Part 1: The Ride
The moment I cross the Schuylkill, I become a tourist. Despite where I may sleep and what my new address says, I just don’t know Philadelphia. Its streets, its restaurants, and its people are all unfamiliar to me. And when I want to get to know a place a little better, I get on a bicycle. Bikes are flexible, fast, and, unlike a car, have no physical separation from the street. I also need a guide, so I turn to Ethan Young, a DP photographer, bicycling enthusiast, and Philadelphia native. We put on our sweaters for the first chilly fall day of the year and head out to try some ice cream.
The weather doesn't dissuade us: While ice cream is the best summer dessert, it, thankfully, is also the best winter treat. Yes, other options might be eaten for variety, but no other treat rivals the combination of sweet, frozen, and creamy. This is a cold take (literally), as ice cream is the most popular dessert in America—the second highest ice cream consuming country in the world per capita—and in Pennsylvania, which is also a top dairy producing state.
We bike across the South Street bridge toward Rittenhouse, a historic neighborhood centered around its eponymous square, and arrive at our first location. With over 50,000 Instagram followers and at a location just a block from the square, 1–900–Ice–Cream is the signature ice cream of the neighborhood. Raina, the self–proclaimed best scooper in Philadelphia, tells us that they get reviewers coming by on a weekly basis. For an Instagramable place, the store itself is surprisingly spare. The walls are white with little decoration. There’s no cutesy fonts or funky chairs. But despite a lack of bougie gloss, the prices are high enough, so this ice cream better be good.
We sample both their hard and soft serve ice cream. Get the soft serve: The hard ice cream is average, but the soft serve's quite creamy, and the fall chai flavor is pretty unique. Ethan, who lives in Rittenhouse and for whom 1–900 is his local place, strongly recommends it.
We then stop by Ethan's house for him to pick up a bike helmet. This has paradoxical results. Ethan's mom is home and offers to drive us to our next location all the way in Fishtown.
Part 2: Fishtown
Driving feels like a defeat, but after 20 minutes of traffic on the Vine Street Expressway, we reach our second destination. Located north of Center City next to the Delaware River, Fishtown has historically been an Irish Catholic working–class neighborhood. But we’re here for trendy ice cream, which means it's been experiencing some gentrification. And sure enough, for every auto shop there’s now a thrift shop, and for each diner there’s a cafe. For a Young Urban Preprofessional like myself, Fishtown seems perfect.
Our first location's inside Pizza Brain, a self–described “museum of pizza.” We park outside and walk past various distractions—a massive brick pizza oven, five hippies, and a TV playing Princess Mononoke—straight to the back room where one bored employee sits behind an ice cream freezer. I have to ask him whether these really are the same “Cloud Cups” that had been recommended multiple times online. I must say that the pizza is certainly good, because I don’t see why anyone would just come for the ice cream. It's overpriced, slightly icy, and stingy with its serving size.
Next stop is Weckerley’s, which has a second location four blocks west of Penn’s campus. Walking past La Colombe and a board game beer hall, we enter and instantly realize peak chic: drawings of smiling ice cream cones on the wall, tasteful ivy strung around the kitchen, and a retro letter board announcing the dessert options. We order the signature ice cream sandwiches, composed of thin chocolate chip cookie surrounding a layer of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Solid in your hand, these are easy to eat even while melting — most importantly, the ice cream's of high quality. We walk out each with an ice cream sandwich in hand. Cheers from a bar tell us the Eagles are winning. And we have one more stop before going back to Penn.
Part 3: Milk Jawn
We've saved the best for last. Returning the car to Rittenhouse, Ethan and I bike down to South Philly. The setting sunlight reflects off the brick of the townhouses, lending a serene quality to the ride. We lock on Passyunk Avenue and walk into Milk Jawn, our final destination. The store feels hip, yet of a piece with the broader neighborhood. Travis, sporting an Eagles jacket and beanie, recommends their “award–winning” Earl Grey Honeycomb. While Kat, the other scooper, bombards us with samples of all their flavors, we eat our ice cream and watch the Eagles game on Travis’s laptop. They have 30 seconds and 30 yards to score before halftime. Though all the flavors are delicious, the Earl Grey distinguishes itself. Here is the essentially Philly place—Ethan informs me “jawn” is Philly slang for things with amazing ice cream and vibes. Next time I won’t need to embark on an ice cream odyssey. I’ll simply just bike over to Milk Jawn.