The best ice cream shops in Minnesota

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Every month, Worth the Trip, my series on KSTP’s Twin Cities Live, presents the top five Minnesota spots in a particular category. And since summer is officially upon us, I had to determine who sells the best ice cream in the state.

The winning locations are determined by your suggestions. Thousands upon thousands of votes came in. Honestly, it was a bit overwhelming.

All of the top five vote getters are ice cream parlours, not places where you would go for a soft-serve cone. They are using premium ice cream. But I did notice something peculiar: none of the spots make their own ice cream. It’s purchased from two ice cream wholesale producers in Wisconsin (one shop also tosses in ice cream from Kemps, so there are three producers overall).

I have personally attended many Minnesota shops who make their own ice cream. Many of you are extremely loyal to them. What these top five shops had that some of those shops don’t offer is top-notch customer service. You’re going to be more than a number at these parlors. The owners are always there. They live in the community. And many of the shops were able to rattle off a whole bunch of ways of how they connect with the school kids and the neighborhoods they are situated in. This is far beyond donating a $20 gift card to a silent auction, folks. To the loyalists: I recommend you venture to these shops before you comment back to me with your distain.

The top 5, ranked

1. Cullen’s Ice Cream

10905 Douglas Drive North, Champlin
12085 Hanson Blvd, Coon Rapids

  • Cullen’s received the most popular votes from Twin Cities Live viewers and receives my overall best vote
  • The Champlin shop opened in June 2014 with the Coon Rapids location opening in June 2017
  • Their cases have 48 flavors of ice cream at any given time, the most of any of the top 5 shops
    • Eight of the flavors change monthly
  • Cullen’s uses Cedar Crest Ice Cream, premium small batch ice cream made in Cedarburg, Wisconsin
  • They carry 125 flavors of pop, which can be combined with any flavor of ice cream for a soda float
  • They do make their own waffle cones in-house, putting chocolate chips in the bottom instead of malted milk balls
    • They will make over 10,000 cones in a season
  • Insider: you can split a single scoop into two flavors with no extra charge
  • Cullen’s offers dairy-free ice cream, which is made in-house (it is also vegan)
  • In addition to ice cream, Cullen’s makes their own gourmet popcorn and roasted nuts
  • The owners tell me customers drive from Minnetonka and Wayzata twice a week to get Cullen’s Ice Cream
  • Cullen’s is a seasonal shop, open from the beginning of March through October

2. Selma’s Ice Cream Parlour

3419 Saint Croix Trail, Afton

  • Selma’s is the oldest ice cream parlour in Minnesota, first opening in 1913 and receives my vote for the best ambiance
  • The current owners, the Nickerson family, purchased the bank-owned property in 2011
    • All 6 of their kids have worked there
  • Selma’s has about 35 flavors of ice cream in their cases; they are from Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, based in Madison, Wisconsin
    • Chocolate Shoppe first started in 1960 and does not sell retail, meaning you cannot buy their ice cream at any grocery store
  • While you’re there, sample:
    • Strawberry — the owners family says “don’t skip it”
    • Blueberry Cheesecake
    • This S&#! Just Got Serious — salted caramel
    • Exhausted Parent — Bourbon Spiked Espresso
    • Carrot Mango Italian Ice — dairy free
  • They have a staff member dedicated to making waffle cones
    • They will sell 400 on a busy summer day
    • They also sell their own milk chocolate and white chocolate dipped cones
  • Gluten-free sugar and cake cones, along with gluten-free ice creams, are available
  • Selma’s also makes their own cakes, ice cream cookie sandwiches and has a coffee bar
  • Selma’s is a seasonal shop, typically open from late March until October

3. What’s the Scoop?

18 Division Street E, Buffalo

  • They are the newest shop in the top 5, opening in September 2017
  • Owner Brady Elsenpeter, a Buffalo native, went from owning a car dealership to running an ice cream shop
  • What’s the Scoop? is in downtown Buffalo in a space which once was a Curves for Women workout studio
  • Their case has 40 flavors from Cedar Crest
    • They have a case solely designated for nut-free flavors
  • They make their own waffles cones and bowls in house, and their waffle cones was the best of any waffle cone in the top 5
  • They do carry gluten-free cones and have dairy-free flavors available
  • The owner’s favorite flavors:
    • Shipwreck — vanilla ice cream with sea salt caramel ribbon and almond splinters
    • Big Muddy — a rich, chocolate ice cream with brownies
    • Scotcharoo — just like the cookie!
  • Ice cream cakes are made to order, including some with Fruity Pebbles
  • What’s the Scoop? is open year-round

4. Two Scoops

1918 Second Avenue, Anoka

  • Two Scoops opened in 2010
  • They have over 100 flavors of ice cream available, with 20 in their case at one time
  • Like Selma’s, Two Scoops uses Chocolate Shoppe ice cream
  • Their most popular ice cream: Cookie Dough
  • Their sleeper hit: Strawberry
    • The owners tell me that the Chocolate Shoppe’s Strawberry ice cream has won national awards
  • They make waffle cones and bowls in-house
  • Two Scoops also makes dipped cones, sundae cones and homemade cakes
  • They specialize in chocolate malts that are heavy on the malt powder
  • Two Scoops does have at least one dairy free Italian ice and has gluten-free ice cream and cones
  • They are also home to The Tornado challenge, where you get 20 scoops of ice cream with toppings (it comes out to about 7,000 calories)
    • One individual has completed it in 6 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Two Scoops is open year-round

5. Nelson’s Ice Cream

920 Olive Street W, Stillwater
454 Snelling Avenue, Saint Paul

  • Nelson’s Stillwater location originally opened as a grocery store in 1923
  • Art Nelson bought it in the 1940s and customers to this day still call it Art’s
  • The currently owners purchased it in 2006
  • Nelson’s is known for big scoops of ice cream — and I mean big scoops — that era started in the 1960s
  • They serve both Cedar Crest and Kemps ice cream
  • Both locations carry 44 flavors
  • You should expect a line when you go to Nelson’s
    • Their manager tells me there’s typically a line at 11:00 when the Stillwater location opens
    • The best time to go is between 5:45 and 7:00 pm during the dinner lull
    • On a busy day, they will go through 450 gallons of ice cream
  • Ice cream is served by dixie cups or cones at Nelson’s
    • They do not make waffle cones
  • Nelson’s does have Rapsberry Italian Ice if you are looking for a vegan or dairy-free option
  • Gluten-free options are going to be hard to come by, but you can get ice cream in a cup
  • Heads up: they only take cash!
  • Nelson’s is a seasonal shop, typically open from the beginning of April until Halloween

Honorable mentions

These are ranked from highest to lowest. Ice cream shops needed to receive at least .6% of the total vote in order to be listed below. 

Check out my other roundups of what’s ‘Worth the Trip’

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