Sugar Rush: McConnell's Fine Ice Creams, Santa Barbara
It's the sap in me, but I find something really charming about the idea of an ice cream shop with history; one that's been open since my grandparents' time, a time in which I imagine dates consisted of root beer floats and slow dances to Sinatra. And the story of McConnell's Fine Ice Creams in Santa Barbara is definitely a charmer: Boy meets girl. Boy gets drafted into World War II. Boy tries amazing ice cream in France and wants to recreate it at home. Boy and girl (now married) move to Santa Barbara and boy uses his GI Bill money to buy an ice cream machine. Scoop shop is born.
I'd heard about McConnell's from a friend who was born and raised in Santa Barbara. His dad always keeps a pint of the Island Coconut flavor in his freezer. Having now tried the ice creams, I can see why.
The base for McConnell's ice creams is made with milk and cream that they pasteurize themselves at the Old Dairy in downtown Santa Barbara. Eggs and other ingredients are also sourced locally when possible. The result is a rich, creamy, slightly thick dairy base—the kind of ice cream that obviously comes from a custard and hasn't been whipped with stabilizers or extra air. Of the six flavors I tried, my favorites were the ones that let this base shine.
While I didn't get to try the recommended Island Coconut, I was more than happy with the Toasted Coconut Almond Chip , which tasted like a box of macaroon cookies and a pint of vanilla ice cream were put into a washing machine and came out as an awesome, unified blend.
The winner of the tasting—and my recommendation if you only get one scoop—was Churros Con Leche. The same rich, milky base is studded with pieces of cinnamon dusted churros. Amazingly, the churros didn't get soggy or hard, but stayed like relatively soft pieces of a cinnamon cake doughnut. Warming: you might find yourself digging for them like it's a bowl of cookie dough ice cream. When the ice cream starts to melt, the heavy dose of cinnamon makes the scoop taste like a cinnamony horchata milkshake (in a good way.)