I first heard about Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams last summer when my friend Ted Lee, fully aware of what an ice cream geek I am, called from Columbus to rave about the amazing flavors he had just sampled at Jeni's: Salty Caramel, Strawberry Buttermilk, and Goat Cheese with Sour Cherries.
Ohio is home to two of the country's best ice cream makers: Graeter's and Jeni's. Founded in 1870, Graeter's has tradition (and thousands of devoted ice cream lovers) on its side, but Jeni's, established in 2002 by Jeni Britton Bauer and her husband Charly Bauer, quickly cemented their reputation by practicing an artisanal "cow to cone" approach to their ice cream that spotlights seasonal, and mostly local, ingredients.
While Jeni's is starting to stock a curated selection of flavors at select outposts beyond Ohio, my only option was ordering online—an expensive endeavor.
Take-home pints from Jeni's Ohio shops cost $8.50 to $10 a pint, which, considering the high-quality ingredients is understandable, but still steep. Depending on how many pints you order, before adding on shipping (in my case, $35 to send to Washington state) your cost per pint can rise to $9 to $12.
With so many flavors to choose from, I tried to pick out a couple of signature flavors along with seasonal offerings and their bakeshop-inspired flavors, which are packed with sweet homemade confections. So, how were they?
Bourbon Buttered Pecan (Signature Flavor)
A whiff of sweet bourbon hits you as you peel back the lid. With every spoonful, the flavor of bourbon shines through, rounded out with rich caramel and vanilla notes accompanied by the crunch of savory pecans. With a nip of Pappy Van Winkle riding shotgun, a scoop or two of this grown-up ice cream would be the perfect sweet finish to a Southern meal.
Salty Caramel (Signature Flavor)
No chunks. No nuts. No swirls. Just the pure intensity and sophistication of salty and sweet underscored with hints of burnt sugar. This rivals the best version of this increasingly popular flavor I've tasted at San Francisco's Bi-Rite Creamery.
Thai Chili (Signature Flavor)
Admittedly, this isn't a flavor I would typically buy. I ordered this as a seventh pint add-on mistaking it for the signature Queen City Cayenne, Jeni's spicy Mexican chocolate-inspired flavor that was recently featured on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The peanut buttery, slightly floral smell and slivers of coconut reminded me of the savory Thai soup tom kha gai (minus the chicken). I picked up some heat right off the spoon then it moved to the back of my mouth where it didn't so much linger but rather set up base camp. Inventive and original, but probably not the flavor profile for me.
Blackstrap Praline (Seasonal Flavor)
The intense smell of rich molasses comes on strong right out of the gate and makes itself known with every spicy praline-laced spoonful. Jeni's bills this as an "old-fashioned flavor profile" and I do agree—this might fall under acquired taste for some ice cream lovers.
Brown Butter Almond Brittle (Seasonal Flavor)
Based on the crunchy Norwegian dessert called krokan, this is an ice cream that smells like a stick of butter straight from the refrigerator—and I mean that as a compliment. Sweet and salty with plenty of almond brittle—probably my favorite of the bunch, which clears the way for a Release the Kroken! pun. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
Chocolate Cornflake Crunch (Bakeshop Flavor)
I love that this chocolate ice cream is flavored with barley malt. Malted ice cream is one of my favorite flavors and it still hasn't caught on with ice cream makers. The name alone made me think of Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi and her Cornflake Chocolate-Chip Marshmallow Cookies, but I didn't unearth enough of the promised "pools of dark-chocolate coated cornflake dust" to make this an immediate favorite (but when I did they were unbelievably good).
Gooey Butter Cake (Bakeshop Flavor)
This had the most visible chunks of any of the flavors I tried. Just look at the picture—there's practically a whole piece of the popular Midwest confection suspended in that honey butter ice cream—and soaked in a brown-sugar caramel sauce to boot. And, like a slice of gooey butter cake, this mix will make your teeth ache. Moderation is key with this guy.
So, Should You Order?
While ordering ice cream online should probably be a once-a-year indulgence, I'm already looking forward to checking out the next batch of seasonal flavors from Jeni's (bring on the Strawberry Buttermilk) and trying out some of the signature flavors I missed this time around. (How did Roxbury Road and its dark chocolate base with handmade marshmallows, brown sugar caramel sauce, and smoked almonds make it past me?). I am something of a completist with my obsessions and no matter the season I'd be hard-pressed to think of an occasion that wouldn't benefit from a pint of regional ice cream. And ordering it online is still cheaper than a plane ticket to Ohio.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Northmarket: 59 Spruce Street, Columbus, OH 42315 (map)
Grandview: 1281 Grandview Avenue, Columbus, OH 43212 (map)
Short North: 714 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215 (map)
Bexley: 2156 East Main Street, Columbus, OH 43209 (map)
About the author: Brad Thomas Parsons is a Seattle-based writer who has interviewed many of the food world's biggest names, including David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Danny Meyer, Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen, and Giada De Laurentiis, among others. He is currently at work on his first book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails and Recipes.