Even if you're really just in the habit of mainlining it all 12 months of the year, I would say that it's totally fair and reasonable to call summertime "ice cream season." Meaning, then, that it's totally fair and reasonable to eat a completely obscene amount of it this summer, yes?
Cool. But what kind of ice cream will you be eating an obscene amount of? It's sort of presumptuous of Mister Softee to assume we're all at his beck and call every hour of the day, and outrageously good though those little Snickers and Butterfinger ice cream bars at the deli may be (seriously, better than the original candy), we probably shouldn't be eating them that often. Seems like an ideal time to get acquainted (or even just re-acquainted) with the companies turning out stellar, thoughtfully-made ice cream right here in Brooklyn. You can try every single one of them immediately, or stretch this out as a summer-long project, or both, I guess. What you do with this information is up to you.
As relative newcomers to the Brooklyn food scene, Phin & Phebes have been growing at a rapid clip since launching in 2010. With their headquarters in Greenpoint, their all-natural, hormone free ice cream is now stocked in most self-respecting grocery stores (a full list can be found on their website), and is also a staple at a growing number of scoop shops (like Bushwick's Evergreen & Co). Their entire roster of flavors is superlative, but if you have to pick anywhere to start, we'd go with Vietnamese Iced Coffee or Banana Whama.
Another organic, hormone-free option (and also a hyper-local one; their factory is in Sunset Park), the Blue Marble team are big proponents of the idea that the most simple choice is almost always the best one. As such, they focus their efforts on doing classic flavors—coffee, cookies 'n cream, you get the idea—and doing them very well. In addition to their scoop shops in Cobble Hill and Prospect Heights, Blue Marble spends much of the summer serving up ice cream at outposts that include Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Prospect Park, and Governor's Island. There's no excuse not to go.
Already a beloved neighborhood institution for 63 years and counting, a trip to Hinsch's is now made that much more significant by a recent scare that they'd be shuttering for good back in March. Their signature homemade ice cream is perfect on its own, but then, you could also get it in one of their many egg creams, floats, sundaes, and "fancy frappes." If you're the kind of person who's actively sad that soda fountains aren't really a thing anymore, Hinsch's is a pretty amazing consolation.
At this point, Van Leeuwen really needs no introduction. Even if you've never actually tried, say, their Salted Caramel with Buffalo Trace Bourbon ice cream (and if that's the case, what have you been doing with yourself?), you've definitely seen their yellow trucks around, or heard all your friends going on and on about it, and for good reason: their ice cream is truly incredible. It's also environmentally friendly and made from simple, organic ingredients, so we can all feel good about what's going on here.
Not that the tyranny of choice is such a terrible thing when it comes to availability of ice cream flavors, but still, there's something incredibly satisfying about a place old fashioned enough to make you choose between a short, immaculately-executed list of perfectly simple options, like chocolate-chocolate chunk or butter pecan. Plus, all the better if you're laying the baseline for a banana split, which you probably should while you're here. Their original Brooklyn Heights location is still closed after Sandy, but all the more reason to go support the operation at their Greenpoint shop.
Granted, Steve's was originally a Massachusetts operation, but the beloved company has undergone something of a renaissance since moving to Brooklyn a few years back (and it also doesn't hurt that one of their best flavors is "Brooklyn Blackout"). With a product made from Hudson Valley Fresh dairy and an innovative roster of flavors—Small Batch Bourbon Vanilla and Mexican Chili Chocolate are also standouts—their blue label has become one of the most recognizable in the borough.
One of the last truly old school Italian institutions left in Williamsburg, Fortunato Brothers has been in the neighborhood for 35 years. Attention must be paid! And anyway, they still make some of the best, most classic gelato out there. We're partial to a straciatella-baccio combination, but trust your instincts on this one.
That little face! That little bow tie! The stripes! The pleasantly wacky flavor names, like "bada bing cherry vanilla" and "Soprana spumoni!" There's nothing we don't love about Uncle Louie G's. They're also maybe the biggest Brooklyn ice cream operation out there, with shops set up all over the borough (including a conveniently placed outpost on Surf Avenue in Coney Island). They even have their own theme song (vaguely set to the tune of "Louie Louie," and embedded on their website, if you're so inclined). If you're still not convinced about this place (where all the ice cream is kosher, by the way), well, I don't know what to tell you. Go cry into the chilly embrace of Mister Softee, or something.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.