By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 16, 2004 at 5:44 AM

What makes great ice cream great?

Shannon Arnold Jackson, says, "I think that there are three main components for perfect ice cream:

1) Flavor -- There needs to the be right balance between creaminess, sweetness and flavor ... too much or too little of any of these elements separates the mediocre ice cream from the oh-so-marvelous ones.

2) Texture -- Any ice cream worth its rock salt needs to be smooth and creamy. Or as the ice cream food science geeks like to say, "It needs to have good mouthfeel." Ice cream that's icy, gummy, too chewy or too watery isn't worth the cone it sits on.

3) Richness -- In my opinion, dense ice cream with little air incorporated and lots of butterfat -- think Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's -- makes for a really tasty treat. Sure, there's decent lowfat ice cream on the market and I'll happily have some sorbet after a rich meal ... but for a truly satisfying ice cream experience, I think you need the one-two punch of little air and lot of fat. That said, I make one exception on the lot of fat front for gelato ... which I find very satisfying and rich, even though most gelato contains no cream at all and a fraction of the fat of super premium ice cream.

C'mon, everybody loves ice cream, don't they? But not everyone is lucky enough to make ice cream their work. Delafield's Shannon Jackson Arnold got the chance when an Ohio publisher gave her the opportunity to write, "Everybody Loves Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop on America's Favorite Treat," a colorful walk through the chilly world of our favorite dessert.

"I've always been an ice cream fan," says Arnold, who is a former editor of OHIO magazine and who currently lives in Delafield with her husband, jazz guitarist Michael Arnold, and their daughter. "I've always been someone who has sought out the local ice cream wherever I've traveled."

We all have our favorite custard and ice cream places, but we decided that anyone that could write as sumptuous a book about ice cream -- and custard and gelato and semifreddo and the rest of the family -- should be asked for her faves. And that's exactly what follows.

"In my book, I include a guide to the 550 best ice cream parlors. It was quite a task to compile, given that there are 17,000 parlors in the U.S. Needless to say, it was very hard to narrow my list of Milwaukee-area favorites," she says. "It was especially difficult to choose custard stands, because -- blissfully for us -- Milwaukee's cup runneth over with great ones. Here, the custard spectrum is narrow: it runs from quite good to great. Still, I taste-tested my way around town, with many places getting several visits (ah, the rigors of good journalism!), and here are my picks for the area's cream of the crop:"

1) Kopp's Frozen Custard (multiple locations)
I chose 10 shops nationwide to designate as "Worth a Pilgrimage" -- places I felt every ice cream lover should experience -- and I put Kopp's on this list, because Kopp's took great frozen custard, invented the concept of the flavor of the day and then elevated those special daily flavors to an art form. (In the book, I write, "Milwaukee is the Frozen Custard Capital of the United States, with more frozen custard outlets than anywhere else. To stand out among the competition in this market is saying something about how good Kopp's is.") Kopp's offers what is probably the highest butterfat custard in the area (Kopp's GM Bud Rinehart confirmed this, but declined to give me an exact figure), which results in an extra-rich and creamy custard. It's the flavors of the day, though, where Kopp's truly shines, filling its custard with everything from whole macadamia nuts to pieces of pineapple-upside down cake. It's extra-decadent and oh-so-good.

{image2}2) Divino Gelato Café (227 W. Main St., Waukesha)
A newcomer to the city's frozen dessert landscape, Divino Gelato has been open only a year. But what a welcome entrant it is. For one, it's a flavorful -- and lower fat -- alternative to the usual custard fare. Gelato, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure of experiencing, is Italian-style ice cream. It is super-smooth, intensely flavored and surprisingly lower in fat than traditional ice cream. Divino's, in fact, doesn't use cream at all, just whole milk. Most people become enamored with gelato after a visit to Italy, where gelato is such a staple, it's even enjoyed with brioche for breakfast. Divino offers a little bit of Italy with a much shorter travel time. (And it IS worth the drive out to Waukesha to sample.) Like its Italian counterparts, Divino makes its gelato on-site daily and offers 24 flavors of gelati and sorbetti (fruit-flavored gelato made from a water base) each day. All of their flavors are delicious, but I especially like their chocolate, Zabaglione (wine custard) and Gianduja (creamy chocolate hazelnut) gelati and their passion fruit, banana and melon sorbetti. If you can't decide, Divino is generous with samples and you can also order a Bambino, a sampler of five mini-scoops.

3) Kitt's Frozen Custard Drive-In (7000 W. Capitol Drive)
Kitt's has two things going for it: a velvety vanilla custard that is just delicious and a 1950s neon-beauty of a stand still uses vintage machines. It made me want to buy a 1957 T-bird convertible, sit beside my honey on a Friday night and share a malted milkshake or a Dusty Road sundae. In fact, I could probably do just that. Kitt's holds regular classic car cruise-ins. Such atmosphere, along with some of the creamiest custard around, makes for an unforgettable combination.

{image1}4) Le Duc's (S17 W31884 Hwy. 18 (at Route 83), Wales)
I might be a little biased because I live less than five minutes away from Le Duc's and it's the custard stand I hit when I'm in need of a fix in a hurry. But the long lines that flock to this modest custard stand year-round prove that I'm not the only one who thinks their custard is top-notch. While their flavors of the day are tasty and their milkshakes lava-thick, my absolute favorite here is a cup of their vanilla custard. No hot fudge, no whipped cream, no cherry needed. It sounds boring, but they make the best-tasting and creamiest vanilla custard around.

5) TIE: Gilles Frozen Custard Drive-In (7515 W. Bluemound Road) and Leon's Frozen Custard (3131 S. 27th St.)
Gilles, which has been serving up custard since 1938 and is the city's oldest stand, is notable for its longevity and extensive fountain menu. The custard here is good, but it's even better when dressed up in one of Gilles's many sundaes (try a Lalapalooza or a Razzanna). I especially like the fact that even after all these years of being a landmark on the local custard scene, Gilles still feels like a neighborhood hangout to me, the sort of place that Archie, Veronica and Jughead would visit after school. Perhaps that's why Bud Selig makes it his lunchtime spot.

Leon's is a landmark in its own right, too, serving up no-frills, honest and delicious custard the same way they always have. Said to be the inspiration for Arnold's on the TV show Happy Days, this stand is classic, both for its neon looks and its old-school custard. It's the sort of place that you take out-of-towners to show them how cool and richly layered Milwaukee is and how this city has some genuinely great traditions that are alive and well and pretty darn tasty, too.

If you're traveling further afield, here are a few don't-miss Wisconsin ice cream parlors:

Beerntsen's Confectionery
108 N. Eighth St., Manitowoc, (920) 684-9616 (plus one other location in Cedarburg)

This quaint shop hasn't changed much since 1932. It's still lined with gleaming wood and the ice cream and toppings are homemade.

Mullen's Dairy Bar & Eatery
212 W. Main St., Watertown, (920) 261-4278 (plus two other locations)
Serving up homemade ice cream and fountain treats since 1932. The Bigger Than Bill has seven scoops of ice cream and three toppings.

Wilson's Restaurant
9990 Water St., Ephraim, (920) 854-2041
Open: May-mid-October
A Door County fixture since 1906 known for their towering cones, with a jelly bean on the bottom.

University of Wisconsin - Madison
Babock Hall Dairy Store
1605 Linden Drive, (608) 262-3045
Fresh and creamy ice cream that's often named for campus landmarks (Bo's Express, Union Utopia).

Shannon Jackson Arnold will hold an ice cream social and book signing at Schwartz Bookshop, 10976 N. Port Washington Road, in Mequon, on Friday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and there will be Kopp's custard on hand for everyone to share. There will also be a drawing for a free ice cream maker. Best of all, you can pick up "Everybody Loves Ice Cream."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.