Van Leeuwen began, as all hipster New York food companies seem to do, as a food truck roaming the streets of Brooklyn, back in 2008. This business has now become what they describe as a ‘mini empire’ of bricks and mortar ice cream shops (with an emphasis on exposed bricks, because, well, Brooklyn), in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and even all the way over in LA. But unlike many food businesses who expand so far, the quality of these ice creams is still tip top. And although I wasn’t here in 2008 to taste the food truck original, the product can’t have deteriorated at all, because the product today is still perfection.
Unlike the wonderfully over the top, ingredient-stuffed, creative, wacky flavors found at our other favorite ice cream stop, Ample Hills, Van Leeuwen focuses on quality and simplicity. Their permanent menu (the specials, which change almost daily, are often slightly more bonkers, ranging from fluffer nutter, to matcha, to s’mores, to vegan boysenberry shortcake) focuses on the classics, in both dairy-full and vegan, dairy-free versions. Chocolate, mint chip, ginger, vanilla, salted caramel, cookie dough, pistachio, and strawberry are available year round, and we’ve pretty much tried them all. And we are more than happy to repeatedly try them all at least once a week, for the entire year, every year. Obviously in the winter the scoops will need to be topped with a splodge of hot chocolate fudge sauce.
I’m normally fairly skeptical of vegan-takes on totally non-vegan food products, but Van Leeuwen’s ice cream has totally destroyed that view. They’ve not got their vegan ice cream to its top ice cream spot status by just swapping the regular milk and cream for a soy equivalent. Instead they’ve actually thought and tested and carefully considered how to go about making vegan ice cream which tastes wonderful, has a beautiful texture, and doesn't make you feel ill. And in my opinion, many of their vegan ice creams are even better than the non-vegan ones. Creamy, silky coconut milk seems to create a perfect ice cream base, especially when it’s dotted with vegan cookie dough, and eaten alongside a scoop of totally non-vegan spicy ginger ice cream. Hopefully this all goes some way to explain why Van Leeuwen is a weekly (and in the heat of summer, daily) splurge we religiously treat ourselves to.
Van Leeuwen, 81 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
P.S. Most of their locations are open from seven in the morning until midnight. It’s never too early or late for ice cream.