From traditional soft serve to artisanal small-batch flavours and non-dairy selections, the capital region has options for everyone
It doesn’t matter how old you are — when summer comes around, everyone screams for ice cream.
And Victoria is a mecca when it comes to choices, offering everything from artisanal ice-cream makers producing small batches to more traditional establishments that can satisfy up to 300 hungry patrons in an hour.
Narrative Research, a Maritimes-based market research company, found chocolate is the most popular flavour among Canadians, closely followed by vanilla, mint chocolate, maple walnut and butterscotch.
At Fisherman’s Wharf recently, Frankie Sartin, 43, of Austin, Texas, was savouring a Moose Tracks-flavoured cone while waiting to embark on a whale-watching adventure.
“This is my new favourite flavour,” said Sarcin, who was surprised to learn it was preferred by only four per cent of Canadians in the survey done by Narrative Research.
Over at Beacon Drive-In on the edge of Beacon Hill Park, soft ice cream cones are the name of the game.
“We sell close to 1,000 cones a day in the summer,” said Janet Reynolds, general manager of the popular takeout spot, which first opened in 1958. “With our three machines running non-stop, we have the capacity to make 300 an hour.”
The drive-in has won people’s choices awards for soft ice cream almost 29 years in a row. Longtime customers bring their grandchildren for their first “kids” cone.
The Zentler family of Salt Spring Island — mom Vera, dad Yoshi, Mino, 5, and Ariel, 2 — try to hit the drive-in every time they come to Victoria. “We always make it a point of stopping by and getting a cone whenever we are in town,” said Vera Zentler, as the family made their way to the nearby petting zoo.
While they serve their soft cones with different flavours, dipped or as sundaes, Reynolds suggests sticking with vanilla to savour the creamy sensation. “Occasionally, we get people complaining that we must have changed the formula because it tastes different. I tell them: ‘It’s the same product. It hasn’t changed — your taste has,’ ” she said.
She said Beacon Drive-In has purchased the milk and cream for its cones from Island Farms — which sources the milk from dairy farms up and down Vancouver Island — for the last 20 years.
With his chocolate soft cone half-devoured, Maxwell Kallmeyer didn’t hesitate when asked about his favourite flavour. “I am obsessed with chocolate,” said the eight-year-old from Missouri, who can’t abide nuts in his ice cream.
Patrick Decelles, 30, said he was treating himself to his first cone — a salted caramel — in years. “I am lactose-intolerant, but I can eat them if I take my medication,” said Decelles, who was visiting from White Rock. His favourite flavour is strawberry, but he said he wanted to experiment.
One flavour he would never order again — he can’t even remember the name — was a rainbow-coloured concoction that he tried once and dismissed as “super sweet.”
For those who prefer their “ice cream” vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free, one option is Cold Comfort, an artisanal ice-cream company founded by Autumn Maxwell.
Maxwell’s signature product is an ice-cream sandwich that she sells from her retail store or pre-packaged at a number of retailers.
She believes her company was one of the finalists in the latest Times Colonist Readers’ Choice Awards because “we don’t cut corners. We only use high-quality organic ingredients and make our custard truly from scratch — no pre-mix ingredients.”
Parachute, a local small-batch ice-cream company in an industrial area on Bridge Street, grew during the pandemic, adding a second location in Langford in 2021. “I think people were looking for a safe, affordable luxury, with a kids’ cone for $4 and one that a family of five could enjoy together for $25,” said co-owner Robyn Larocque.
Started in 2016, Parachute offers up to 16 hard ice-cream flavours. Larocque has also been known to make small custom batches — such as one in a teal colour, the favourite colour of a sick child.
“We are adventurous, but not too adventurous. We have made hundreds of different flavours over the year. Some, like lemon cream, are fan favourites, but we will try making others — about two to three a year — with seasonal ingredients.”
She puts a lot of stock in the milk from grass-fed cows that she sources from farms in the Comox and the Cowichan valleys, saying it’s “phenomenal.”
Visitors from Quebec and Ontario are often surprised to find a Chocolats Favoris shop on Government Street. While the Quebec brand is well known in la belle province for its decadent coated ice-cream offerings, the local shop is the only one west of Toronto. Its specialty is a dozen flavours of either white or dark chocolate for dipping soft ice-cream cones. “It’s like a fondue,” said Patrick Roberts, one of the new co-owners of the Victoria store.
Jackson Avio lives on the upper deck of his houseboat at Fisherman’s Wharf and sells 16 flavours of soft or scoop ice cream and non-dairy sorbetto from his shop on the main deck for seven months of the year. When the crowds wane, he closes his shop and travels. He calls his business — Jackson’s Ice Cream — “Victoria’s only floating ice-cream stand.”
Craft ice-cream maker 49 Below started in 2015, at first selling at farmers’ markets and later launching a subscription service. It now offers 12 flavours from its store on Cadboro Bay Road, which opened in August 2022, with a combination of staples and seasonal offerings, and two vegan choices.
Over the years, the company has collaborated with other local businesses to create some interesting flavour combinations: 2% Jazz for a vegan Vietnamese coffee-flavoured ice cream, the Root Cellar to turn overripe fruit into ice cream, and Goodside Pastry House for an ice cream with almond croissants blended into it.
“Between August of last year and January [of this year], we created 87 flavours,” said Amy Ayer, operations manager of the company. Ayer said the newest one is based on Yeshi — a yeast-based salad dressing — ginger caramel sauce and toasted brown rice.
Having a wide variety of flavours is no attraction for Nora, 6, and Ella Conley, 10. Asked their preferences, Nora confessed she always chooses vanilla, while Ella sticks with chocolate.
Ditto for Tim Boerger, 6, who was licking a chocolate caramel cone while his eight year-old sister Paula enjoyed a vanilla one on a sunny day at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Both said they always pick the same flavours.
Between licks of their cones, the two, who are from Germany but live in Chicago, offered this review: “Mmmmm.”
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