Are tourists right about San Francisco's Ghirardelli sundae? – SFGATE

Do you remember the first time you had a Ghirardelli sundae? Maybe you were all of 9 years old, eyes as big as saucers while you waited impatiently in line for a hot fudge-drenched monstrosity. Maybe you were 17 on your first ever trip to San Francisco, considering whether you wanted to move here for college between chocolatey bites (that’d be me — the sundae certainly sealed the deal). 
But once you’ve lived here for a while, there’s a tendency to leave Ghirardelli to the tourists. It’s a $15 sundae from a massive corporation, after all, and it’s not like San Francisco has a dearth of excellent local ice cream shops. 
There’s a reason, though, that tourists flock to Ghirardelli Square for ice cream even on the foggiest San Francisco days. So on a recent Thursday afternoon, I joined them. 
It was a cloudy, windy weekday, but the line still snaked out the door of the “soda fountain entrance” at the square. I gritted my teeth and paid the $15.76 (after tax) for my “world famous hot fudge sundae,” grabbed a cushy corner booth by the window and began people-watching.
The ice cream menu at Ghiardelli.
Patrons wait in line at the “soda fountain entrance” to order ice cream at Ghiardelli’s flagship store in San Francisco. 
An assortment of Ghiardelli chocolates, on sale at their flagship store in San Francisco. 
A woman next to me shook her head furiously when a server in a paper cap attempted to hand her a plastic spoon. 
Ghirardelli’s “World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae,” left, and their Gold Rush” caramel sundae photographed at the company’s flagship store in San Francisco.
“The long spoon is better,” she declared. 
When I dipped into my sundae, which arrived seconds later, I realized I couldn’t agree more — the long stainless steel dessert spoon is way better.
If you do go to Ghirardelli, you simply must order the sundae “for here,” because then it comes in a glass goblet, which makes it look more like something that should cost $15 (to be fair, it’s large enough to feed two people). Its presentation is simple, but glorious — two layers each of hot fudge and vanilla ice cream, topped with a peak of fluffy whipped cream, chopped almonds and a cheeky maraschino cherry.
Ghirardelli’s “Gold Rush” caramel sundae, foreground left, and its “World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae,” right, at its flagship store in San Francisco.
Instantly, eating the sundae transported me back to childhood — to little kid birthday sundaes at the popular chain restaurant in my suburban hometown and to teenage banana splits at the retro drive-in diner. 
As a child, there was nothing more exhilarating than getting your parents to splurge on a sundae. A sundae is not your everyday ice cream cone. A sundae is an extravagance. A sundae is a cherry-topped birthday party in a glass. 
As I ate, my most juvenile instincts took over: I licked the whipped cream off my spoon; I saved the maraschino cherry for last. There was no way I could finish the whole thing, but like a determined child, I kept going until I felt sick. 
The perennially popular Ghirardelli ice cream and chocolate shop is located just beyond the illuminated eastern entrance to Ghirardelli Square.
The Ghirardelli sundae is not an innovative culinary experience. It offers none of the sophistication of San Francisco’s trendiest ice creameries, which draw patrons in with Tasteful Adult Flavors like honey lavender and strawberry balsamic. Sometimes, I like to pretend I have an extremely refined palate when picking an ice cream flavor, but sometimes, my taste buds just want to be pacified. After all, I’ve never seen my middle-aged parents more confused than when I took them to Humphry Slocombe. 
“What on earth is a ‘secret breakfast’?” my mom asked the helpless person behind the counter.
A Ghirardelli sundae, on the other hand, tastes exactly how you’d expect. No tongue-in-cheek names or quirky ingredient combinations. It’s vanilla ice cream and hot fudge, plain and simple. And you know what? It’s f—king delicious. $15 is still a sticker shock, but maybe the tourists are on to something.
Madeline Wells is a reporter for SFGATE covering food and drink in the Bay Area. She grew up in the Seattle area and received her B.A. in English and Media Studies from UC Berkeley. Prior to SFGATE, she was an associate editor at East Bay Express and freelance writer covering the Bay Area music scene. Email:


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