I realize it’s September already, past Labor Day, and that perhaps this article would have made more sense in July, but it’s okay; there’s still time to eat Ice cream in the warm sun. Besides, true ice cream heads can eat it year-round. I love ice cream so much. I’ve been addicted to that meltable goodness since I was a child.
But here’s a thing about me: I have a bit of lactose intolerance. I learned this over 10 years ago, when I started to notice that eating ice cream would lead to very unpleasant bathroom experiences the next day. I put two and two together, and started getting really into dairy-free ice cream. I also like to have some lactase pills on me. If I decide to eat dairy ice cream, two of those will usually do the trick.
This is a local roundup; an ice cream rodeo, if you will. So grab your own lactase pills, and let’s get our scoop on!
There’s a building diagonally across the street from Lombardy Market which has been many different establishments. None of them have stuck around, but I’m praying to the gods of ice cream that this one does.
Westray’s Cafe is named after the man who started it, Westray Paul. I did not meet him, but I know what he looks like, because he puts his face on his store’s merchandise. This gives you a quick insight into his confidence level, and I can tell you that, as far as ice cream goes, it’s deserved. Some biographical information can be found on the “about” page of their website, but here’s a quick overview. Westray had some sort of office job somewhere. He hated that, so he went to Brooklyn to learn how to make ice cream with some real pros. Then he took an ice cream course at Penn State. Did you know that was a thing? Neither did I. Then he started up a couple of ice cream trucks, and, in May of this year, opened up his storefront.
I ordered the way I always order — one scoop with two flavors. Some places call this a “split scoop.” Whatever it is, it’s a great way to eat two flavors without needing two big scoops. I went with half-Brown Butter Pecan and half-Gold Rush. This was my fourth time eating here, and I think next time I’ll go straight Gold Rush. It’s unbelievably good. The official description is “honeycomb candies and a dark chocolate swirl mixed into a sweet cream base,” and it’s heavenly. Those honeycomb candies are divine, and the swirls are like caramel. I couldn’t recommend this flavor more highly, and I’m afraid it’s so good I might not be able to deviate from it enough to try all the others.
The folks who work at the shop couldn’t be nicer. I always have a good time chatting with them. The price here is right, too. With tax, one generously portioned scoop will set you back $4.67, which isn’t bad at all. They have a loyal customer stamp card — nine scoops and then you get a free one. I’ve only got two stamps so far, but I’m working on it!
As far as dairy-free options go, Westray offers a rotating selection of sorbet. Unfortunately, he does not yet offer dairy-free ice cream, but I was told that he’s working on it. I bet it will be amazing.
Westray’s Cafe is located at 214 Lombardy Street.
Housed inside what was once the glorious VHS and DVD spectacle of Video Fan, Scoop has been scooping it up for four years now. This block of Strawberry Street is so lovely, and it makes perfect sense to have an ice cream shop on it. They have a rotating gang of handmade ice cream flavors, lovingly concocted by flavor wizard Jody Spraker. You can tell she puts an incredible amount of love into her flavors, no matter how simple or how wild.
When I was there recently I had Baklava ice cream. Yes, that’s right, Baklava ice cream. It really did taste like the ancient Turkish treat. I got a split scoop, and paired the Baklava with Blanchard’s Coffee ice cream. I’m a huge coffee ice cream fan, and this one does not disappoint. It’s fantastic, and I’ve never even been to Blanchard’s coffee shop.
I went back again and paired Salty Peanut Butter Crunch with their vegan Mocha Frappé. I loved the crunchiness of the peanut butter, and I think the vegan Mocha Frappé is to die for! This is exactly what I want from dairy-free ice cream. It has the same texture and meltability as their dairy ice cream. I honestly think this particular flavor should be available in grocery stores across the country.
At Scoop, including tax, one scoop will set you back $4.99. They have a stamp card as well. You need to buy 12 scoops before you get one for free. Outside, next to the patio, in a nod to the old Video Fan, there’s a free DVD/VHS library. Open up the box, take what you need from it, and don’t forget to replenish it with something else. It’s super cool, but I haven’t had a way to play a DVD for many years now. Obviously, some people still do. I still have a Video Fan t-shirt from way back, when I supported their kickstarter campaign. I should wear that the next time I get Ice Cream at Scoop. I’m glad they’re the ones who wound up in this space.
You’ll find Scoop at 403 Strawberry Street.
The Sweet Spot
When you find yourself in Shockoe Bottom on a warm day, go ahead and get yourself to 18th Street, and stop into the Sweet Spot. This place has tons of different flavors. According to their website, they have at least 48 flavors at any given time. The friendly woman who helped me is one of four owners of this establishment. I was told that each owner plays a different role in the business, and the one who served me seemed to be more about operations. The person who creates or selects the flavors was not around for me to chat with, but I know that they get their ice cream delivered from a dairy farm in Wisconsin. This means the ice cream itself is not local; but the shop is, the owners are, and you’re not going to notice when you eat it. It’s really no matter, because the ice cream is so good!
The Sweet Spot will celebrate two years of existence in January, and I know they’re making people in the neighborhood quite satisfied. I sat on the bench out front eating my ice cream in the sun when a tall, smiling man was entering. He looked over to me and commented on how happy I looked eating my scoop of Coffee Almond Fudge. I said, “Yeah, you know it!” And it was true. That fudge in there was nice and melty, just the way it should.
They don’t allow for a split scoop here; you simply have to buy a second scoop. One scoop set me back $5.25 plus tax. I don’t mind the extra money expense, as their website states that they donate their time and money to several local charities. I commend them on this, and I appreciate that they list the charities they support.
They have limited vegan ice cream options, but not any less than others. It seems to be the norm that Richmond ice cream shops have zero to four vegan ice cream options. I think someone would do well to open a 100% vegan ice cream shop here. I’d like to do it, but I don’t have any money, and I don’t know how to make ice cream!
The Sweet Spot is spotted at 6 N. 18th Street.
If you live in the city, DeLuca Gelato is a bit far away. They’re out on Gaskins Road, right by Deep Run Park, but trust me, it’s totally worth the drive. The story goes that Nick and Terrie DeLuca were on a trip to Rome, and they enjoyed Italy’s ice cream so much that they decided to learn how to make it themselves. I, too, have eaten gelato in Italy, so I very much understand their desire. Gelato is just so rich, creamy, and all-around wonderful. Fifteen years ago, they opened up their shop. They’re serving it up seven days a week, and offer well over fifty different varieties of smooth bliss. I counted 57 flavors the day I was there!
I ordered a small cup with two flavors. I went with dairy coffee, and I simply had to try the dairy-free Oreo Crunch. This set me back $5 and change. The coffee gelato is outstandingly good. Yes, I am biased because I love coffee ice cream so much; but I think most anyone would agree that this is a top notch flavor. The dairy-free Oreo Crunch was also really great. They make their dairy-free gelato with water instead of cream, so it might not seem as, well, creamy. But then Nick had me try the dairy-free dark chocolate and I wouldn’t have been able to tell that it has no dairy in it. I’ll need to go back to try more of their dairy-free flavors. They seem to have more vegan options than most places, and the dairy-full flavors are 100% worth the lactase pills.
The DeLuca’s also have a gelato cart they use to set up at outdoor events. One such event, which Nick told me about, is the Richmond Veg Fest, presented by Vegan Action. This takes place September 17th, noon to 6:00, at Byrd Park, near the Carillon. Lucky for me, I happen to live close by, and can ride my bike over there to check it out. I’ll come hungry, and I will most certainly find DeLuca’s Gelato cart. Now if only someone could get the city to take that fence away from the Carillon. What is with that?!
DeLuca Gelato is located at 1362 Gaskins Road.
Charm School Study Hall
The Broad Street location of Charm School has closed. I was told it’s because they’re focusing on their wholesale operation, whatever that may be. So I went to their only currently open shop, which, in the context of this article, was filled with several distinctions. It’s the only ice cream shop I visited on the South Side. It’s the only place where I got soft serve. It’s the only place where I got a cone instead of a cup. And it’s the only place where I couldn’t take notes in my little journal while eating.
Soft serve is a special treat. You don’t see it too often. Eating soft serve from a cone reminds me of being a child. Sitting on a parking block in Charm School’s lot, I felt a childlike whimsy. And here’s a big bonus: they have vegan soft serve! The chocolate is oat milk-based, with a little soy, and the strawberry is made from fruit juice. The whole menu only had three options for flavors: chocolate, strawberry, or the two swirled together. You also choose dairy or vegan. The minimalist menu is great for people stuck in a choice paralysis. I went with the vegan swirl. It seemed like a no-brainer. A cup or cone piled high with ice cream only sets you back $4 plus tax. Upgrade options, which I declined, included different types of sprinkles, chocolate chips, honeycomb candy, caramel, and coffee dust. Looking back, I should have tried that coffee dust. There’s always next time.
Charm School Study Hall is located on that stretch of Forest Hill Ave right by Veil Brewing. It’s a busy area. When I was getting my ice cream, at 4:00 in the afternoon, I saw many other people going through the ice cream line. It’s just a take-out window, there is no interior space, and seemingly no good place to eat your ice cream. I don’t know where the other people went to eat theirs. Maybe I missed something. It doesn’t matter though, because I was there for the ice cream, and that’s all I needed. I encourage you to check out this spot. Maybe try it as a reward after your big run or bike ride in Forest Hill Park.
Charm School Study Hall is at 4930 Forest Hill Ave. Suite D.
Of course, there are several more ice cream shops here in Richmond. I’ve been to Gelati Celesti several times, and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I really like Bev’s in Carytown. Also in Carytown is the rolled ice cream shop called NarWhals. I have to try that someday. I still haven’t been to Ruby Scoops, but only because they’re rarely open. One of these days I will make it there at the right time.
There are plenty more worth exploring, so don’t be shy. No matter your age, you deserve a nice treat every now and then. As for me? I probably have a couple pounds to lose now.
All Photos by Matthew Park