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Our favorite East Bay ice cream shops for indulgent sundaes

Feb 08, 2024

Reports of the death of the American love affair with ice cream have been greatly exaggerated — just ask any East Bay creamery on a busy afternoon. In fact, the ice cream sundae in particular is currently having a moment, and not just because it’s summer.

In the episode “Sundae” in the second season of Hulu’s The Bear, hard-working chef Sydney Adamu draws inspiration — and a bit of self-care — from the particular sparkle and joy that comes from eating a sundae. What chef doesn’t crave that kind of reaction from a bite of food?

Meanwhile, at homes and backyards across the country, the build-your-own sundae party has become a festive, crowd-pleasing way to host post-COVID guests — and not have to cook. Unless you include a boxed-mix brownie base, which totally counts.

This year especially, topping ice cream — already the ultimate comfort food — with sauces, sprinkles, nuts, fruit, whipped cream and [insert favorite topping here] is the joyful, accessible extravagance we all need. It is ice cream bedazzled, infinitely customizable and suitable for all ages, a personal parfait that conjures an easy, instant celebration.

This year for my (big) birthday, I wished for a really good, classic banana split with the works. Slyly dubbed the “Junior” on the menu, my memorable sundae (with extra chopped almonds) at the famous, nonstop Oakland party that is Fenton’s Creamery was the size of a loaf of bread. It was a hat on a hat. It was absolutely as delicious as it looked. It was also dinner. I have no regrets.

Fun, comforting nostalgia can also be found at Knudsen’s Ice Creamery in Castro Valley and Tucker’s Ice Cream in Alameda, featuring the kind of giant, eye-popping, cherry-topped ice cream sundaes seen in photos from the 1950s. (Guests hoping for a less enormous helping of Americana can just ask; Fenton’s “Sundaes for the Sedate,” for example, is a subtle corner of the menu featuring smaller, classically topped scoops.)

For something a bit more innovative or inspired, sample from the East Bay’s growing, gourmet indie ice cream scene, reaching peak seasonal creativity as summer (finally) heats up. Miharu’s beautiful new Oakland scoop shop offers a stunner of a banana split that replaces the typical strawberry scoop with sweet lychee-raspberry-rose, brulees the banana to a glassy, caramelized crunch and tops everything with whole, toasted, butter-toffee peanuts. San Leandro destination Koolfi Creamery’s Gulab Jamun Sundae features a choice of classic malai or vegan kulfi over warm gulab jamuns — Indian doughnuts soaked in cardamom syrup — topped with rose petals and crushed pistachios. And Berkeley’s homey, long-loved Tara’s Organic Ice Cream’s fresh peanut butter sauce comes highly recommended, especially when poured over their refreshing, organic cinnamon ice cream.

Humphry Slocombe’s Hot Fudge Parfait keeps things simple yet sophisticated, alternating three blankets (including a critical bottom layer) of Guittard dark chocolate hot fudge with generous scoops of bold Tahitian vanilla. The San Francisco-based shop’s famously adult-friendly ice creams, now with three East Bay locations, come in richer, more complicated flavors than the usual. (To quote my kid while handing his portion to me, “the Tahitian vanilla leaves something to be desired — namely, different vanilla.”) For this very reason, Humphry Slocombe’s sundaes such as the best-selling Secret S’mores — featuring the caramelized, bourbony kick of Secret Breakfast ice cream — make terrific date-night fare. (Or, in my case, parent fare, as you might end up with whatever your kid doesn’t finish.)

For sugar-minded teens and anyone unafraid to go big or go home, feast your eyes on the elaborate, carnival-style concoctions at Berkeley’s Endless Summer Sweets or East Richmond’s Waffles and Cream — where we recommend asking for an extra cup, as those warm waffles topped with huge piles of ice cream and sauce cannot be contained in a meager paper cone.

CREAM’s multiple locations, sought for their elaborate ice cream sandwiches, will happily meet novelty sundae cravings. Family-owned Milkbomb, known for its ice-cream-stuffed doughnuts, is also crafty with toppings (don’t miss the toasted marshmallow). Cookiebar Scoop Shop, currently celebrating its triumphant return to Alameda, is known for its fun, flavorful scoops and colorful sundaes; larger sister venue Lana’s in Old Oakland proudly serves old-fashioned sundaes with those burgers. And My Goodness near Lake Merritt piles its soft-serve with as many sweet toppings and sauces the to-go cup can handle.

For those who could use something lighter, whether because of dietary restrictions or simple preference, there are plenty of options that provide the Sundae Experience. (Undaes?) Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery in Albany, Piedmont and Emeryville’s Public Market is an East Bay standout for non-dairy frozen desserts, including crave-worthy vegan sundaes. And of course, the refreshing tang of frozen yogurt can be buried in as many healthful or sinful toppings as desired, as at beloved family favorite Menchie’s (a franchise, sure, but we’ll allow it) and classic Berkeley fro-yo temple since 1977, Yogurt Park, among many others.

Finally, for a truly classy, classic, refreshing ice cream sundae that still thrills the sweeter tooth, visit either of iScream’s two Berkeley locations, with a particular nod to their brand-new North Berkeley counter with outdoor seating at the lovely Epicurious Garden. The long-standing creamery was consistently named a local favorite in our informal polls, and theirs is the only sundae my kid and I actually fought over. IScream’s delectable Callebaut hot fudge and fresh, house-whipped cream — such a crucial detail — over organic cookies and cream, or any desired choice from that day’s flavors, is a bespoke, build-your-own concoction to bridge generations. That said, next time I’ll be sure to order my own (and try the house-made caramel sauce).

Top these — Favorite old and new local sundae shops in the East Bay:

Cookiebar Scoop Shop, 1608 Webster St., Alameda

CREAM, 2399 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley and 2070 Salvio St., Concord

Endless Summer Sweets, 2358 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

Fenton’s Creamery, 4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, 2335 Broadway, Oakland; 2948 College Ave., Berkeley; 5614 Bay St. (2nd Floor Mezzanine), Emeryville; (Betty the Ice Cream Truck, various locations)

iScream, 1511 Shattuck Ave. inside the Epicurious Garden, Berkeley and 1819 Solano Ave., Berkeley

Koolfi Creamery, 599 MacArthur Blvd., San Leandro

Knudsen’s Ice Creamery, 3323 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley

Lana’s Oakland, 517 8th St., Oakland

Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, 1862 Euclid Ave., Berkeley and 1358 Fitzgerald Dr., Pinole

Miharu Ice Cream, 1951 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery, 1116 Solano Ave., Albany; 5959 Shellmound St. inside the Public Market, Emeryville; 4184 Piedmont Ave., Oakland

My Goodness, 2834 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

Milkbomb Ice Cream, 2079 University Ave., Berkeley

Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, 3173 College Ave., Berkeley

Tucker’s Ice Cream, 1349 Park St., Alameda

Waffles and Cream, 12513 San Pablo Ave., Richmond

Yogurt Park, 2433 Durant Ave., Berkeley

Please feel free to add your favorite locally-owned sundae destination to the comments.

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Freelancer Joanna Della Penna has written about food, people and the arts in the Bay Area since moving here from the East Coast in 2001, and was Gayot's Northern California regional restaurant editor for... More by Joanna Della Penna

Fenton’s CreameryKnudsen’s Ice CreameryTucker’s Ice CreamMiharu’s Koolfi Creamery’sTara’s Organic Ice Cream’sHumphry Slocombe’sEndless Summer SweetsWaffles and CreamCREAM’sMilkbombCookiebar Scoop ShopLana’sMy GoodnessMr. Dewie’s Cashew CreameryMenchie’sYogurt ParkiScream’sTop these — Favorite old and new local sundae shops in the East Bay:tax-deductible donationchip in to Berkeleyside today