In the fourth century B.C., Roman emperor Nero impressed his guests by ordering his slaves run up into the mountains and gather snow to flavor with fruit, honey and wine. These days it’s a little easier to enjoy what we now know as ice cream, whether we find it at the neighborhood drug store, a classic highway shake shack, or a cozy little cookie shop. And while the mountains of Mammoth might offer an opportunity for winter guests to re-create Nero’s experience, the town and the surrounding areas have a lot more variety when it comes to frozen treats.
From shaved ice to gelato, and from organic frozen yogurt to buttermilk shakes, locals and visitors can find just the right ice cream to satisfy their cravings.
In Mammoth the ice cream options are many. To the east, Rite Aid offers 24 flavors of their classic Thrifty cylindrical scoop, while in the Village to the west, Ben & Jerry’s provides decadent, and environmentally friendly, cups of Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, and more. In between are several more treats.
On Main Street, local fixture John’s Pizza Works has just opened a new “Two Scoops Ice Cream Parlor,” where you can enjoy a scoop—or two—of the 8 most popular Dreyer’s flavors, including Rocky Road, Double Fudge Brownie, Mint Chocolate Chip, Rainbow Sherbet, and bestseller Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Owner John Mueller installed the parlor to satisfy popular demand. “We get a lot of families in here, especially in summer when school is out,” he said. “And when customers ask for things, we give it to them.” To that end, Two Scoops offers not only ice cream scoops in sugar and waffle cones, but malts and shakes, and eventually sundaes.
John’s Pizza Works isn’t the only business in town that’s expanding its frozen offerings. Over on Old Mammoth Road, Mimi’s Cookie Bar recently upgraded from 2 soft serve frozen yogurts to an additional 8 scoop flavors. Everything at Mimi’s is organic, dye free, and made in-house, said co-owner Mimi Kurz, who opened the cookie bar with her fiancé Delaney Council last fall.
Mimi’s offers low-fat vegan flavors like coconut lime and chocolate chai, and frozen yogurt flavors, which are all fat free, from creamy vanilla bean, red velvet, butterscotch and chocolate, to tart tangerine, blueberry, peach, and raspberry lemonade. You can top your cup of froyo with organic toppings like brownie bites, gummy worms, sundrops, cookie crumbles, coconut shavings, and sprinkles, or eat it plain. Kurz’s favorite combo: coffee with hemp granola and chocolate covered almonds. “But I might have a new favorite,” she said; “I just made vegan caramel ice cream and it’s amazing!”
Frozen yogurt is also available blended into smoothies and milkshakes. And, as of June, Mimi’s is offering special order froyo ice cream cakes.
If you prefer an international flavor, Shea Schat’s Bakery on Main Street has fresh made gelato to satisfy your cravings. Owner Shea Schat promised a rotation of favorite flavors like vanilla, coconut, peanut butter and chocolate hazelnut, as well as limoncello, blood orange, pink grapefruit, and other dairy-free fruit sorbets. “We have about 40 flavors to choose from for gelato,” she said, “and about 20 for sorbets.” So don’t forget to check in for new delights, some of which promise to be as exotic as last summer’s unforgettable avocado gelato.
When your travels—and your ice cream cravings—take you north, there are 2 stops you can’t miss. In Lee Vining, the historic Mono Cone shake shack has been providing Yosemite-bound travelers with cones, sundaes, slushies, malts and shakes for the past 65 years. Current owner Cara Audenried bought the Cone from her parents some 19 years ago, and has been faithfully running it ever since. Prices remain reasonable and portions generous. “We’d much rather people complain things are too big than too small,” Audenried said. The soft serve, which comes in chocolate, vanilla, and half and half, is all made in house, and can be capped with sundae and fruit toppings.
Mono Cone also boasts the only Flavor Burst machine in the county. The machine stripes each vanilla cone with up to 3 colorful flavors, like butter pecan, chocolate, and cheesecake, or banana, chocolate and strawberry (a Flavor Burst sundae). This ice cream experience is a must for kids—and adults can dig it, too.
If you’re looking for a blended treat, Audenried suggested a buttermilk shake. “It’s addicting,” she said. Other popular shake flavors include Chocolate Lover’s and Salty Caramel. The owner’s favorite: “Ovaltine Malt,” she said. “It’s the bomb. It’s been here since we took over.”
That consistency is a major part of the Mono Cone’s charm, and the charm of another shake shack further up the road. Bridgeport’s Jolly Kone has been owned and operated for 28 years by native Lynda Pemberton, and offers classic soft serve cones, sundaes, shakes, floats and freezes. The Model Dairy soft serve comes in 4 flavors: chocolate, vanilla, chocolate/vanilla swirl, and strawberry. Popular at the Kone are chocolate malts, chocolate and Oreo shakes, and chocolate dipped cones. The chocolate dipped strawberry cone is particularly tasty—crunchy on the outside and sweet and smooth on the inside.
To the south of Mammoth lie still more delights. In Bishop’s Value Sports parking lot, Pizza 395 offers 16 Dreyer’s flavors. The most popular: Dulce de Leche. On Main Street, the Looney Bean and Hing Donuts have their own Dreyer’s dipping cabinets, while Erik Schat’s Bakkery provides decent gelato and better sorbet. But the true treasure of Bishop sits in the Kmart/Vons parking lot. The Sno Shack, owned by Bishop local Roger Romero and operated by wife Monique and sons Devon, Dylan and Austin, the Sno Shack offers some 75 flavors and endless combinations of shaved ice. “Tiger’s Blood,” or strawberry and coconut, is a local favorite. Devon, the family ‘flavor chemist,’ has created several surprising combinations of his own, including banana and cola, and root beer and cheesecake.
The Sno Shack also offers a decadent variation on traditional shaved ice: the Glacier, a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with flavored shaved ice, and drizzled with cream. Monique Romero is a recent convert to this delicacy. “I used to be a purist,” she said. “Strictly shaved ice. But the Gracier is really addicting.” Romero’s favorite shaved ice flavors are nectarine and mango, and the nectarine Glacier doesn’t disappoint. Sweet and rich, with a blend of texture between crunchy shaved ice and soft ice cream, this treat is worth the trip.
One thing is for certain, whether you’re a vegan or a dairy-lover; a froyo purist or a shaved ice alchemist, you’ll have plenty of places to go when you get the craving. And there’s nothing like a cold ice cream on a hot summer day.