Anything But Vanilla

East Bay craft creameries serve up the inside scoop on artisanal ice cream


Rhode Islanders love their ice cream. It’s a nostalgic part of summertime, right alongside Del’s and days at the beach. Everyone has their favorite spot, whether it's an old-fashioned creamery or hip new pop-up. If you're craving creative or classic, in a cone or in a cup, the East Bay has no shortage of places. However, not all ice cream is created equal.

Craft ice cream is, essentially, a trendy term for handmade, which in itself might not seem like any sort of phenomenon. In fact, for a long time, that’s exactly what ice cream was when you got it scooped into a waffle cone or dropped into a float at a soda fountain. Gray’s Ice Cream, based in Tiverton and with a satellite location in Bristol, began back in 1923 when Annie Gray started making and selling ice cream churned from local milk. Today, while most eateries save money and time buying the pre-made stuff from a supplier, Gray’s has continued to create their tried-and-true flavors from scratch. And thanks to a flourishing craft food and beverage scene, they find themselves in good company.

The growing interest in what’s in our food – whether it’s the hops in our beer or beef in our burgers – has combined with a nurturing small-business community to create the perfect scenario for artisan ice creameries to emerge. We dig in – with questions and a spoon – to learn more about these local scoops.

For Bob and Deb Saunders, owners of The Daily Scoop, homemade ice cream has been their business for two decades. Bob was a mechanic and gas station owner, and Deb was a young attorney. They had boated around New England and fell in love with the old-fashioned ice cream shops in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and decided to bring the experience home to Barrington. They bought the building, then took classes at Penn State and University of Maryland – “a little backwards, I know!” Deb admits – to learn how to make ice cream.
It’s not an easy process, Deb reveals. As we speak, she references the flats of Georgia peaches waiting to be cleaned, pitted, and pureed to make the shop’s Fresh Peach flavor. The ice cream is made daily, with fresh fruit, pure extracts and cocoas, and vanilla. “Using the best ingredients is hard because right from the start you’re more expensive than the rest,” she says, “but it’s what we’re about and committed to.”
The Daily Scoop offers “too many flavors to mention” but Deb says they try to stick close to tradition, evoking the homemade dessert of their childhood. There are fruity ones made with pumpkin, cantaloupe, and wild Maine blueberries. There’s plenty for the chocoholics, like Kahlua Fudge Brownie, Mocha Chip, and classic Chocolate made from their own cocoa paste. They also make ice cream cakes, shakes, and sundaes, and sugar-, dairy-, and fat-free varieties.
“It seems that people care now, more than ever, about what they eat and what they put into their bodies,” Deb muses. “If it’s going to be ice cream, make it great ice cream made with great stuff.” After 20 years and an additional store in Bristol, Deb and her husband reflect on the popularity of craft ice cream, insisting that people care about things made locally not just because it’s something they can trust, but it’s something they can support: “People get why it’s good for their community and their quality of life.”

In 2003, The Daily Scoop expanded into Bristol. In 2012, The Ice Cream Barn in Swansea, Massachusetts, started serving fresh-churned ice cream made from milk from Baker Farm that’s pasteurized in Johnston. Then, over the last year-and-a-half, the pace has picked up with the swift establishment of two new craft creameries in the East Bay alone.
“People know there’s a lot behind that scoop of ice cream,” Chelsea DaSilva, owner of Chelsea’s Creamery in Warren, starts, “the time put in to make each flavor, with just the right ingredients giving it the best quality. They also understand that with the homemade product there is a bit of a price difference… but it’s worth it, because not only are they getting something fresh and local, but they are also helping support that small business owner’s dream.”
Chelsea started working at an ice cream parlor when she was 15. “The people, the small town atmosphere, the ice cream, I couldn’t get enough of it,” she reminisces. After 11 years, starting her own seemed like the natural next step. So, last May, she opened Chelsea’s Creamery – which offers 30 flavors, a brick-and-mortar shop plus two trailers that pop-up at farmer’s markets and Newport Polo, and a short-but-busy season between May and October.
“When you get a scoop of homemade ice cream, you know that the quality is there,” Chelsea explains. “You know there is a person standing behind the machine making sure each batch of ice cream has every ounce of flavor and extra piece of cookie or chocolate chip it needs.”
Chelsea makes traditional favorites like Black Raspberry, Coffee, and Pistachio, but conjures fun combos like Almond Joy, Chocolate Brownie, and the ever-popular Cookie Monster – blue-tinted vanilla ice cream layered with crushed Chips Ahoy and Oreos. But of course, that’s just a fraction of what you’ll find, as Chelsea is always concocting new weekly and monthly specials.

"It makes me proud to feed people my ice cream because we make it from scratch, in small batches, and it’s served usually within a few days of being made,” shares Victoria Young, the East Bay’s most recent addition to the artisanal ice cream scene. “The flavors I create are also so totally different from what you might find at other ice cream shops or on the shelves at supermarkets.”
The Johnson & Wales graduate began making her own ice cream in the summer of 2017. This led to the establishment of Providence’s Fountain & Co., a one-woman pop-up serving from-scratch frozen desserts around the city. But in May of this year, she traded wheels for roots, and Vic’s Craft Ice Cream opened its doors to serve Victoria’s ice cream, sherbert, and sorbet to Barrington. The menu boasts a little bit more than your average creamery, including iced coffee from The Nitro Cart on tap and baked goods. “I want Vic’s to be known as a gathering place for families, couples, friends, and explorers,” she says, “a community for my fellow ice cream lovers.”
The nature of handcrafted ice cream is that it allows for spontaneity and creativity, and Vic’s rotating menu certainly exemplifies that.
“Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere,” she says. “Sometimes a flavor is fueled by an ingredient. Other times something in pop culture sparks an idea for a flavor. Or a friend making a suggestion for something they thought may taste good.” The result? Funky flavors like Beach Rose & Raspberry, Coffee Milk Stout (a partnership with Narragansett Brewery), and Rhubarb Crumble (made with Four Town Farm’s rhubarb). Even the “classics,” as Victoria puts it, are made non-traditionally, like a dairy-free Dark Chocolate Truffle that’s still “creamy and fudgy as heck.”
“The craft food trend is widespread so I'm sure there are tons of emerging businesses in this category across the country, but I'm continuously blown away by the volume of new craft food and beverage companies starting up in this little state,” says Victoria. “It's a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of.”