McConnell's Fine Ice Creams was founded in 1949. Photo by Sonny Boyden.

Summertime a la Mode

There really is a summer place where smells are intoxicating and the tastes… oh, the tastes. One bite of summery food and instantaneous memories appear of carefree childhoods: days and car trips that seemed endless, sandcastles on the beach, runs of grunion, backyard pools and little bugs of light just teasing to be jarred.

One taste above all seems to bring everyone back to their collective “inner kid spot” faster than anything: the cool, drippy deliciousness of ice cream.

The languid days of summer are again upon us. No better excuse to scoop up a bit of childhood joy. Just as there are multiple flavors of the chilly goodness, there are several local choices of cone (or cup) delivered delight here in our little red-tiled town by the beach.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

When you think of ice cream in Santa Barbara, one business immediately comes to mind: McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams. The company has been a local sweet fixture since 1949 when Gordon (“Mac”) and Ernesteen McConnell founded the company to recreate the rich delectable “French pot” ice cream Gordon had enjoyed while stationed in France during World War II.
The business was sold in 1962 to Jim McCoy, who stayed true to the original process and recipes while boosting production.

In 2011, the company was sold to Michael Palmer, a winemaker with Mount Carmel and Parra Grande, and his wife, Eva Ein, a restaurateur/chef with Stella Mare’s and Café Stella.
Michael and Eva are proud to carry on the McConnell’s history and product quality. On the company’s branding, they use an updated image of “Bossie” and redesigned the signature
logo to give a modern take and feel of Gordon McConnell’s actual signature.

Milk is sourced from family farms along the Central Coast and Central Valley. Local farms and ranches provide the cage-free organic eggs and strawberries. Guittard provides the chocolate and R.R. Lochhead supplies the vanilla, both have been doing so for close to 50 years. McConnell’s continues to be one of the few ice cream brands that pasteurizes its own raw milk and cream. And those “stabilizers” or “additives”? They don’t use them.

Santa Barbara Strawberry, Golden State Vanilla and Dark Chocolate Orange are just a sampling of the current varieties. New flavors to keep an eye out for include Double Peanut Butter Chip, Dark Chocolate Paso Brittle and Churros Con Leche. You can find McConnell’s in a local grocer’s freezer, at the scoop shop, in their “McTruck,” or at McConnell’s new flagship store set to open soon in Santa Barbara on State street.

As Michael says, “We want to embrace the past, in particular the never-before-told, unique history of the brand, while celebrating the future, and throwing in a bit of Santa Barbara swagger.”

Here’s the Scoop

Featured in the Summer 2011 edition of Edible Santa Barbara, owners Bob and Ellie Patterson are still serving up their dreamy gelato and sorbet concoctions in their slightly hidden gem of a shop on Coast Village Road. Perish the fear you won’t be able to find it. You can’t miss the smell of house-made fresh waffle cones wafting up and down the street.

Before starting Here’s the Scoop, the Pattersons traveled to Italy and were trained in the classic art of making gelato. That extra step has certainly paid back in flavor dividends. After all these years (nine, but who’s counting?) they are still creating gelato that makes you think you were strolling along in the Boboli Gardens of Firenze. Così rinfrescante! 

Flavors offered for both gelato and sorbet are varied and will delight anyone with a hankering to be sated. Standard flavors are de rigeur of any gelateria, but where Here’s the Scoop truly shines is in the seasonal and specialty flavors. It is here where the Pattersons’ dedication and support of local farmers and the creative uses of their products take flight.

You can taste the freshness of Tom Shepherd’s strawberries and the uniqueness of pluots. Yes, pluots. At a recent event, their Telegraph Ale and cherimoya gelato was the talk of the evening. If there is a local product to use, Ellie will more than likely be taste-testing ways to incorporate it as a new flavor.

Granted, gelato isn’t technically ice cream, as it contains far less butterfat, less air and is served at a lower temperature, but that makes it melt in your mouth faster, with more flavor intensity. I, personally, do not see a downside to that.

Rori’s Artisanal Creamery

Rori Trovato has been around food for most of her life and she dishes it with style and packs it with flavor. She has done it all in the culinary world—party giver, line cook, sous-chef, private chef, restaurant owner, cookbook author, food stylist and recipe developer for both Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. For the past three years, she has added ice cream maven of Rori’s Artisanal Creamery to her curriculum vitae.

While growing up in Southern California, her parents taught her that using quality ingredients in dishes was key. She remembers going to a local McConnell’s shop as a kid and enjoying the extra butterfat richness the brand was famous for. Rori has always been intrigued with “what happens with texture and flavor.” Couple that with her desire to use only the best ingredient building blocks, and you understand what sets her ice cream apart from the frozen-aisle pack. Straus Family Creamery provides the organic milk and makes her base per her specifications. The eggs and organic fruit are sourced locally. She makes her own candy and cookies that go into the ice cream; even the cones in her Montecito shop are handmade. “You really can taste the difference,” she fervently says.

Rori’s “flavorology” follows the simple rule: “If you don’t crave it at 3am, I’m not making it.” Root Beer Float, Salted Caramel and Malted Milk Ball are some of the popular selections, but she is always coming up with more, especially seasonal flavors. For those who are “intolerant of the lactose” Rori developed “Roman’s Chocolate Coconut,” named for her son, who is not able to eat dairy products.

What started in the back of the former little Jeannine’s in Gelson’s has blossomed into a busy ambrosial operation with a manufacturing facility in Carpinteria. Her prepacked selections are available at numerous grocers in Santa Barbara, Ojai and Los Angeles. She creates special blends for various local restaurants and you can savor a scoop at the shop on Coast Village Road or perhaps, if we are lucky, at another local shop opening sometime soon.

Sugar and Salt Creamery

Whether you describe its color as Tiffany Blue or Twitter Blue, Sugar & Salt Creamery’s dinky converted ’66 Jeep mail truck is hard to miss tootling down the streets of Santa Barbara. The truck might be hard to describe; its cargo, however, is not. Fresh. Crisp. Flavorful. Sorbet that truly is artful.

Growing up, owner Jon Carpenter displayed a fondness for icy desserts and a passion for food. He was constantly experimenting in the kitchen and creating new recipes. His adventurous taste buds traveled with him during a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he spent time in many food-loving cities. He has now dropped anchor here in Santa Barbara, sharing his sorbets seaside along Butterfly Beach and at other venues.

Being a health-conscious avid surfer, Jon strongly believes in the benefits of buying local, organic products. “They taste the best, provide the most nutrients and allow me to support local farmers,” he explains. He uses almonds from Fat Uncle Farms to handcraft raw, sprouted almond milk for use in his nondairy sorbets. Nondairy? What then is the creamery all about? He clarifies, “The almond milk tastes deliciously creamy and smooth.” Alrighty then. The flavors are creatively inspired by the farmers market and constantly changing, but a couple popular flavors are the Cinnamon Honey Almond Chunk and the Strawberry with a Chocolate Balsamic Reduction.

There are “bumps along the way” in doing any food-truck business, especially with an older vehicle. Jon is starting a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising funds to keep things, and the truck, rolling along. Although his sorbet is available at the Isla Vista Food Co-op, he would like to fund a storefront to accompany the truck delivery. More information on the campaign will be available on the website, so check in and see how you can offer some “sweet” support.

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab

Mix a little fun with community involvement, add a splash of train tracks and philanthropy, stir in handcrafted ice cream, you get Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. Doc’s was started in Arroyo Grande in 2003 by Greg Steinberger, a former naval officer and Bay Area corporate refugee who discovered the beauty of the Central Coast and wanted to open up a small business. He learned that a beloved local ice cream parlor, Burnardo’z, was about to shutter operations and became intrigued with keeping the ice cream tradition alive. Greg teamed up with Chuck Burns, who had created Burnardo’z, and learned all his secret recipes and tricks of the trade. The rest, they say, is dessert history.

Although the ice cream is made in Arroyo Grande and delivered to the recently opened Orcutt location, the giving back to neighbors and friends is very much the same in both shops: 10% of the profits are donated to local schools and educational nonprofits. There are blood drives, “all you can eat” flavors on certain nights of the week and employee scholarships given out annually. Originally from Wisconsin, and being both fan and stockholder of the Green Bay Packers (the only community-owned pro football team), Greg is bringing that community ownership idea to Doc’s by offering ice cream lovers in the area a public stock option.

Have we mentioned that Doc Burnstein’s ice cream is tasty, too? It earned a Blue Ribbon from the National Ice Cream Retailers’ Association and five Gold Medals at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition. Their flavors appeal to a wide variety of customers. Whether it be the traditionals, such as Vanilla, Chocolate Chip, Cookie D’oh or their signature flavors of Motor Oil (developed for a Pismo Beach car show) involving dark chocolate, Kahlua and fudge; the Merlot Raspberry Truffle, using wine from a local winery; or the Orcutt Crunch, which involves toffee, chocolate, pecans and more, it is quite the “ultimate ice cream experience,” as Greg calls it.

It’s summertime. The scooping is easy.

Savor the moments… a la mode.

History of Dairy in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara County was once known as one of the “dairy capitals” in California, with more than 60 dairies located in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Lompoc and another 70 or so in the Santa Maria Valley. Dairies with names such as Arden, Durbiano, Ellwood, Foremost, Live Oak, Miramar, O’Banion, Petan, Riviera, Toro Canyon and Zanesco were well known in the community and the state from about 1900 until the late 1930s.

The City of Santa Barbara was also the first city in the United States to require every bottle of milk or cream to be protected with a hygienic, certified hood and that all milk labeled Grade A must be proven to be from non-tubercular cows. The city also required mechanical means to be used for all filling, capping, refrigeration and sterilization.

The lone visual reminder of those dairy days gone by is the occasionally “multi-colored” cow atop the McConnell’s Old Dairy building on the corner  of Milpas and Cañon Perdido streets. “Old Bossie” is the 1,000-pound life-sized cement steel-reinforced concrete cow used as a type of signage for the old Live Oak Dairy when the building was constructed for dairy production usage in 1935, but she has come to be known as the McConnell’s icon, and makeshift canvas, for a generation (or two) of Santa Barbarenos.


Jill Johnson is an artistic soul with an inquisitive mind and a hearty appetite for life… and food. You can find her musings on spilled milk and cookie crumblings at her blog,
Categories Summer 2013
Tags: ,