The Scoop on Maine’s Ice Cream Stands
Maine has been churning out delicious ice cream for decades, both by the scoop at ice cream stands and restaurants and by the gallon at grocery stores. Even the smallest towns in Maine have a stand or two selling fresh-made small-batch ice cream, made with milk and cream from Maine’s dairy farms. There are even a few farms that skip the middleman and make their own ice cream.
The bedrock of Maine’s ice cream revolution are Shain’s, Giffords and Beal’s. Shain’s of Maine has been leading the charge, producing more than 50 different flavors of traditional ice cream, as well as frozen yogurt, no fat/no sugar options, sorbets, sherbets and seasonal flavors. Beal’s Ice Cream has several brick-and-mortar locations in Portland, Gorham, Scarborough and South Portland, as well as an ice cream truck. They’ve got more than 100 different flavors in their repertoire, served up on their house-made Swiss cones. Gifford’s ice cream has become so popular, its delicious flavors are available in stores as far west as Illinois; but at heart, it remains a family ice cream stand.
The original Gifford’s stand opened in Skowhegan in 1980. But that makes them the new flavor on the block compared with some of the state’s other classic cones. Round Top Ice Cream in Damariscotta has been around for about 90 years; they’re so old-school you won’t find them online, and they don’t take credit cards. Hodgman’s Frozen Custard opened in New Gloucester in 1946, Dorman’s Dairy Dream in Thomaston in 1951.
For Mainers, the opening of the local ice cream stand is the unofficial start of summer. Places like Mainely Custard in Freeport are the place to be after a Little League game or a day at the beach. Try the blueberry flavor at Butterfield's Ice Cream in scenic Dover-Foxcroft for a true taste of Maine goodness. Farther south along the Kennebec River, there’s Deb’s Ice Cream & Mini Golf in Randolph. Most roadside shops close down by the end of summer, but Deb’s keeps the customers coming all the way through fall. And don’t think for a minute that these small-town stands are lacking big flavor. Tubby’s Own Ice Cream in Wayne declares that their “Peppermint Schtick” is “Santa’s favorite all year.” For a little more adventure, Tubby’s “Tree Hugger” is made with local maple syrup and granola. And make sure to save room and a page in your passport for the internationally-inspired flavors of Rococo Ice Cream in Kennebunkport, Ogunquit and Wells. They even have a test kitchen where you can try the latest flavors and share your worldly feedback.
Around Portland, even more fearless flavors are gaining ground. Gelato Fiasco boasts bold flavors like ginger cardamom and pomegranate lime. Local favorites at Willard Scoops in South Portland include “Sunburn” (a strawberry and habanero combination), as well as PB&J. Made from only the finest and freshest ingredients, their flavors go beyond gimmick to greatness. Meanwhile, Maple’s Organic Gelato over in Yarmouth prides itself on sourcing all milk and cream from Maine farms to create exotic flavors like Thai coconut, Turkish fig and West Indian rum raisin. Most creative of all may be Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream, with brilliant (and cleverly named) flavors like “Bay of Figs.” They’ve been raking in the foodie accolades with flavors like nectarine champagne, pear Riesling, mango jicama habanero, apple parsley and “Atlantic Brewing Stout with fudge.” In the category of “you can’t go to Maine without trying this,” Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor offers Lobster Ice Cream. Ben & Bill’s has 64 hard-serve flavors and 12 gelato, but it’s their lobster creation that’s been making waves with appearances on the Food Network and The Today Show.
Even if your go-to flavor is classic vanilla, the effort and pride Mainers put into our ice cream is sure to make the plainest scoop the best you’ve ever had.