Last week, we visited Toscanini’s Ice Cream, a contender for Boston’s best ice cream—as seconded by Boston correspondent Amy Traverso in her guide to Beantown’s best eats. But Tosci’s has competition. It’s an oft-cited fact on both sides of the Charles that Bostonians eat more ice cream than anyone else in the country. One hardly needs statistics, though, to realize that Boston is an ice cream town. Just walking down Newbury Street or around Harvard Square is enough to see a veritable parade of happy cone lickers.
And it’s easy to see why. The quality and variety of scoop shops can’t be beat. Steve Herrell has been smashing candy into super-rich ice cream since three decades before Coldstone came along. Though a long-lamented Red Sox trade means that ice cream shop J.P. Licks can no longer serve “Cherry Garciaparra” (it’s now “Cherry Ortiz” instead), cones of the chocolate-studded cherry are as popular as ever. Speaking of Cherry Garcia, Boston scored one of the first Ben & Jerry’s storefronts, an obvious New England favorite.
But any survey of the ice cream landscape inevitably ends up in Cambridge, where Toscanini’s and Christina’s battle it out for the blue ribbon of the all-homemade, million-variety, PG-13 ice cream shop. Amy cited these two as the Boston area’s best. Which one wins the prize?
Toscanini’s: “The Best Ice Cream in the World”
So says The New York Times, at least, as previously noted. Their Burnt Caramel has inspired tributes, essays, and fundraising drives—all, I would argue, for good reason. Bittersweet and impossibly deep, it’s among the best ice cream flavors I’ve ever eaten or, really, imagined.
But not every flavor holds its own. My biggest gripes were the Heath Bar, enormous chunks of candy overpowered by aromatic vanilla bean, and the Banoffee Pie, which resembled a dish of pie more than ice cream. Still, though, the Burnt Caramel, Rose, and Khulfee are almost beyond compare.
Toscanini’s: 899 Main Street, Cambridge MA 02139 (map); 617-491-5877
Christina’s: Perennial Best of Boston
While the Times loves Tosci’s, Boston Magazine is partial to Christina’s, with a shorter Cambridge history but even more outlandish flavors—many drawn from the spice shop in the back. There seems more than a superficial resemblance between the two parlors, starting with the deep brown Burnt Sugar ice cream. (Where have we heard that one before?)
But the differences come out with the first scoop. Almost across the board, Christina’s is lighter, softer, and more lickable than the impossibly deep flavors of Tosci’s. Their sweeter flavors perform much better: a Peanut Butter Chip puts just enough deep chocolate chunks in a creamy-not-nutty base, and the Coffee Oreo doesn’t let the former overwhelm the latter. The Banana is fresh and delicious—after a huge scoop, I could’ve eaten another—and the Carrot Cake tasted like carroty, spicy ice cream rather than, well, a bowl of carrot cake.
The Burnt Sugar, it should be noted, didn’t quite match the how-is-this-possible richness of Tosci’s Burnt Caramel. If I were a Top Chef judge, I’d give Tosci’s the win for intensity and depth of flavor. But I’d rather eat Christina’s—the same alluring taste without the punch in the palate.
And the cherry on top at Christina’s: the price. While I’m willing to pay for quality, value is always appreciated—and seven dollars got me an enormous bowl and medium cup at Christina’s, rather than two dainty dishes at Tosci’s.
Christina's: 1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA 02139 (map); 617-492-7021
My verdict? Christina’s. It’s a bit of a walk, it’s a little less welcoming, and the Burnt Sugar might win the silver medal rather than the gold. But for variety, price, and a huge range of deliciousness, I’m declaring it the winner of this ice cream showdown.
What gets your vote for the best Boston ice cream?
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