Here's the Scoop: Cape Cod's Ice Cream Shops
Nobody’s done a scientific survey, but we don’t think we’re going out on a limb to say that Cape Cod is one of the world’s top ice cream destinations. Come visit, and you go to the beach, you eat fried clams, and you go out for ice cream. It’s just what you do, and it’s part of what sets the Cape apart from other notable vacation destinations. Take that, Disneyland!
When you do inevitably go out for ice cream, there are a lot of choices, and we thought you might like some help sorting through the options. So, in the interest of public service, we tasted some ice cream. Because we’re altruistic that way.
First off, though, let’s get one thing straight. There’s no such thing as bad ice cream. You take cream, you add sugar, some chocolate or strawberry, and we all scream. Which means that, if you’re on Cape Cod in the summer, you can’t go wrong.
But, while no ice cream is bad, there are differences. Some shops make super-dense versions, and others whip in more air. Some have intense flavors, some go for mild. Some include exotic flavors in the rotation, others stick to classics. And just about every ice cream shop has a couple of flavors that earn a loyal following. There’s the mocha chip at Four Seas, the coffee at Cape Cod Creamery, the peach at Ice Cream Sandwich, et cetera.
Ideally, if you want to compare ice cream places, you taste all the flavors at each one. And then, three years and several hundred pounds later, you write the absolutely definitive guide to Cape Cod ice cream parlors. We were looking for a comparison that took less of a toll on our schedule, palate, and waistline, which is why we bring to you the…drumroll, please…Cape Cod Vanilla Ice Cream Index.
Since we can’t compare every flavor from every shop, we chose plain vanilla because it makes sense that, if the shop’s paying attention to that one, it’s definitely paying attention to the Razz-ma-tazz or the Moose Tracks.
We canvassed the Cape to collect the vanillas on offer. We couldn’t hit every single place, and there are undoubtedly worthy places that we missed, but we tried to include at least one near you, wherever you are, from Falmouth to Provincetown.
And then we assembled a panel of nine tasters, including both food professionals and amateur ice-cream lovers, and we gave them eleven little cups of vanilla ice cream and a spoon. We asked them to rate each sample on a scale of one to ten (ten being best), based simply on how much they liked it. And then, in the comments, they offered assessments of flavor, texture, and anything else interesting.
We found that all vanillas are not the same. Some (like Lewis Brothers) had a very pronounced vanilla-y flavor, and one (Cape Cod Creamery) had little flecks of vanilla bean. Some (like Polar Cave) were quite dense, while others (like Four Seas) were much lighter.
When we tallied up the rankings, an interesting phenomenon emerged. There were several samples that were pretty much down the middle—creamy texture, mild flavor, what you think of when you think “vanilla”—and those got a relatively narrow range of rankings. Everyone liked Four Seas and Sundae School, but no one liked them most or least.
Samples that strayed from the middle-of-the-road plain vanilla got wider ranges of rankings, with some tasters loving them and some, not so much. Two (Polar Cave and Lewis Brothers) were described as having a caramel flavor layered into the vanilla, and each of those got scores ranging from 2 to 10. If the ice-cream shop flavors a little outside the lines, it gets both some top scores and some bottom scores.
Which just goes to show that ice cream is personal. You know whether you like your flavors big or subtle, your texture dense or light. The best way to find the best ice cream on Cape Cod—for you—is to come here and eat ice cream. Start by visiting the shop nearest you. And try the vanilla! You might be surprised.