The whole idea started with one of those “only in your state” Facebook posts that pops up in your feed–someone’s idea of Michigan’s best ice cream places. Except they weren’t the best. So I came up with my own list of places, some I’d been to, others I’d only heard about, and a Google map. Soon, a Facebook event was created, hotels were booked, t-shirts were designed and just like that, we had ourselves The Girls Epic Michigan Ice Cream Tour. Nine ice cream parlors, 361 miles and two days.
Six women with strong ice cream opinions and even stronger stomachs piled into the Ford Flex Adventure Wagon on a bright, sunny morning in June and started off. Along the way, we picked up a guest ice cream lover or two, got caught in a highway shutdown, played some cut-throat mini golf, ate at a super sketchy Denny’s and visited a light house. I can’t possibly get everything in one post so I’ll divide this into Day 1 and Day 2. Stand by for a review of each place, what flavors we ate, some photos and our overall impression. On the Day 2 post, you’ll also get ratings from individual scores. Ready? Let’s hit the road and eat some ice cream.
Day 1, Stop 1. Browndog Barlor, Northville, Michigan
Set in a storefront on Northville’s main drag, the Browndog makes small batch handcrafted artisan (read: expensive) ice creams and sorbets. They also have real food so we made this our first stop and got lunch, then had ice cream. For this stop, Nichole joined us and we shared lunch plates including Arancini Balls, Pulled Pork Nachos, Margarita Sliders and Six Cheese Mac n Cheese. No sense going light, right?
Selecting from Browndog’s assortment of unique ice cream flavors like Who Needs a Therapist (all of us, obviously), some vegan choices, as well as alcohol infused ice cream for guests 21 and over, is harder than you’d think. The only sensible thing to do was order a flight of ice creams and sample four flavors at a time so that’s what I did. My selections included Cookie Monster, vegan Blood Orange Coconut Ice sorbet, Lemon Bar, and the Cherry Chip Chipotle, $9 for the set.
The Cookie Monster is blue cookie dough with three different cookies mashed up in there. It is very good but a little on the sweet side and I wouldn’t want to eat a lot of it. The Lemon Bar was delicious with actual pieces of lemon bar, crust and zest visible. I enjoyed the way the chipotle snuck up on you in the Cherry Chip Chipotle. It wasn’t really noticeable at first, then became stronger on the back of your tongue. Very nice. And the Blood Orange. Wow. Such a great tart flavor and very creamy for a sorbet, not icy or grainy.
The flights were popular at the table so we passed around several different flavors and got to sample the Salty Dog (salted caramel ice cream, salted caramel swirl, pecans and brownies), and others. The Browndog Barlor was a great start to our trip.
Day 1. Stop 2. Michigan State University Dairy Store, East Lansing.
I believe the hallmark of a good ag school is its creamery so a stop at Moo U’s Dairy Store was kind of a litmus test. Road construction detoured us all over campus but we found the dairy, and a big line. As soon as you opened the door, you were hit hard with the smell of freshly made waffle cones. Servings were huge and prices reasonable-$3.25 for single plus an extra buck for the waffle cone. The inside was light on ambience and heavy on Big 10 icons but that’s okay, we came for the ice cream, not the decor.
After deliberating over the 20 or so choices, I settled on Honor’s Coffee Toffee, an espresso coffee ice cream with toffee pieces, as it was described. Except that there weren’t toffee pieces–it was an unevenly distributed ribbon swirl of overly sweet toffee–and the coffee flavor was not strong enough to combat it. My waffle cone, while very tasty, was poorly constructed and ice cream leaked out the bottom and made quite a mess. The real ice cream professional in our group says that is just shoddy workmanship and there’s no excuse for it. She also said their regular cones were terrible–stale and styrofoam tasting. And the bathroom was gross.
The tour of the dairy plant is only available on weekdays, but I did manage a peek inside. Lots of stainless steel and gauges. Overall though, somewhat disappointing. Maybe it’s the cows.
Day 1, Stop 3. Pinkie’s Ice Cream & Desserts, Grand Rapids
Cute, cute, cute. Pinkie’s is not just a place to get a cone, it’s a celebration of the ice cream lifestyle. The walls are covered with cartoons and sayings, pink and white awning stripe make for a fun atmosphere and the servers are very cheerful and generous with the samples. They sling 32 flavors Sherman’s of South Haven (see Day 2, Stop 1) ice cream in this hipster Eastown location. It was a nice stop after our delay on I-96 involving a tanker carrying liquid nitrogen that shut down the freeway for an hour.
We ordered up our ice creams and took in the decor while we ate. Pinkie’s has some tables inside and a few benches outside and it was a nice sunny day. There were a lot of people in and out while we were there and the place has a nice neighborhood feel to it. I chose the chocolate covered pretzel ice cream and received a generous portion in a nice crispy cone. It was good mix of sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy. My companions were raving about the cake batter.
We enjoyed our stop at Pinkie’s and it definitely put us in a better mood after sitting in traffic forever.
Day 1, Stop 4. Captain Sundae, Holland, MI
A summer resort town, Holland is awash in soft serve ice cream places. I chose Captain Sundae because it got good reviews but let’s be honest, the mini golf course was a big factor. Yep, mini golf and ice cream is about as summer adventure as you can get. We started off on the pirate-themed 18 hole course and made an ice cream wager to keep it interesting–winner of the contest gets her ice cream paid for by the losers. The course itself is nothing special but we did pick up a guest or two along the way.
This guy looks sort of familiar.
Imprisoned for stealing ice cream?
He should have rowed over to the ice cream stand.
We had a lot of fun playing mini golf and it gave our stomachs time to make more room for more ice cream. The course was busy with families but not too crowded. Water features proved challenging for some our players and it was a hard-fought battle for lowest score. In the end, the actual winner had decided not to partake in the contest and lost out on getting her ice cream paid for so, as runner up, that left me to collect a free treat. I chose the signature Captain Sundae, a vanilla sundae with caramel and hot fudge, toasted pecans, whipped cream and a cherry. It was lovely, and less messy than some of the other choices, and believe me, they don’t skimp on the pecans.
The menu was enormous and kind of hard to figure out. For all of the choices listed, it was difficult to differentiate between them because they all seemed to be some kind of combination of caramel, hot fudge, and pecans. Overall, a fun time and it was nice to mix in some activities other than eating ice cream. By the time darkness set in, we were ready to call it a night and head off for our over-priced Baymont Inn.
End of Day 1.
We had reserved a couple rooms at the Baymont Inn and headed over there around 10:00 PM, slightly sticky and on a sugar high. The best thing I have to say about it was that you could walk to the sketchy Denny’s. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Despite the sugar high, we crashed pretty hard and readied ourselves for Day 2.