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  • Lezlie Sterling /

    The Bee's favorite summer frozen treat: Ice cream sandwiches from Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates in midtown Sacramento. Flavors: pistachio, left, caramel.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Elizabeth McCleary, proprietor at Devine, holds a blood orange-and-mascarpone gelato. She studied gelato making in Italy before opening.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Gelato awaiting the scoop at Devine. The flavor: caramel with coconut and macadamia nuts.

The Bee picks the top 10 frozen treats around Sacramento

Published: Sunday, Jul. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8AANDE

It's that time of year, like it or not, when the mercury climbs well into the 90s and sometimes beyond. We simmer, we seethe, we overheat.

To cool down, we seek out something sweet, cold and tasty. In the Sacramento area, there is no shortage of frozen confections. In fact, compiling a list of the area's top 10 frozen treats is to realize there are at least 20 excellent choices and many more opinions about what makes one stand out over the other.

This wasn't easy, nor was it taken lightly.

To come up with the top 10 and rank them in order, we looked for overall quality. We looked for how the textures worked with the flavors. We looked for tradition, creativity and, especially, for desserts that said something special about the Sacramento area and its legions of frozen-treats aficionados.

This list took shape over the course of several weeks of "research." On hot afternoons, during chilly, wind-swept evenings, on weeknights and on weekends, we crisscrossed the region and stood in lines long and short in search of things really cold and really good. You may quibble with the order, and that's OK. There's no wrong answer. Try them all and get back to us.

1. Ice Cream Sandwich, $5.75 – Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (1801 L St. No. 60, Sacramento)

This may be the greatest frozen treat anywhere. It's just that good, a game-changer of a dessert that redefines the category. Ginger Elizabeth is best known for stellar handmade chocolates, cakes and French macarons. The ice cream sandwich is an offshoot of the last.

Macarons are made with egg whites, and the giant version of this cookie, with amazing housemade ice cream in between, is the basis for the magic. This elegant cookie doesn't really freeze, so it remains tender, easy to bite and endlessly satisfying.

It comes in three flavors; more may be in the works. The salty caramel is by far the most popular, and for good reason. The salt doesn't taste salty – it makes the caramel flavor in the ice cream more intense.

The lemon version is my favorite, with the ice cream's lemons from a lemon tree grown by proprietor Ginger Hahn's sister. The pistachio also is exceptional.

2. Gelato, various flavors, $3.50 to $5 – Devine Gelateria & Cafe (1221 19th St., Sacramento)

This place doesn't advertise – it doesn't need to. Stand in line, try a flavor or two and then prepare to tell everyone you know how great this gelato is.

Devine Gelateria is a bona fide hit less than a year after opening. Owner Elizabeth McCleary doesn't have a long history in the business. She studied gelato making at a renowned school in Italy, then returned to open her business.

McCleary works 75 hours a week and makes her gelatos fresh each morning. The flavors are amazing.

Though it's impossible to pick a favorite, the subtle mascarpone is a beautiful thing. The fruit flavors are all seasonal and made with fresh fruit. Keep an eye out for "bananas Foster" (made with real rum) and margarita gelato (made with tequila).

This gelato is so well balanced and the mouth feel is so creamy that you will wonder how it can be made with milk – not cream – and be lower in fat than ice cream.

3. The 50/50, $2.80 to $5.75 – Gunther's Ice Cream Shop (2801 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento)

On a Saturday or Sunday night in the summer, the scene here is like a slice of wholesome America – if by that you mean long lines and lots of happy folks, albeit patient ones.

Why did we single out one frozen treat at a place that offers so many ice cream flavors, all made in house, as well as unusual offerings such as frozen bananas or chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick?

Everything is high quality, including the 50 flavors of ice cream (my favorite is the caramel crackle crunch). In fact, two other places (Magpie and La Bombe) that made our top 10 also use ice cream from Gunther's.

But there's something about the 50/50, made with flavored ice and ice cream. It's appealing to the eye and to the palate. Go for the traditional orange, or the edgier lime. The textures are winners.

4. Orange Cream Freeze, $3 to $8.50 – Hagen's Orange Freeze (2520 Walnut Ave., Carmichael)

Merlino's was an institution in Carmichael and well beyond since it opened at this location in 1965, beloved through generations for its freezes in a variety of flavors, but especially orange.

When Merlino's expanded and then fell on hard times, two former teenage employees bought the company and brought it back to life. Legal reasons prevented the couple, Temme and Toy Hagen, from reviving the name, so it's today called Hagen's Orange Freeze.

The freezes are as good as ever – thick and icy and with great flavors. Why does the orange taste so good? Easy. It's made with real orange juice. These days, there are usually about 28 flavors available.

The texture of the freeze is creamy along with icy. When it's hot in Sacramento, the benefits of a freeze are immediate. It cools you to the core while delighting your taste buds.

"We're certainly honored that we're able to carry on, and we're having fun with it," said Temme Hagen.

5. Shaved ice (various flavors), $2 to $4.25 – Osaka-Ya (2210 10th St., Sacramento)

Talk about tradition. This place has been family-owned for 49 years. Back then, the shaved-ice machine was a hand-cranked gadget. But once this amazing cup of flavored ice caught on, Osaka-Ya upgraded to a powered model – rattling the dishes at the restaurant next door. These days, business continues to boom.

Here, you can go small or very large. The large size is just $4.25 but is known to be as "big as a baby's head," as second-generation owner Linda Nakatani likes to say.

Osaka-Ya doesn't mix flavors, but they're all good. Root beer with ice cream in the center is a big hit. For a change, try the coffee float, made with coffee imported from Japan.

6. Peach milk shake, $3.15 – Whitey's Jolly Kone (1300 Jefferson Blvd.,West Sacramento).

In some ways, this may be the most amazing frozen treat on the list – it is simple, honest and made with great pride. The folks here don't cut corners, serving the peach shake only when the local peaches are absolutely perfect. That usually happens the week after the Fourth of July.

In the Sacramento area, this shake is approaching icon status. Dreamed up 15 years ago by the late Emile "Whitey" Boisclair (he died at 83 in 2003), the peach shake uses fresh peaches from the farmers market. Daughter Paula Ericson and her husband, Steve, get the peaches themselves – about 300 pounds a week during summer.

Here's the list of fancy ingredients: peaches, soft-serve ice cream.

If you're not into peaches, the chocolate shake is also excellent.

Fair warning: Whitey's will close July 4-8, but the peach shakes should be available soon after.

7. Popsicles, various flavors, $3, Fat Face (1815 19th St., Sacramento; inside Bows & Arrows)

This is the edgiest treat on the list, and if you're bored with mainstream offerings, this easily could be at the top of your personal top 10. With her popsicles, Jaymes Luu is an artist, a dreamer, a provocateur.

They're just really good, really interesting, often weird. Bacon and eggs. Apricot curry. Kaffir lime and avocado. Thai tea and sweet potato. Those are all recent flavors of popsicles. OK, she also does more-accessible flavors like fudge espresso and strawberry lemonade.

These things are like little pieces of performance art. Since the cold tends to mask the flavor, don't rush these. Bite and then allow it to linger. As the ice melts and the treat warms on the palate, it releases the flavors and what you're tasting intensifies.

You may not like everything, but you should appreciate the ideas behind each pop. Keep an open mind. Luu wants you to love food in new and expanded ways.

8. Ice cream sandwich, $4.50 Magpie Café (1409 R St. No. 102, Sacramento)

Magpie serves amazing food, so it's no surprise the ice cream sandwich lives up to expectations.

This one is made with vanilla Gunther's ice cream. The elongated, buttery cookie is appealing in multiple ways – it looks great, it's tender at first bite and it has floral notes that distinguish it from the competition.

Flavors actually change depending on what the kitchen is up to. Chef and co-owner Ed Roehr wants his staff to express things through the food. This is one way, and the vanilla ice cream is a neutral flavor element that lets the cookie be the focal point. Both parts work really well together.

Roehr's favorite cookie flavors are fennel and orange, and fennel and Meyer lemon. We'll let you know if we ever encounter one we don't love here.

Like several treats on our list, this is a seasonal offering. It shows up when the weather warms and disappears when it starts to cool – usually by mid-September.

9. La bombe glace, $5.95 – La Bombe Ice Cream & More (3020 H St., Sacramento).

The newest frozen confection place to make our list is bringing some European style to the conversation.

La bombe glace is a well-known treat in France, and now Sacramentans are quickly warming up to the idea, dreamed up by creative director and partner Jennifer Dare Sparks.

It's essentially a sphere or dome of flavored ice creams set atop a thin, flavored wafer. And it's really good – an explosion of intense flavors and a contrast of textures. Each dome usually has three flavors.

The variety here is impressive. We recommend "le citron," which is lemon custard ice cream, lemon sorbet and orange sherbet on an orange wafer with lemon curd and topped with candied orange peel.

10. Chocolate milk shake, $4.70, Vic's Ice Cream (3199 Riverside Blvd.,Sacramento)

Another decades-old, family-owned ice cream parlor, this one in Land Park. Sometimes a simple choice at a classic place is the best bet. In this case, that's the chocolate milk shake.

If you really want to struggle to get it through the straw, order it extra thick for $1 more.

There's nothing fancy about this shake and you can go any number of ways with the flavor. The coffee shake is also good, though the taste is somewhat muted until the ice cream begins to thaw and the flavors open up.

This shake will cool you down and, if you get the large, will likely put you into a pleasant little food coma.

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