These two ice cream shops have tickled sweet tooths and cooled off Sacramentans during scorching summers for more than 60 years. But, which ice cream tastes best in a blind tasting: Vic's or Gunther's?
On the corner of Riverside Boulevard and Eighth Avenue, we have Vic's Ice Cream, the Land Park landmark founded in 1947. Step inside, and with its checkerboard flooring and old-fashioned counter, you might as well be in a scene from "Happy Days."
Next comes Gunther's Ice Cream, a Curtis Park mainstay. This beloved ice cream shop was founded in 1940 at Fifth Avenue and Franklin Boulevard and moved to its current location on Franklin Boulevard near Castro Way in 1949.
Declaring which of these Sacramento institutions makes the better ice cream remains a classic Sacramento argument, a matter of sweet neighborhood pride. To help settle this mother of all Sacramento ice cream questions, we assembled a six-person panel of folks who love their frozen treats.
The judges included two of the most respected palates in town: Darrell Corti, the highly regarded gourmand and specialty grocer, and Matthew Lewis, a local sommelier and wine educator with previous stints at Enotria and The Firehouse.
Jane Anderson certainly knows her ice creams. She's a pastry chef at Ella Dining Room & Bar, who creates seasonal ice creams and sorbets for this classy downtown dining destination.
But we couldn't forget one group who especially love ice cream kids! The panel included Nicolas Come, an 8-year-old from Orangevale who shares kid-friendly cooking tips via a mobile app and www.NicolasGarden. com. Lily Miller, a 10-year-old who attends David Lubin Elementary School, and her mom, Larissa Miller-Lerch, also offered their ice cream input.
Sugar rushes be darned, the panel treated each ice cream judiciously. The room was fairly silent, save for the scribbling of notes after tasting an ice cream. All of the judges turned in their evaluation packets, and then the results were revealed.
In this ultimate battle of Vic's vs. Gunther's, here's how these signature Sacramento ice cream shops fared. A sampling of judges' comments is also included:
This ice cream battle kicked off with vanilla, the most classic of flavors. Judges were asked to pay particular attention to the level of sweetness, its creaminess and color.
In the end, vanilla emerged as one of the most lopsided battles in the entire tasting.
Gunther's comments: "(The mouthfeel) doesn't stay/linger in the mouth and could be more creamy." (Anderson); "Nice color warm and natural." (Miller-Lerch); "Pronounced vanilla bean smell. Perhaps a bit dry looking." (Lewis)
Vic's comments: "Light, low gumminess, clean." (Corti); "Airy, dissipates quickly. Rather bland sweet cream." (Lewis); "Yummy." (Miller).
Final result: Gunther's wins with 73 points; Vic's earned 63. Four out of six judges preferred Gunther's over Vic's.
Next, the panel turned to the fruity favorite of strawberry ice cream. Judges considered the use of strawberry chunks, the appropriateness of the ice creams' pink color and overall sweetness.
Vic's comments: "It would be better without the chunks." (Come); "Great strawberry texture. Love the strawberries and freshness." (Miller-Lerch); "The flavors leave the palate quickly, (needs) more salt." (Anderson).
Gunther's comments: "Cherry blossom pink. Creamy. Seemed like fresh." (Corti); "Needs more strawberries!" (Anderson). "Tastes more of cream than berry." (Lewis).
Final result: Vic's wins with 72.5 points; Gunther's takes a narrow loss with 68 points. Four out of six judges scored Vic's higher than Gunther's.
You can't have an ice cream battle without chocolate. The distinctions of color and taste between the two ice creams were noted quickly. The Vic's ice cream also featured a melty property that was appreciated by some judges who liked its "soft serve" style, though Anderson felt this wouldn't work well in a restaurant setting.
This chocolate category resulted in the largest point spread between the two ice cream shops.
Vic's comments: "Light, slightly unpleasing brown (color)." (Come); "Flavor is a bit like Hershey's syrup. I love the richness." (Miller-Lerch); "Muddy-looking. Poor chocolate character. Ovaltine flavor." (Corti).
Gunther's comments: "It looks like a brownie made into ice cream." (Miller); "Long lasting on the palate. Good stuff." (Lewis); "Color is what I would expect chocolate ice cream to taste like. Flavor stays with you in a good way." (Anderson).
Overall: Gunther's chocolate wins with 74.5 points; Vic's scored 63.5 points. Four out of six judges scored Gunther's highest, one scored for Vic's, and one judge logged a tie between the two.
This long-time favorite flavor was saved for last, mainly because we didn't want mint lingering in the mouth while other flavors were tasted.
Judges were asked to note the distribution and character of chocolate chips. Each bite should ideally have a fairly uniform amount of chips, and a balanced flavor between mint and chocolate.
The bright green color from Vic's struck judges immediately.
Mint chip featured the closest point spread of all flavors.
Gunther's comments: "Chocolate bits are nicely soft, not tooth crackling. Wish there was more mint." (Lewis); "Color is a little on the yellow side of green. Good-sized chips. Well balanced between mint and chocolate." (Miller-Lerch); "Smooth with chunks. It tastes like white Tic-Tacs." (Come).
Vic's comments: "Alien green. Tastes almost like spearmint." (Anderson); "Lurid green! Crunchy chocolate, lots of it. Good balance, clean." (Corti); "Too green. Too chunky, too minty." (Miller).
Overall: Gunther's mint chip wins with 66 points, edging out 63 points from Vic's. Four out of six judges scored Gunther's highest, but just barely.
And the overall winner is ... Give it up for Curtis Park! Gunther's Ice Cream emerged as the clear winner, besting Vic's in three out of four categories.
You may now take a victory lap down Franklin Boulevard.
ICE CREAM SAMPLING STANDARDS
Given the stakes in this ice cream battle, creating an equal playing field was of utmost importance.
We stuck to four classic flavors that could easily be compared: vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and mint chip.
All of the ice creams from Vic's and Gunther's were purchased as hand-packed quarts. All of the ice cream shopping was completed within 45 minutes, brought promptly to The Bee and stored overnight in a newsroom freezer.
Each quart of ice cream was allowed to soften for five minutes. Bee reporting intern Janelle Bitker scooped the samples into white bowls so the testers could accurately evaluate the colors accurately.
Like a wine tasting, the ice creams were sampled in order from the lightest to most pronounced flavors: vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and mint chip as a finale.
Ice creams were scored in three areas: appearance, texture and taste. Each category was scored on a five-point scale.
Gunther's was the first ice cream tasted in the flights for vanilla and mint chip; Vic's was tasted first for the strawberry and chocolate division.
Tasters used new plastic spoons for each sample. Bottled water was provided to clear palates between tastes.
Call The Bee's Chris Macias (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.