown
In 2015, chef Chad Townsend (Salt of the Earth) left the world of line cooks and sauté pans to pursue a sweeter career. Along with his wife Lauren, Townsend launched Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, selling ice cream at farmer’s markets and through a unique CSA program. The bright little shop dishes up seasonal ice cream flavors like Vietnamese Coffee, Rhubarb Sorbet, Kaya Mango Tango and Coconut Lime Sorbet, which are made with local ingredients whenever possible. There’s also another location Downtown in Market Square.
Gus & YiaYia’s, Northside
Gus Kalaris, 86, has been selling shaved ice balls and popcorn on the edge of Allegheny Commons for 67 years from a charming orange, umbrella-topped pushcart. A recent construction project on the North Side replacing a nearby bridge has knocked back business by 50%, and the bridge won’t reopen for two years. But Gus has seen it all pass by his little patch of the North Side and will get through this — with an assist from the same families who have been getting scoops of flavored ice (lemon, blueberry, cotton candy) here for decades.
Remember When Ice Cream, Windgap
Nostalgia provides a powerful pull when it comes to ice cream — it’s literally the flavor of childhood summers, along with the fragrance of chlorinated pools and campfire s’mores. Remember When dates back to the 1960s and its giant anthropomorphic ice cream sign is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Pittsburgh’s western neighborhoods. They serve gigantic cones of both soft serve and hard ice cream by the scoop. You can cover your cone in sprinkles or nuts, coat it in chocolate or butterscotch, or get it as a sundae. If you order the biggest cone, though, be prepared to meet them at the side door — it often maxes out at a ridiculous 13 inches of soft serve ice cream.
Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, various locations
Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches has had a tumultuous year. First, the Wilkinsburg-based ice cream maker had a catastrophic freezer failure that wiped out hundreds of pints of ice cream and thousands of their signature ice cream-filled cookie sandwiches. Fans didn’t take this sitting down — they raised $25,000 through the Kiva crowdfunding platform in two days, one of the fastest campaigns ever. Very much back up to speed, Leona’s offers ice cream flavors including coffee (with Zeke’s Royal Blue dark roast), Lavender & Honeycomb and Cinnamon Oatmeal Lace. The sandwiches themselves are creative and seasonal: If a local farm has a bumper crop of strawberries, they’ll likely end up in strawberry rhubarb ice cream between layers of buttery shortbread. And all of the ice cream is lactose-free, meaning more people can enjoy the unique pairings. Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches are available at more than 60 shops, restaurants and breweries around Pittsburgh.
Page Dairy Mart, South Side
Summer starts for real on the day Page Dairy Mart opens for the season. The beloved roadside has been scooping since 1951. Don’t miss the excellent banana splits and specialty sundaes, like the one made with warm chocolate chip cookies from Homestead’s Nancy B’s Bakery.
Stickler’s, various locations
Most popsicles are artificially flavored and colored, but Stickler’s uses whole ingredients to create bright new tastes and textures. Using fresh fruit and cane sugar, they make juicy ice pops like Raspberry Mint, Blackberry Lemonade and Golfer’s Delite (an “Arnold Palmer” mix of lemonade and iced tea). Stickler’s pops can be found at places like Voodoo Brewery, Pittsburgh Zoo, Hotel Monaco and Staghorn Cafe.
Glen’s Custard, Springdale and Lower Burrell
If ice cream isn’t quite rich enough for you, then it’s time to try custard. Though it looks like classic soft serve, frozen custard adds eggs to the mix, creating a thicker, less airy dessert. And in Pittsburgh, nobody does custard better than Glen’s. For almost 70 years, folks have flocked to Springdale for sundaes, cones and a few rounds of mini golf. And with a second location in Lower Burrell (which boasts a full menu of burgers and sandwiches), Glen’s won’t be making a last stand for custard anytime soon.
Antney’s looks like any other roadside ice cream stand. Take a glance at the menu, however, and you’ll quickly realize that Antney’s is something special. For starters, they make their ice cream on the premises rather than dumping a pouch of mix into a machine. And their menu, which changes daily, brims with flavors that you won’t find anywhere else, like Caramelized Banana and Lemon Poppyseed with Rose Petal Jam Swirl.
Sugar and Spice Ice Cream, Baldwin
Summer in the South Hills wouldn’t be the same without this 1950s-style ice cream parlor (opened in 1984). Sugar and Spice features 24 flavors of soft serve, plus lots of hard ice cream. Flavors change frequently but lean towards the classics, like the Grasshopper (mint with Oreos), cinnamon, and Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake. They’ve got a huge array of sundaes and a surprising selection of cones. Besides the usual sugar and waffle, you’ll find pretzel cones, cones with M&M’s baked in and cones covered with chocolate.
NatuRoll Creamery, Lawrenceville
People kind of went crazy for rolled ice cream, when NatuRoll first opened — this story was one of the most-read things ever on NEXTpittsburgh. They serve ice cream in a style common in Thailand, where a cream base is selected, then spread onto a super cold ice pan, then mixed with fresh fruit, Nutella, cookies and other ingredients. It freezes up very fast, and is scraped off the pan into little rolls of ice cream. They’re plopped ends-up into a cup and covered with more toppings. Try the Tortoise, which features ground pecans and a swirl of caramel.
Betsy’s, Mt. Lebanon
One of Pittsburgh’s best all-around ice cream spots is in Mt. Lebanon, which could easily be rebranded as The Ice Cream District given the density of icy treat spots nearby. Expect super deluxe scratch-made ice cream in amazing flavors like Lemon Rosewater, Smoked Maple Almond, Cannoli and Toasted Coconut Latte, as well as all the usual ones. They’ve also got a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that delivers four pints to your door for $25 a month.
Dave & Andy’s, Oakland
The real entrance to Dave & Andy’s Homemade Ice Cream isn’t the door on Atwood Street in Oakland — it’s when you first encounter the smell of homemade waffle cones somewhere down the street. It’s small, there’s no parking (it’s in Oakland) and there’s usually a line of college kids stretching out the door. But ambiance is for amateurs. The homemade waffle cones are without equal. The ice cream flavors are outstanding, ever-changing and frequently surprising (lychee fruit? maple bacon?). But it’s the old standbys like the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that are simply unbeatable. You can get toppings, but you won’t need them. As a special bonus, there’s an M&M at the bottom of each cone to keep it from dripping.
Milk Shake Factory, South Side and Downtown
They’ve always made the most delicious ice cream-filled milkshakes in town. But soon, this humble chocolate candy and milkshake shop will have that reputation in many towns all over the country. The company, with an investment by Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull, plans a rollout of 25 new locations using ice cream made from milk at Tull’s Rivendale Farms in Washington County. At their current locations, try the Bananas Foster — a vanilla shake with caramel, fresh banana, toffee syrup, banana syrup, cinnamon and topped with whipped cream and a bananas foster truffle. They also make great ice cream sundaes like the Cold Brew, with cold brew coffee poured over vanilla ice cream and crushed cookies-n-cream, topped with whipped cream and an espresso sea salt caramel.