Can Connecticut ice cream be ranked? Two locals sampled the state's ice cream to find out

Photo of Nicole Funaro

Arethusa Farm Ice Cream was recently ranked as the best ice cream in Connecticut by Food & Wine Magazine, but local ice cream reviewer Zack Goldman only gives it an overall score of 6 out of 10. Goldman took to Reddit last week to publish his personal rankings after a year of taste-testing over 100 ice cream shops in Connecticut during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To complete his ranking, Goldman said he ordered chocolate chip ice cream at every shop he visited to have a standardized ranking system, and because “that’s usually the kind of flavors most places would have.”

His findings gave Sweet Claude’s in Cheshire and Double Twister Ice Cream in Danbury top scores of 10, while stops like Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream in Griswold and Wells Hollow Creamery in Shelton were given scores of 2. 

Goldman said these rankings are for his own enjoyment, not to pit local ice cream shops against each other. 

“I think they can be ranked personally,” he said. “Everyone has different tastes. My tastes are not going to be someone else’s taste. In terms of the ranking system for myself, I think I can rank it — but these aren’t the ‘official’ rankings.”

Customers placing orders at Arethusa Farm Dairy in Bantam on July 15, 2021.

Customers placing orders at Arethusa Farm Dairy in Bantam on July 15, 2021.

Lisa Nichols

But that didn't stop commenters on Reddit from weighing in. Goldman's post in the r/Connecticut subreddit — which contained a Google spreadsheet with a detailed ranking of every ice cream shop in the state that “either makes their own ice cream or gets their ice cream from a distributor” — garnered 76 comments as of July 21. Each commenter expressed their own assessments of how the ice cream shops should be ranked.

“Arethusa is expensive?” one commenter wrote. “For $4 you get a giant double scoop of ice cream. They beat every other place in that respect.”

“Buttonwood overall a 2???? I mean you obviously worked hard at this, but having Buttonwood as a 5 in terms of quality and a 2 overall is a complete joke as far as that individual rating goes,” one commenter said. 

Goldman said he considered factors such as a shop's flavor variety, the ice cream quality and the environment or ambience, as well as the availability of mix-ins or toppings. With all these aspects considered, Goldman — who said the project "took almost as much research time as driving time" — has taken notice of commenters offering their opinions and debating his findings. 

“People are very passionate,” he said. “I’ve got lots of people telling me I’m wrong and telling me that I need to do more than I did…People are telling me that I ranked them wrong and that chocolate chip wasn’t fair because places have specialty ice cream that I didn’t try....The other piece of it, too, is that I got one ice cream from each place — maybe they had a bad day or I just didn't have a strong enough craving for ice cream somewhere.”

‘It gave me something to do’

The whole idea to sample and rank Connecticut ice cream stemmed from the West Hartford native’s attempt to fill his time at home with something fun to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Returning home from graduate school in St. Louis, Mo., in what was supposed to be his spring break, Goldman said he wanted to carry on his “elite” Yelp reviewer status — something he’s done in the past for the “pretty good perks” it comes with. The pandemic forced him to pick something other than restaurants to review since many were closed. 

“I was like, ‘Well, I guess I could just eat ice cream because I can still do that,’” he said. “So I started doing that to maintain my Yelp status, but then I was going to a lot of ice cream places, so at that point, I thought, ‘I should start comparing these against each other.’”

The UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs on July 14, 2021.

The UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs on July 14, 2021.

Lisa Nichols

As the pandemic continued, so did Goldman on his ice cream endeavors, and he ended up with an “official tally” of 101 ice cream spots he tried. Goldman said some people thought he was crazy for driving around the state to sample different ice cream. But for him, it was just a fun way to pass time. 

“...Because there’s a pandemic, it gave me something to do,” he said. “The piece that I really liked about it — and what kept me going, I think — was that it showed me all the different parts of Connecticut, which I did not know otherwise….It was really cool to see the different areas and get me exposed to them.”

CT Ice Cream Tour

Goldman isn't the only one who has dedicated a piece of his life to testing Connecticut ice cream.

Craig Behun, the voice behind CT Ice Cream Tour on Instagram, has also traversed the state to sample the offerings of local ice cream shops — and spent six years doing so. The account has almost 2,300 followers to date, but before Behun starting chronicling his journey on Instagram following, his travels actually began on May 22, 2015. 

His oldest son was 3 years old and his second was just a few months old when the Bethany resident read an article in a magazine suggesting 10 or 15 ice cream places to try that summer. Behun said he and his wife decided to use the list as a starting point to spruce up their summer plans. 

“We used to go to breweries and wineries, but we didn’t wanted to be dragging around a newborn to those places,” he said. “Our first stop of was Rich Farm in Oxford, and we’ve gone back on that date on May 22 every year since.”

Establishing chocolate and chocolate chip ice creams as his “control for comparison,” Behun said they tried “about 50” Connecticut ice cream shops in their first year of taste testing. Six years later, Behun said he’s tasted homemade ice cream from about 215 shops in Connecticut, though he said that tally comes with an asterisk. 

“It can be altered a little bit because I’ve been to all five Ashley’s locations, but I only count Ashley’s as one because only one place makes it and ships it to the rest,” he said. “But Rich Farm, there are three Rich Farm and they all make their own. So if you franchise a Rich Farm, they would teach you how to make it, so I consider those each separate individual stops.”

Also part of his taste-testing strategy is making sure he has enough of an appetite to sample different ice creams — especially when making multiple stops in a single day.

“One day I just did five places in one day,” he said. “That was up in the UConn area, and I had a whole roadmap. By the time I got to the fifth one, obviously it’s not going to taste as good as the first one of the day.”

But Behun doesn't rank the ice cream he tests.

“To rank numerically or say this one is better — I’m not trying to dissuade people from going to a local business if I said I didn’t like it,” he said. “If you don’t like it, then don’t go, but don’t go there just because I told you not to.”

Instead, Behun said he categorizes the ice cream shops he’s tried into lists based not only on taste, but on other factors such as ambience or where guests can get other food on site. 

“I have all sorts of lists, like where we can see live animals, anything by the water, anything where you can get a full meal, as well,” he said. “I also look at what’s the parking situation like or if can you be indoors if it’s raining.”

What makes people so passionate about ice cream?

While their taste-testing travels of Connecticut’s ice cream differed, both Goldman and Behun agree that residents have a lot to say about the state’s frozen treats.

“It’s like pizza — they want to make sure that I’ve tried what they think is the best," Behun said of people’s interest in seeking the top-tasting ice cream in Connecticut.

“People have their local spot that they like to go to,” Goldman said. “If I don’t give it a good rating and it’s a place people have gone to for years and swear by it, it’s almost taken as an insult.”

Part of that, according to Goldman, might stem from the nostalgia associated with ice cream.

“It definitely has a sentimental value — it’s something people grew up eating ice cream and it’s a lighthearted thing,” he said.

In the process of sampling different ice creams around the state, Behun discovered that there is a community just as invested in ice cream as he is. 

“I’ve made a ton of connections, not only with the places themselves, but with other ice cream addicts,” he said. “It’s such a happy community…it’s kind of like pizza: even if you’re eating cafeteria pizza, it’s still better than a salad, I think. It’s the same thing — even if you’re eating a Hoodsie cup or a popsicle, it’s still better than eating vegetables.”

Editor's Note: Twisters Ice Cream Shop's name and location have been updated.