There are a shockingly few amount of national ice cream chains. That hustle must be quite difficult when you’ve gotta pay the rent for 12 months, but for much of the United States peak ice cream season only lasts about a third of the year. On this list, I’m only counting things I’ve tried — e.g. I’ve never actually gotten a shake at Sonic — as well as fast food spots that serve ice cream. Frozen yogurt is not in here. I’m sure everybody will agree with all the rankings:
11. Wendy’s – The Frosty is decent enough, but it’s really time for Wendy’s to expand their ice cream horizons. Plain vanilla or chocolate soft serve in a cup is not gonna move the needle. Throw some candy in there and call it a version of a snowstorm or natural disaster that hasn’t already been used by another chain.
11. Baskin-Robbins – Baskin-Robbins should be applauded for its accessibility, and their ice cream cakes are damn good, but have you ever left your house with the direct intent of going there? Whenever I go to Baskin-Robbins, it’s always because I’m passing by and decide that moment would be a good one for ice cream.
10. McDonald’s – I would never, ever choose a McFlurry instead of a Blizzard, but there are approximately a trillion more Golden Arches on Earth than Dairy Queens. The McFlurry’s biggest flaw is that their mixer doesn’t reach the bottom, so you finish all the toppings and are basically left with just ice cream for the final quarter of the experience.
9. Carvel – There either aren’t as many Carvel’s around as there used to be, or it’s an East Coast thing and that’s why I don’t think I’ve had it in the past decade. But, their ice cream cakes are so damn good.
8. Cold Stone Creamery – Cold Stone shot up everywhere, and seemed to close many of its locations, in a relatively short amount of time. It’s been awhile since I’ve had it. Writing this, though, the idea of watching someone mash peanut butter and Oreos together in ice cream and then having that be inside me is appealing.
7. Friendly’s – Probably over-ranked on here because of nostalgia, but I remember their dishes that were coated in like an inch-think layer of fudge quite fondly. Was the best place for a birthday dinner from, like, age six to 13.
6. Culver’s – My friend Matt has been to every Culver’s in the state of Wisconsin. That’s a lot of Culver’s! He likes it more than I do, and we constantly bicker about the chain’s supremacy versus competitors. Their crinkle cut fries are just irresponsible. That’s the worst type of chain fries. But I digress. Their frozen custard is quite good.
5. Chick-Fil-A – Since Drew Magary wrote about their banana pudding milkshake, it’s been my white whale. I eagerly anticipate the day when they bring it back so I can finally see what all the fuss is about, but, to my knowledge, it’s never come out of retirement. Nevertheless, their other milkshakes are as good as it gets for a national chain where the focus is on food and not ice cream.
4. Haagen Dazs – They might be on this list more for their ice cream bars than for their brick and mortar locations, but those things are my favorite way to get half my daily recommended saturated fat intake in three bites.
3. Shake Shack – The relatively new chain might be a little bit more expensive than the traditional fast food experience, but it’s worth it to splurge on special occasions. Their frozen custard shakes are so rich and so good.
2. Ben and Jerry’s – Ben and Jerry’s gets a little bit overlooked sometimes because they’re not going to be a flashy entrant on any sort of list like this, but the quality of their ice cream seems so high (maybe that’s not actually true, but, like Chipotle, making me think that way is like the whole battle). Like Haagen Dazs, they also get points because I can find their work in supermarkets and not just physical stores. My favorite flavor is Half Baked.
1. Dairy Queen – If I were trying to be a neutral journalist, DQ might not be at the top, but it’s my list and I can do what I want. There’s a Dairy Queen about three hundred yards away from Camp Nebagamon, the summer camp that I went to as a kid (and worked at as an almost adult), and every Wednesday — Cruiser Day — we’d get to go spend like four bucks there and it was the best thing ever. To this day, whenever I get a Blizzard or a Dip Cone there, it reminds me of those experiences, and that’s a boost that no other ice cream chain will ever be able to replicate.
PREVIOUSLY IN FAST FOOD FRIDAY:
– Does Qdoba’s Bacon Jalapeño Queso Sauce Push it Past Chipotle?
– Feels Like An Arby’s Night
– Popeye’s Bonafide Big Box is Back, But is it Really that Great of a Deal?
– Is that Weird-Looking Taco Bell Chickstar Actually Any Good?
– Are the Wendy’s Ghost Pepper Fries As Spicy As Advertised?
[Display image via Baron’s Market]