I don't bat an eye at a $13 cocktail anymore. That's just the going rate of things these days, like $2.50 subway fares and $15 burgers. Or $10 pints of ice cream.
You can still get cheap burgers and drinks, and a pint of Ben & Jerry's isn't breaking the bank, but we're at a point where $8 or $10 ice cream just doesn't cause sticker shock the way it used to. That isn't to say every spendy pint is worth the price. But a new wave of ice cream companies have shown that there are customers willing to pay out for a scoop of the premium stuff.
Of this new wave, Atlanta-based High Road is the first I'd shell out my own hard-earned money for at the grocery store. Not every day mind you, but for a treat-yo-self day that needs truly exceptional ice cream? You bet.
We get plenty of ice cream sent to Serious Eats HQ, but most doesn't disappear the way High Road's smooth, bittersweet Coffee Caramel did. After a few spoonfuls of ice cream I'm usually done, but pints of delicately salted Brown Butter Praline and pitch-perfect Macerated Berries and Prosecco sorbet couldn't keep me away. One day, with most of our kitchen supplies packed away for an office clean-up, I caught Jamie desperately scooping some Pistachio, Ricotta, and Honey Gelato with the only tool available to her—a bowl.
High Road founder and chief ice cream man Keith Schroeder didn't come to ice cream through the normal pastry channels. He began as a savory chef in resort and restaurant kitchens, then fell in love with ice cream during Ciao Bella's early days, when it was an independent company that helped pave the way for serious craft ice cream across the U.S. "But," he says, "time eroded what I loved after they changed hands."
In any given city, there aren't many local ice cream companies that wholesale to restaurants, and fewer that treat ice cream seriously. So if restaurants want great ice cream on their dessert menus, their choices are to make it themselves—a big time and money commitment—or wholesale from the same local or national brands everyone else is using. Schroeder thought he could do better.
One MBA later, he did just that, launching High Road with a "by chefs, for chefs" ethos that emphasized a pro's eye for detail—carefully balanced ice cream in smart, innovative flavors like Roasted Coconut and Makrud Lime.
He designed some bespoke flavors exclusively for restaurants and developed recipes that went through an average of three tastings with a client before a final deal was made. Since different ingredients flavor ice cream differently, each recipe is made differently. A fruit ice cream base will have less butterfat than a coffee base so the fruit flavor comes through loud and clear. Some bases have extra milk solids, or more or less air pumped into them, or are stabilized with different natural ingredients depending on what the ice cream needs. The goal—and I'd say High Road succeeds across the board—is a gorgeously smooth, ice crystal-free, easy-to-scoop-straight-from-the-freezer ice cream that delivers powerful flavor, then melts clean and light on the tongue.
By contrast, there are many craft ice cream companies that just use a standard ice cream base—often purchased in bulk from a farm, the way many of San Francisco's premium ice cream makers do with Straus Creamery—to which they simply add flavors and mix-ins in-house. The ice cream may be very good, but it doesn't always account for the particular ingredients that go into it, and different ice creams produce harder or softer scoops as a result. High Road's ice cream scoops consistently smooth across a wide range of flavors.
High Road gets its milk and cream from small farms around the South but avoids making a batch of ice cream with dairy from just one source. The strong flavors and chemical nuances of pasture-raised milk vary throughout the year and from farm to farm, all of which makes for less reliable ice cream. Mixing and matching dairy sources allows for greater consistency.
All of this attention to detail doesn't come cheap, which is why grocery store pints of High Road range from $6.69 to $10.99 depending on the region, and an online shipment (anywhere in the lower 48) is $99 for six pints (free shipping, price doesn't include tax). Is that worth it to your own tastes? Only you can answer that. But if I'm going to spend that much on ice cream, this is the ice cream I'd spend that much on.
You can find High Road ice cream in Whole Foods in parts of the South and northern California, Central Market in Texas, Standard Market in Chicago, Marty's Market in Pittsburgh, and King's Food in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. (The company is eyeing greater tristate area distribution.) Online shipping is $99 for six flavors, $175 for 12, either in themed packages or you-pick assortments. More location and shipping information is available on the company's website.
As for what you should try, here's our rundown on the flavors we sampled:
- Brown Butter Praline: Nutty and rich with a good balance of salt and sweet, one of our favorites.
- Roasted Coffee Caramel: Cafe au lait with strong coffee flavors. The caramel sweetness is present but not overpowering.
- Peach Fried Pie: Peach ice cream that actually tastes like a ripe, juicy peach! The nubs of pie crust aren't as fun to eat, but the fruit flavor is incredible.
- Roasted Coconut Makrud Lime: The thinking person's rocky road: explosive nutty coconut and herbal lime leaf flavors balanced by tons of roasted coconut flakes and shaved dark chocolate.
- Macerated Berries & Prosecco Sorbet: Smooth texture without a hint of iciness. Strawberries and cherries dominate the fruit blend, and the sweetness is dried out by the citrus and yeast notes from the wine.
- Pistachio Honey Ricotta Gelato: It really does taste like ricotta. The combination of pistachios and honey feels almost juicy on the tongue. A cheese plate all in one scoop.
- Crème Caramel: Sweet and buttery with a thick caramel ribbon strewn throughout. Perhaps too sweet for some but with full-on dairy flavor.
- Blueberry Lemon Confiture: The only sample we didn't love. Tasty but a little boring.
Disclosure: Ice cream samples were provided for review.
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