Squeaking in its opening day in the waning days of summer, Little Giant Ice Cream is now scooping up made-from-scratch ice cream in a shiny new space in Oakland’s hot Uptown neighborhood.
The new creamery is on the ground floor of a condo building across from the former Sears building, which was recently purchased by Uber to become its headquarters. Little Giant is also a stone’s throw from the Fox Theater and several restaurants and bars, which may explain why the ice cream shop so far has been popular in the evenings (people searching for dessert after dinner?). The shop is open till 9 p.m. (and till 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday).
I dropped in to check out the shop during its second weekend of opening, and fell in love with the vibrantly-colored little benches and school chairs, and the assortment of robot-inspired toys decorating the wall above the refrigerated section.
At first I thought the owners — Kevin Best (who also owns Era Art Bar and San Francisco’s B Restaurant) and Neil Rideout (of Cigar Bar) — were catering to kids. But then I realized as I tried to sit on a little bench that it made me feel like, well, a giant.
About a dozen ice cream flavors are featured, reflecting a bit of Americana. In fact, the owners promote Little Giant as an ice cream shop serving up “American premium hard scoop,” reminiscent of old-time soda fountain shops. Along with typical flavors like vanilla and chocolate, there are creative options such as banana sorbet with smoked brown sugar, mint brownie, or something called “Lavern & Rosemary” (lavender and rosemary ice cream with lemon cookie crumbles).
You can expect the flavors to change often since the made-from-scratch ice cream is done on the premises in the back behind the glass wall. (The kitchen was quiet when I visited on this particular afternoon.) While Little Giant has yet to experiment with vegan ice cream, à la Curbside Creamery, it does offer sorbets. Ask your ice cream scoopers which options are dairy-free.
Because Best and Rideout own bars, there promises to be one or two alcohol-inspired flavors, such as a recent mezcal with lime. When I visited, I tried the “Dirty South,” a caramel ice cream with bourbon. The bourbon burns off during cooking, so the ice cream isn’t as boozy as the alcohol-fueled flavors I’ve had visiting foreign cities such as Buenos Aires. But the bourbon did give the caramel an intense and deep flavor that made the scoop I had a rich and enjoyable experience.
The texture of the ice cream itself leans toward the harder side, so more firm and creamy, and maybe a tad on the sweet side, like the lemon basil that I also tried. The lemon basil initially didn’t have a strong lemon or basil note. The flavors instead came to the fore on the back end as the ice cream melts in your mouth. It actually reminded me more of custard at first rather than lemon.
All the ice cream can be served with sprinkles or special sauces, such as one featuring seasonal fruit.
Little Giant Ice Cream has the vibe of a modern ice cream shop with a flair for Americana flavors. It’s a sophisticated offering for the booming restaurant and nightlife in the area.
The deets: Little Giant Ice Cream, 1951 Telegraph Ave. (near 20th), Oakland. Open daily from 1 to 9 p.m. (till 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday). www.littlegianticecream
A version of this post originally appeared on Berkeleyside’s NOSH blog.
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