The Scoop: Bi-Rite Creamery

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Our latest ice cream adventure took us to one of San Francisco’s most famed creameries, Bi-Rite. Yes, the ever-so-tiny Mission District ice cream shop with the notorious reputation for a line that snakes out the door and around the corner onto Dolores Street. You might be wondering, “How could it be that these self-professed ice cream mavens writing The Scoop have never been to Bi-Rite?!” Well, you’re right, we have been…many a time. Although we usually like to go to new and different ice cream places for our Scoop articles, we realized that we had never ventured into Bi-Rite’s selection of sundaes, so we thought this would be an apt opportunity to do so.

Bi-Rite Creamery opened its doors in 2006 in a small store on 18th  Street in the Mission, where it makes all of its ice cream—along with all the delicious ingredients that go into it—by hand. It was the first ice cream shop in the City to use organic milk and cream from Straus Family Creamery (only 45 miles away) its ice cream and Soft Serve. Since the beginning, it has been a local favorite, and is now almost always packed.  Some people are put off by the thought of waiting in what appears to be an incredibly long line for a scoop of ice cream, but it moves quickly, especially when you’re with friends.

As we stood in line on a busy Saturday night, joking about how we might get salmonella or Lsisteria as a result of our ice cream indulgence (medical student humor), we hardly noticed that 15 minutes had passed. In fact, by the time we reached the front, none of us were even close to ready to order. My approach was to get as many samples as I could in order to make an informed decision before settling on flavors for my cone. Luckily, the boy behind the counter was happy to oblige, as they always are at Bi-Rite.

I was already familiar with some of the classic Bi-Rite flavors, and would recommend most in a heartbeat.  The Ricanelas, which is cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodles mixed in, is like Cinnamon Toast Crunch in ice cream form. It was created by their ice cream maker, Ezequiel Cantor,<note addition of last name> and is a staff favorite. The Salted Caramel is Bi-Rite’s most popular flavor, and for good reason. As my friend Dawn puts it, it’s got “an awesome salty-sweet balance with that burnt-sugar caramel-ly flavor everyone loves.” Her favorite, though, is the balsamic strawberry: “It might sound slightly strange, but the balsamic part brings out the pure strawberry flavor. Who knew strawberry ice cream could have such subtle, sexy complexity? It's also only seasonally available, so stuff your face while it’s here.”

I had heard good things about the Honey Lavender, so I made that my first sample of the evening. It truly tastes what it sounds like, so if the thought of eating an aromatherapy candle excites you, this might be the flavor of your dreams. Not quite my style. I also tried the Ginger because ginger lattes are my favorite, but I just wasn’t sold on the ginger ice cream.

I quickly came to the conclusion that the “alternative” flavors weren’t for me, so I tried a bite of their Coffee Toffee and their new seasonal Honey Graham, and was sold on getting a “one-scoop” cone with both flavors ($3.50). The coffee ice cream base had as potent and rich a coffee flavor as almost any coffee ice cream I’ve had, and was well balanced by the sweet toffee chunks. It is made with coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters just a few blocks away, and the almond toffee is made at Bi-Rite. But the highlight of my ice cream cone was definitely the Honey Graham flavor. The honey gave it just the right amount of sweetness, and the graham crackers provided good texture for that satisfying mid-creamy crunch. The flavor was so good that out of five friends there that night, four of us got a scoop of it. Go get it before the season is up!

But now on to the really good stuff…the sundaes. As I said, no one in my group of friends had ever ventured outside the “scoop of ice cream” safety zone, but hours and hours of studying will drive a med student to the edge, and we decided to take the jump into creamy delirium. Dawn ordered the Brownie Sundae ($7), which normally comes with house-made brownies atop vanilla ice cream, with chocolate and burnt caramel sauces, whipped cream and candied pecans. She substituted Honey Graham ice cream for the vanilla, and toasted almonds for the pecans. Both substitutions were excellent choices, though the hot fudge sauce was so delicious that you could have a bowl of that and be the happiest person alive, though perhaps slightly obtunded from chocolate overload.

Another friend, Ian, had the Afternoon Snack sundae ($7.50), which has scoops of Roasted Banana ice cream topped with house-made graham crackers (the very same ones used in the most delicious flavor mentioned above), caramel sauce and whipped cream. While I’m not a particular fan of banana ice cream, this flavor was true to its word. As Ian said, “It’s like eating a banana, except with a lot of fat in it: so much banana flavor without any worry about getting hyperkalemic!” (med student humor strikes again). Not being a huge fan of banana ice cream in general, I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy my bite of Ian’s sundae, but the caramel sauce proved me wrong. That sauce puts any other caramel sauce to shame. I dare you to find a better caramel sauce (and feed it to me).

However not everything about our visit was perfect. The whipped cream on both sundaes certainly left something to be desired. It was incredible heavy, and had a consistency more like whipped butter than whipped cream. Next time, I would definitely recommend asking them to go light on the whipped cream.

I was also a bit unhapppy with my cone, as it was just a standard sugar cone. Perhaps the cone was a rookie move, but next time I will have my ice cream in a cup so that I can focus on the brilliant flavors I’m stuffing into my face. The last disappointment was the cookies, which were sitting next to the register, and only $0.75 apiece. After trying, a toffee chocolate chip cookie, an apricot brown butter cookie and a coconut macaroon, we came to the quick conclusion that you don’t go to Bi-Rite for the cookies.

Despite these minor setbacks, we were all deliriously happy and undeniably stuffed by night’s end. Bi-Rite Creamery has become a San Francisco destination since it opened its doors in the Mission, and lucky for us, a brand new location is coming soon to 550 Divisadero. When it opens, you can be sure that we’ll have The Scoop for you!

Bi-Rite Creamery

3692 18thSt.

San Francisco, CA

Sunday-Thursday : 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday : 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

(415) 626-5600