Food & Drink

Gunther’s vs. Leatherby’s: Which ice cream is best?

The heat’s rising and we’re not just talking about the mercury on the thermometer. Now that summer’s officially arrived, it’s time for the second installment in a showdown of two classic Sacramento ice cream shops.

Which ice cream tastes best in a blind tasting: Gunther’s or Leatherby’s?

Gunther’s of Curtis Park entered the ring as the defending champion, having bested Vic’s, the pride of Land Park, during a similar tasting held in June 2013 at The Bee. Gunther’s won in three out of four flavors that were tasted and evaluated by an esteemed judging panel. These much-beloved ice cream shops were judged on four classic flavors: vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and mint chip. Gunther’s won all but strawberry.

But we heard from ice cream lovers from all around the region who wanted to vouch for Team Leatherby’s. This small chain of ice cream parlors opened its flagship shop on Arden Way in 1982, and since expanded to Citrus Heights and Elk Grove with its house-made icy treats.

The battle was on.

Once again, we assembled a cross-section of trained palates and ice cream lovers to help determine the winner.

We called upon Jeremy Reed, who has some of the most prized taste buds in town. He recently earned his advanced sommelier credentials – one of just two wine professionals in Sacramento who can make that claim – and shares his wine expertise as a sommelier at The Kitchen.

The appropriately named Elaine Baker offered her analysis from a pastry maker’s point of view. She’s known for creating some of Sacramento’s most sumptuous desserts, with a résumé that includes Grange, Hawks Restaurant and Taylor’s Kitchen.

And of course, families love going out for ice cream. We rounded up two members of a renowned Sacramento restaurant family to lend their input. Gina Funk Nelson, a member of the Selland family who oversees marketing for its restaurant group, showed up with her sweet tooth and 11-year-old niece, Ella Baker – the “Ella” for which the high-end K Street restaurant is named.

We also included a mother-daughter team that enjoys cooling down with ice cream after playing tennis: Kimberly Wells, a jewelry designer, and her 12-year-old daughter Daisy Lewis, who definitely earned some ice cream after receiving straight A’s all year at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School.

The six judges scored each flavor in three category: appearance, texture and taste. Each category was scored on a five-point scale. The maximum points possible for a shop’s flavor was 90. (See the accompanying story for a list of sampling methods used in the test.)

So, did Gunther’s go 2-0 in our annual ice cream battle, or did they get bumped from the winner’s podium by Leatherby’s? Here are the final scores with comments from the judges:


Just like last year, our competition kicked off with a Thrilla in Vanilla, a head-to-head showdown featuring an all-time-great ice cream flavor. Gunther’s earned high marks for its vanilla in 2013, and blew away the competition again this time around.

The judges gave Gunther’s props for the natural yet pronounced vanilla flavor and refreshing, creamy texture.

Gunther’s comments: “Smooth creamy texture, silky to the tooth.” (Reed); “Mmm, like a crème brûlée aftertaste.” (Lewis) “Too sweet.” (Elaine Baker)

Leatherby’s comments: “Slightly icy texture.” (Elaine Baker); “Yellowish, almost artificial coloring.” (Lewis) “Balanced, but a bit too buttery.” (Nelson)

•  Final result: Gunther’s wins with 71 points. Leatherby’s garnered 51.5 points. Five out of six judges preferred Gunther’s to Leatherby’s.


And then, the fruitiest of flavors tasted by the panel. Judges mulled the chunkiness of the strawberries, considered the coloring and whether the overall taste was fresh or candy-ish.

Gunther’s comments: “Pieces of strawberry were a bit gooey, but I really liked it.” (Lewis); “Tastes very real, nostalgic, good cream flavor.” (Nelson) “Seems homemade, real and natural with all the fruit.” (Wells)

Leatherby’s comments: “Strawberry bits are hard like they were frozen previously.” (Reed); “Slightly icy but still creamy.” (Elaine Baker); “A little gummy and hard.” (Ella Baker)

Final result:


After two consecutive losses, Leatherby’s came out gunning in the chocolate category. Its score was the single highest of the day and resulted in a whopping 22-point spread.

All of the judges, save for Ella Baker, were won over by Leatherby’s dark chocolate flavor and tantalizing texture. Elaine Baker kept especially close tabs on the creaminess of both entrants, using her spoon to smooth out the ice cream to check for ice crystals and overall consistency.

Leatherby’s comments: “Smooth and velvety!” (Wells); “Creamy but with hints of cocoa powder, clean finish.” (Nelson); “Very, very rich, sophisticated taste.” (Lewis);

Gunther’s comments: “Milk chocolate with a hint of bitterness.” (Reed); “Very thick, little crystals slow to melt.” (Elaine Baker); “Not chocolate-y and sweet enough.” (Ella Baker).

Final result:


We left this flavor for last once again to prevent any lingering mint flavor from clouding the panel’s collective palate.

The judges quickly noted a difference in style between the two ice creams. Gunther’s version included chunky chips and a bright green color, while the appearance was more muted with Leatherby’s take on the flavor, which was loaded with much tinier chips.

A consensus wasn’t reached in this meeting of the mint chips, and the two scores were the tightest seen all day.

Leatherby’s comments: “Strong mint flavor overwhelms chocolate ... melts nicely in mouth but chocolate is hard to discern.” (Elaine Baker); “Nice distribution of chips ... the more I eat, the better it gets.” (Lewis); “Smooth ice cream, toothsome, vibrant mint flavor.” (Reed)

Gunther’s comments: “More artificial green ... the chips are waxy.” (Wells); “Very cooling, ‘minty fresh,’ nice texture contrast with chocolate chips.” (Nelson); “Dense but good. You sort of have to chew this one.” (Ella Baker);

Final result:


Gunther’s successfully defends its Sacramento ice cream crown with a total of 252 points (out of 360), winning three out of four flavor categories. Leatherby’s earns a respectable runner-up finish with 228.5 points.

Gunther’s, you may take another well-earned victory lap down Franklin Boulevard.

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