The Bay Area's most amazing ice cream sundaes – The Mercury News

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At the new Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, you can smell the elements of your ice cream sundae coming together: Freshly roasted nuts and rich, just-melted chocolate, made at Ghirardelli’s San Leandro factory and mixed with milk and vanilla to create hot fudge. Naturally, they offer it in milk and dark chocolate.
The recently renovated Ghirardelli Original Ice Cream Shop, part of a three-phase project slated to be finished by 2024, brings what is perhaps the most famous sundae — a 12-ouncer with top-and-bottom fudge, two scoops of vanilla, crushed almonds, whipped topping and a cherry — into the modern era. It’s served at a marquee-lit bar, where custom Heath Ceramic tiles in signature Ghirardelli blue sparkle against views of the San Francisco Bay. And if that’s not enough, they’re coming out with a non-dairy, almond milk-based sundae this fall.
“We felt it was time to freshen up the look and feel of our stores while keeping the heritage going,” says Steve Genzoli, VP of research and development for the 170-year old chocolate company. “You can feel the vibrancy and watch everything happen. We make the fudge and waffle cone bowls every day.”
The Bay Area is heating up, and we need more than just a scoop of vanilla to cool off. Bring on the sauces and compotes, the homemade sprinkles and chunky, marshmallow-laden flavors. While most respectable scoop shops offer a make-your-own sundae option, only a handful have staff-curated sundae menus that bring together the sweet, creamy, salty and crunchy in unique ways.
That’s where you’ll find us, at the Ghirardelli shops not only in San Francisco but also in Livermore and San Leandro, where there are six mainstay sundaes and another six specialties, many topped with a matching chocolate square — and at other Bay Area-born scoop shops, including Tin Pot Creamery and Humphry Slocombe. These shops have raised sundae-building to an art form, and have multiple locations for easy access sundae enjoyment.
Fundamentally, a sundae is a special-occasion dessert with top-notch ice cream in the starring role, says Stephan Welsh, the general manager for Tin Pot Creamery’s flagship store in Palo Alto. Tin Pot, which also has locations in Campbell, Los Altos and San Mateo, currently offers 17 small-batch flavors, from Salted Butterscotch to Lavender Custard with Wild Blueberries.
“Everything else is there to enhance the experience of eating it,” says Welsh, from the housemade almond toffee to the edible cookie dough and seasonal berry compote. “Enjoying a sundae is like eating a well-balanced meal.”
Once a month, Welsh and his staff brainstorm sundae combinations to add to the company’s small sundae menu, which includes truffle brownie, chocolate cookie chunk and “wachos” sundaes. That’s how the Blue Jasmine Tea sundae originated.
It features Tin Pot’s green jasmine tea ice cream and butterfly pea flower, housemade chocolate hard shell and whipped cream. Their Tcho Chocolate and Butterscotch Ice Cream sundae, topped with hot fudge and brownie pieces, was also a hit. Seasonal sundaes, like the Mango and Sticky Rice — vegan coconut and pandan ice cream with coconut milk-jasmine sticky rice and diced mango — are available at all the shops.
At Humphry Slocombe in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, pastry chef Jake Godby drives the sundae program, which consists of three staples and a slew of seasonal creations. A winter favorite, the duck fat pecan pie sundae is a mini pie made with rendered duck fat for maximum flavor. It’s served warm with vanilla ice cream, and, if you wish, a drizzle of the bourbon caramel sauce that typically graces Humphry Slocombe’s famous Secret Breakfast sundae.
“Jake’s always thinking outside the box,” says co-founder Sean Vahey, who recently announced a July 26 opening for Humphry Slocombe’s Redwood City scoop shop. “He’s our secret weapon.”
Even the housemade marshmallow on the Secret S’mores Sundae is torched before being topping with crushed homemade graham crackers and hot fudge. And you should have seen their Pride sundae: Tufts of cherry cotton candy tucked into two scoops of Rosé All Day sorbet, sprinkled with edible glitter and Fruit Loops.
“It sounds like a lot, but we’re a little much,” Vahey says.
Sundae gourmands relish the signature sundaes at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco’s Mission District. The banana split alone could have its own Instagram page. The secret, says Bi-Rite Creamery pastry chef Kris Hoogerhyde, is the banana, which is halved and bruleed to yield a crunchy, burnt-sugar top. To that, they add vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, salted marcona almonds and whipped cream.
“Having different textures is a big thing,” Hoogerhyde says. “You want something a little crunchy, like a nut or chopped cookie. You want a sauce that’s going to bring the ice cream and topping together. And you have to have whipped cream.”
Sam’s Sundae, named for second-generation Bi-Rite Market owner Sam Mogannam, has been on the menu since the creamery opened. It features chocolate ice cream, blood orange olive oil, sea salt and whipped cream. Yes, olive oil. The winning yet unexpected combination of fat on fat is the traditional way to enjoy ice cream in Italy.
“The silky texture on the cold ice cream makes it really special,” Hoogerhyde says. “It pairs really nicely, especially when you use a fruity oil. You get a balance of flavor that hits all your tastebuds.”

Bi-Rite even has a secret menu, a collection of novelty sundaes created by scoopers past and present. The Merit Badge sundae is a throwback to the girl scout in all of us: a scoop each of  cookies and cream and mint chip ice cream topped with hot fudge and sprinkles.
But The Dainty just might be Hoogerhyde’s favorite. It starts with Honey Lavender ice cream, drizzled with blood orange olive oil and topped with hot fudge and sea salt.
“It seems like a lot going on, but wow, it works,” she says. “That little sundae has a cult following.”
Here are 11 more Bay Area scoop shops for your sundae fix:
Guava Island Eats: This Hawaiian- and Filipino-inspired cafe boasts 11 ice cream flavors and 30 toppings, including housemade “crunchies.” 1506 N. Main St, Walnut Creek, and 716 Main St., Martinez.
Salt & Straw Ice Cream: The Portland-based scoop shop offers 17 chef-driven flavors, including a Summer Picnic series, plus whipped cream and sprinkles. Locations in Palo Alto, San Jose, San Ramon, Burlingame and San Francisco.
Lottie’s Creamery: A small-batch, family-owned artisanal shop with 12 seasonal flavors, two sundaes and eight toppings. 1414 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, and 145 E. Prospect Ave., Danville.
Smitten Ice Cream: Seasonal, churned-to-order flavors like Mixed Berries & Cream can be built into a sundae with selections from their nine toppings. Don’t miss the cookie dough sundae. 5800 College Ave., Oakland, and 3055 Olin Ave., Suite 1055, San Jose.
San Francisco Creamery Co.: This longtime restaurant and scoop shop offers five “old-fashioned” cherry-topped sundaes and eight mega sundaes, like the Candy Train and Kitchen Sink, for sharing. 1370 Locust St., Walnut Creek.
Fentons Creamery: The historic ice cream parlor serves up 30 flavors and five sundae creations. 4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, and 1669 E Monte Vista Ave., Vacaville.
Häagen-Dazs: With two East Bay locations, Haagen-Dazs offers 25+ flavors and “dazzler” sundaes, including Rocky Road. 2774 Livermore Outlets Drive, Livermore, and 1275 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek.
Willow Glen Creamery: Celebrating 20 years in South San Jose, this creamery boasts more than 30 locally-made Treat flavors and about a dozen toppings. 1100 Lincoln Ave. Suite 130, San Jose, and 267 E. Campbell Ave. Ste A, Campbell.;

Sweet Retreat: Build your own sundae at this beloved South Bay spot featuring 30 flavors and 11 toppings, including butterscotch and coconut shavings. 846 Blossom Hill Road, Suite D, San Jose, and 97 E. Third St., Unit C2-1, Morgan Hill.
Marianne’s Ice Cream: Started in 1947, this Santa Cruz County scoop shop boasts a roster of 105 flavors, three staple sundaes and endless possibilities. 1020 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, and at 218 State Park Drive, Aptos.
Cream: Known for its ice cream sandwiches, Cream also offers make-your-own sundaes using its 16 flavors, plus toppings like Ghirardelli hot fudge. Eight Bay Area locations, including Concord, Cupertino, San Jose and Berkeley.
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