The Twin Cities may be as ice-cream crazy as Cambridge or Groton, Massachusetts. We run the numbers.
Boston and nearby towns are famous for their love of ice cream. Residents line up at the shops year-round, including during blizzards. But by my observation, St. Paul is no lightweight in the ice cream fights. My brother-in-law, who lives nearby, informs me that demand doesn’t slacken here over the winter, either.
Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation for Cambridge. Drop a map pin on Toscanini’s at Main and Mass Ave — that’s Massachusetts Avenue for those of you following along in the Midwest. This shop sells “The world’s best ice cream,” according to the New York Times, like they’d know.
The population density of Cambridge is 17.2K / sq. mi. and that of Somerville, 19.2K. A circle 2 miles in radius from Toscanini’s encompasses about 200,000 souls, give or take. Inside that radius we find at most four storefront ice cream shops: Toscanini’s, Christina’s, Gracie’s at Union Square, and Churn2 in Harvard Square. The latter may or may not still be in operation; the only press is from its opening (in a shipping container) in 2013, and the website dates from the same epoch.
Cambridge and vicinity: a maximum of two ice cream emporia per 100,000 population.
Groton, my former home town, fares better. The population density of Groton is 672 / sq. mi., about 1/27th that of its urban cousins. A circle 10 miles in radius encloses our target 200,000 people. In that circle we find: Johnson’s in Groton; Doc Davis in Pepperell; Kimball Farm in Westford and another in Lancaster; Sully’s in Chelmsford; Sullivan Farms in Tyngsboro; the Cold Stone Creamery in Leominster; and Cherry Hill Ice Cream in Lunenburg.
Groton and vicinity: four ice cream storefronts per 100K.
St. Paul is similar. Its density, at 5,700 per square mile, is 1/3 that of Cambridge and 9 times that of Groton. A circle 3.5 miles in radius does the trick. Inside it we find: Nelson’s (on Snelling); Izzy’s (Cleveland and Marshall); the Cold Front (Randolph and Hamline); the Grand Ole Creamery on Grand Ave.; Connys Creamy Cone (Dale and Maryland); Dar’s Double Scoop (Rice and Cook); and Sonny’s Ice Cream (Lynndale in Minneapolis). We could add in Sweet Science, an “ice cream startup” that moves around a lot and sometimes features a storefront. If we do we arrive at:
St. Paul and vicinity: four ice cream storefronts per 100K.
Katharyn and I have so far sampled Nelson’s and Izzy’s. The former, founded in 1923, serves up enough ice cream in the “children’s size” to stun an ox, for about $4. Izzy’s sells a single scoop for $5, with an added tiny “Izzy Scoop” of your choice on top.
For my money the world’s best ice cream is, in fact, Toscanini’s. Kimball’s in Westford comes in second. Third place might be Bedford Farms in Massachusetts. I’ll let you know if any of the St. Paul emporia breaks into the personal top ten. From my research, it sounds like Sweet Science stands a chance.
[Update 2015-08-07] Methodology note: My research was done with Google Maps, using this handy service to draw the circles. I haven't been to all of the storefronts named, so I don't know which are in fact open year-round. I believe all four Cambridge venues are. Around Groton, at least Kimball's in Westford, and probably the other one too, close(s) over the winter.
I’m excluding frozen yogurt, gelato, and soft-serve shops, intending to focus on traditional ice cream. I have also omitted regular restaurants that happen to serve one or another of the artisinal ice creams — an example is the Birchwood in Minneapolis, which sells Sweet Science flavors.