Did you know the Midwest is a hotbed of ice cream innovation? Take waffle cones, for instance. At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, an ice cream vendor ran out of serving dishes. In a moment of inspiration, he borrowed some waffle-like pastries from the vendor next door. Just like that — waffle cones. And cookies and cream ice cream? It was invented at the dairy plant on the campus of South Dakota State University by a manager looking for something different to serve students.
Whether these origin stories have been embellished over the years is beside the point. What matters is that the Midwest has always been home to high-quality ice cream.
But where can you get the best ice cream in the Midwest today? Here are some of the coolest ice cream parlors and creameries across the region.
Pride Dairy, North Dakota
Pride Dairy bills itself as the “last small town creamery in the state of North Dakota.” Founded in the 1930s in Bottineau, the company started off producing butter before moving into ice cream and cheeses the following decade. Pride’s quality products have allowed it to continue to grow and expand; they now have locations in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana, as well as across North Dakota.
Pride still operates with a small-town feel, sourcing all its raw ingredients from Bismarck and using the same ice cream recipe it has for years. Perhaps their best-known variety is TJ Vanilla Ice Cream, named after Thomas Jefferson and based on his original vanilla ice cream recipe (the first known vanilla ice cream recipe in the United States). It’s the official ice cream at Mount Rushmore (but don’t worry, you can get it at just about any Pride Dairy location).
Leones’ Creamery, Spearfish, South Dakota
Leones’ Creamery may not have quite as much history as Pride Dairy, but it does have an extremely loyal following in Spearfish, SD. This artisanal shop has been hand-crafting all of its ice cream in small batches since it was founded in 2014.
Leones’ prides itself on incorporating local flavors into its rotating group of ice creams. From the rhubarb at nearby Cycle Farm to honey from Sunrise Hives, Leones’ makes the most of its surroundings. The shop has eight flavors on offer at any one time, changing regularly. If you find it difficult to choose between an ice cream sandwich and a homemade waffle cone, well, that just means you’ll need to visit more than once!
The Dariette, Fort Dodge, Iowa
If you love a scavenger hunt (and who doesn’t), The Dariette is your place. Part of the fun of getting ice cream there is just finding it. This Fort Dodge institution has moved more than once, but just ask any local, and they’ll point you in the right direction. And once you’ve tried their ice cream, you won’t forget it!
The Dariette offers delicious soft-serve ice cream, along with some of the best shakes in Iowa. Flavors change regularly and the hours do, too, depending on the season. What doesn’t change — just how delicious the lemon soft serve is.
Sylas and Maddy’s Homemade Ice Cream, Kansas City, Kansas
This family-owned and operated shop got its start in Lawrence before opening up a second location in the suburbs of Kansas City. They make the ice cream and the cones fresh daily, with ingredients sourced from a Des Moines dairy. And while Sylas and Maddy’s is a mom-and-pop operation, don’t try asking for the owners based on the shop’s name — it was actually named after their friend’s pets.
The top-selling ice cream flavor at Sylas and Maddy’s is known as “Da Bomb.” And it will blow your mind. This incredible creation features sweet vanilla ice cream, cookie dough, bits of Oreos, and chocolate flakes.
Coneflower Creamery, Omaha, Nebraska
It’s probably not a good idea to take every Yelp review at face value. But in the case of the Coneflower Creamery, they’ve got it right. This Omaha-based creamery was named the #1 ice cream shop in the country according to Yelp’s 2023 rankings.
Founded by two pastry chefs, Coneflower takes gourmet ice cream to another level. Their intricate flavors include options like sun-ripened strawberry and sweet corn ice cream. They also incorporate ingredients from local partners like Archetype Coffee and Kimmel Orchard. You can’t really go wrong with any flavor at Cornflower, but if you’ve never been, try their Blackstone Butter Brickle, made with homemade toffee. Their ice cream sandwiches have also won awards.
Kelley Country Creamery, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
America’s Dairyland has quite a few places where you can find excellent ice cream, none better than Kelley Country Creamery. This Fond du Lac favorite claims to be “the best ice cream in the middle of nowhere,” and it’s hard to disagree.
One of the coolest parts about visiting the Kelley Country Creamery is seeing the ice cream production up close. Dairy cows graze the pastures, and there’s a viewing window into the actual creamery. Available flavors rotate regularly, but you’ll always have 20 or so options. The specialty sundaes, in particular, are next-level. The Campfire Pit will top the best s’more you’ve ever had, and the Country Moo Luau is like a banana split, except…better.
Nelson’s, Stillwater, Minnesota
This famous Stillwater ice cream shop turned 100 this year. Originally opened as a full-service grocery store, Nelson’s started offering ice cream cones in the 1960s. The cones were originally priced at $.0.10 for two gigantic scoops of ice cream. And while the prices may have changed, the (extremely) generous portion sizes have not.
Nelson’s opened up a second location in St. Paul in 2014. This second location includes a sister shop, Nellie’s, that specializes in custom-made ice cream cookie sandwiches. Nellie’s has 22 ice cream flavors, seven cookie options, and a variety of toppings. If you like ice cream sandwiches, these are well worth the trip!
All Aboard Ice Cream, Joplin, Missouri
Founded in 1937, this Joplin ice cream shop was originally known as Anderson’s Ice Cream and Cinnamon Rolls. Forced to change its name due to a trademark dispute, All Aboard hasn’t missed a beat. By any name, it continues to serve some of the best ice cream in the Midwest.
You can enjoy All Aboard’s homemade ice cream offerings while sitting in a vintage train car. The train car, previously used to deliver mail, still contains mailboxes labeled with the names of local stops. The ice cream is vintage, too, still made using recipes and techniques that date back almost 90 years. All Aboard offers nearly 80 total flavors, so you’ll be spoiled for choice!
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