The Scoop: Swensen’s Ice Cream
Don’t Miss This SF Tradition
By Theresa Poulos
You know you are in for a treat when you’re standing on a corner, eyes fixed upon your destination across the street, and a stranger in a nearby car rolls down his window to say, “That sure is one historic establishment.” And thus the stage was set for our January Scoop adventure to Swensen’s.
From behind the counter, an elderly man full of exuberance and silly jokes and his teenage coworker — who reminded me of Violet from The Incredibles — greeted us. They were quite an entertaining act together, and were both happy to serve up some scoops.
They let us try a variety of samples from the menu, which was populated mostly with traditional classics. The bite of Sticky Chewy Chocolate I had lived up to its name, while the Chocolate Peanut Butter had massive peanut buttery chunks in a similarly rich and delightful chocolate base.
The Thin Mint had a smooth texture and minty pop of chip that made it one of the best mint chip flavors I’ve had in a while, and the Cookies and Cream had a thick creamy base, with satisfying chunks of Oreo swirled into every square millimeter.
I ended up going with a scoop of Caramel Turtle Fudge in a cone ($3.35). The caramel and fudge swirls didn’t overpower the delicious vanilla base, which was thick enough to hold its own amongst those thick ribbons and caramel-covered bits of nut.
My satisfaction was one-upped by the choice of my co-taster Dawn Maxey, who knew it was love at first bite when she tasted the Black Raspberry Marble; it was tart and sweet in perfect balance. But she made the bold decision to get a scoop of Mocha Chip without tasting it first, and when her lips fell upon that second scoop in her cone ($5.35), she let out a yelp as we were gobbling up our treats on Hyde Street.
The third member of our team, Ian Buchanan, and I were afraid something was awry, but Dawn’s cry was of pure joy, so of course we were both curious to have a bite. Although my reaction wasn’t quite as visceral, I must say that the coffee flavor tasted like an ice cream version of freshly roasted coffee beans, and the dark chocolate chunks gave it a satisfying bite. Ian, in a break from Scoop tradition, went with a large Vanilla and Fudge Milkshake ($5.95) which satisfied his sweet tooth.
The store itself is quite endearing. It opened in 1948 and has been at its location ever since. An ice cream machine in the window lets you ogle over how they create their sweet concoctions, their menu lists “Jimmies” as a topping (i.e. sprinkles, for all you youngins), and the ice cream sizes are given by the ounce and quarter pound.
There’s no seating in the shop, so you have to get your ice cream and then wander out, but the Russian Hill neighborhood is a great destination for a scoop and a stroll. You can even make a San Francisco day of it, and ride a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf or wander down the twisty, curvy part of Lombard Street.
Also, in keeping with its old-time feel, Swensen’s is cash only, so plan ahead before you make your way over. Unfortunately, the prices aren’t quite as old-fashioned, with two scoops ringing in at over $5, but it’s worth the splurge, because Swensen’s is an ice cream experience you won’t regret.
Swensen’s Ice Cream
Hours: Tues.-Thurs., Sun. noon-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-11 p.m.
1999 Hyde St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Cash only! Street parking only!
Theresa Poulos is a second-year medical student.