It’s been a long time coming for this place. You might even say that Graeter’s is the place that started this obsession to visit the best the country had to offer, because this was the first place I’d heard about that I successfully managed to work into a trip to another area.
The backstory is that when I was very young, I purchased a book about the stadiums of every major sport, which included where to park, where to sit, moving down, concessions, where to stay and where to eat after the game. Hey, it was before the internet age, people had to find all that information somewhere. The book was badly outdated (at the time of its publication, Los Angeles still had an NFL team), but the restaurants were what actually intrigued me the most. I knew that stadiums come and go, but good restaurants stay until the owner dies or decides he or she wants to move on to the next phase of life and doesn’t have a buyer.
The seed was planted, and when my brother Simon began looking at colleges and decided to take a look at Kentucky (which would have made Amy quite happy), where he eventually spent a year before moving closer to home, I had my first opportunity to experience Graeter’s. Six years later, I had a chance at my third trip to the Queen City’s famous ice cream shop, and it’s just as amazing as ever.
As I’m sure you know by now, Graeter’s is the place to go for ice cream in either Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky (the city is right on the Ohio River, with the Reds’ baseball stadium being less than 600 feet from the water that separates the Buckeye State from the Bluegrass State), and it’s as much a part of Cincinnati’s history as Reds baseball. Actually, that’s a very accurate statement, because the Reds first took the field in 1869, and Graeter’s opened one year later in 1870. Yes, they have been in business for 142 years. That in itself is a great sign.
What makes Graeter’s so incredible? Two things: a commitment to quality and a commitment to chocolate. Graeter’s has been in business for so long because they refuse to sacrifice their process for any reason. The family is in its fourth generation of being in business, and as such, they all share the mindset that they would rather trade a little bit of profit in exchange for the quality that Graeter’s has built its name on.
As such, Graeter’s makes all of its ice cream in two-gallon batches, because they believe that the best ice cream is made in smaller batches, with two gallons being at the maximum end of that scale. The process leaves the ice cream coming out incredibly thick, because of the French pot process that is synonymous with Graeter’s.
Basically, the mix of custard and cream is chilled in a French pot and folded into itself, which prevents air from being whipped into the ice cream. The result is the incredibly thick ice cream mentioned earlier, which forces Graeter’s employees to hand-pack each pint of ice cream because it’s too thick to do anything else.
Now, on to the second part of what makes Graeter’s famous: the chocolate. For Graeter’s chip flavors, a shell of melted chocolate is poured on top of the ice cream and freezes into its solid state. The shell is then broken and mixed into the ice cream before it’s ready to be served.
What this means is that the chocolate chips in the ice cream are not chips. These things are HUGE. They’re much closer to the size of a Hershey’s miniature than they are to the kind of chips you find in a cookie. In fact, a large part of the Graeter’s experience is digging through your ice cream to find a huge piece of chocolate that can’t even fit on your spoon. Pretty awesome stuff.
The quality continues with the flavors. Graeter’s is somewhere between Kopp’s and Bub’s when it comes to the number of flavors. It doesn’t limit you to five flavors, but it also doesn’t have a huge offering. Graeter’s has roughly 20 flavors available, about half of which contain their famous chocolate chunks. Again, it’s the commitment to quality. Some seasonal flavors will be offered, such as cinnamon ice cream in the fall or peppermint at Christmas.
The main attraction, however, are the chip flavors. I’ve personally had four of them, having tried the Peanut Butter Chip, Cookie Dough, Toffee Chip and Black Raspberry Chip. It’s the last two that I’m going to talk about, as I tried both of those on my most recent visit.
Black raspberry is actually the only Graeter’s chip flavor that is a fruit, but it’s also the store’s signature flavor, probably because of the oddity. What isn’t strange is the taste. Graeter’s uses black raspberries from Oregon’s premier growers (who supply 95% of the country’s black raspberry crop) and adds their famous chunks to them to create the combination. It is simply wonderful. The ice cream is thick, rich, creamy and delicious. Plus, with the black raspberry, hitting a large bit of chocolate gets a new dimension, as you might be hitting a piece of black raspberry. My mother, who loves raspberries and chocolate, would certainly approve.
My other flavor was toffee chip, an obvious choice for me. I love Heath bars, and when I’m presented with an opportunity to have Heath bars in ice cream (or any dessert, really), it pretty much has to happen. It’s hard to tell which is bigger between the chunks of Heath and the chunks of chocolate, but it works well. The peanut butter was similar, with peanut butter ice cream, and Graeter’s makes its cookie dough from scratch for that ice cream.
Other chip flavors include chocolate chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip, coconut chip and Buckeye Blitz, to name a few. That last one is chocolate peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter cookie dough, which is a replication of the famous candy. For those who aren’t fans of chocolate chunks, there’s also black cherry, butter pecan, caramel and the standards of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
Personally, I plan to stick with the chip flavors, and I can’t wait to introduce Amy to them some day. After all, any place that has been around for over 140 years — especially one that started a life-long goal — is meant to be shared with the person you love.
Time to go: Any time you’re in the mood for dessert, really. During the normal eating hours should work great.
Wait during my visit: None. Even thick ice cream can be scooped quickly.
Location: Graeter’s can be found around Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Louisville and parts of Indiana. My location was at 511 Walnut Street in Fountain Square in Cincinnati.
Parking: Cincinnati has parking garages, and you’ll likely pay about $5 for the privilege if an event is in town. If not, it’s probably lower.
Cost: It’s ice cream. It won’t cost more than five bucks.
Seating arrangements: Graeter’s has tables available in the small location, and I imagine other locations do as well.
Specialty items: Ice cream with ginormous chunks of chocolate.