View Ice Cream, FroYo and Gelato on State Street in a larger map
In Wisconsin, summer tends to last the required three months, then disappears into the wet, cold and ugly season known as the rest of the year. Although summer is obviously over and the prospect of more 70 degree days is dismal, all is not lost. Just because we cannot (and should not) keep sporting our flip-flops and shorts doesn’t mean we can’t trick our stomachs into thinking it’s still summer with an ice cream cone. Luckily, there are several shops on State Street willing to be your accomplice.
Now, to be honest, frozen yogurt is not on my list of top 10 anything, but there are a couple of options I won’t skip just because of prejudice. I will note that if Pinkberry opened and brought its salted caramel, I’d be all over it. But I digress. Without further ado, we’ll start our tour of the best cones on the block at the bottom of State Street with Red Mango.
Red Mango frozen yogurt professes to be all-natural, gluten-free and kosher, leading some to wonder as to how it could be any good at all. The chain certainly pushes nutrition over taste, but for those who genuinely like fruit as dessert and aren’t into sugary treats, it delivers. With three basic flavors (original, pomegranate and Madagascar vanilla) and one rotating daily flavor, the frozen yogurt base can taste, well, basic. However, it is the toppings that add spice … sort of. Red Mangoers can add fruits, almonds and cereals to their dishes, and the truly daring can add a scoop of Ghirardelli dark chocolate. All in all, it certainly isn’t my favorite, though my waistband would prefer it was.
Moving up State is another frozen yogurt option, the much-loved Campus Candy. Here, the gimmick is that “the whole store is your toppings.” This means, if you were so inclined, you could put chocolate-covered pretzel balls, Captain Crunch cereal, sour gummy worms and a dozen flavors of jelly beans all in one dish, along with malted milk balls and licorice. The concept is cool, but the quality is just not there. Of the several flavors of frozen yogurt, all but the original tasted strongly of chemical flavoring, and the toppings selection, while wide, is pretty unimaginative. If toppings are your thing, I honestly think Cold Stone is a better choice, but we’ll get to that.
Across the street and up a bit is The Chocolate Shoppe, a Madison original that’s been around since 1962. The shop sells Wisconsin-made ice cream and boasts 110 flavors, though not all of them appear in the shop at the same time. The Shoppe may be the polar opposite of Red Mango, stating proudly “If you want nutrition, eat carrots.” Yet even so, customers flock to the counter for their famous Mackinac Island Fudge, classic Blue Moon or newer flavors like the super-caffeinated Bang!! line, Halley’s Comet, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang or Fat Elvis. Most scoops are so flavor-packed that they don’t require toppings, but candies, nuts and syrups can be added for truly indulgent sundaes. I admit this would be my choice on a hot day, but limiting yourself to visiting only once a month is not the worst idea.
A treat potentially as indulgent lies across the street at Cold Stone Creamery. The store is famous for its mix-ins, ranging from candies to fruits to actual chunks of brownies and cakes. The ice cream flavors can be richer than The Chocolate Shoppe’s, but the mix-in option allows eaters to create their own flavors. The website claims that over 11.5 million customized ice cream treats can be created, so whether you’re looking for a sugar rush, a fruitier scoop or a “sin-free” (read, boring) snack, you can find it there. I personally avoid the chain because my penchant for sickly sweet creations always leaves me with a sad stomach. Those willing to try bases other than cake batter, I’m sure, will have better results.
The last on our jaunt up State Street is Paciugo, the gelato chain. To be honest, I haven’t spent much time in the shop, but several of my lactose-free friends swear by their water and soy-based flavors. The rotating flavors can be hit or miss (Black Pepper Olive Oil, anyone?), but with more than 200 recipes in their repertoire, you’re bound to find something on your visit. Paciugo boasts fewer calories than Cold Stone and claims premium ingredients, putting it ahead of the pack for the health-conscious with a sweet tooth.
The best part about each of these shops is that they offer free samples to help you find a flavor you love. I am certainly not advocating abuse of this generosity, but my motto with food is you won’t know until you try. So the next time you’re lamenting the death of summer, comfort yourself the dairy state way with a cone from State Street.
Allegra Dimperio ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.