Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has officially come to D.C., and its first location near Union Market already has residents lined up out the door.
For those less familiar, Van Leeuwen is currently New York’s most famous ice cream shop, first opened in 2008 by brothers Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen and partner Laura O’Neill. They launched their business with just $60,000, an ice cream truck and a dream. Fifteen years later, the business is spread out with ice cream shops all over New York, with additional shops in New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and now, thankfully, D.C. If you want 24/7 access to their pints and ice cream bars, you can get them in supermarkets throughout the country. We interviewed Ben Van Leeuwen (who is even cooler than his ice cream) to get the scoop on the business’s advent into the nation’s capital.
So, what makes the Van Leeuwen ice cream so delicious? Lots of whole egg yolks, 18% butter fat and a serious commitment to quality natural ingredients and sublime flavors. In addition to regular ice cream, Van Leeuwen offers a host of vegan flavors, and their vegan ice creams are as delectable as those made with dairy. Even better, the owners want to ensure vegans have as fulsome an ice cream experience as non-vegans, so not only are a plethora of vegan ice creams available at each shop, but there is also vegan whipped cream and hot fudge for no-dairy sundaes, as well as vegan ice cream bars to go. Their fully plant-based ice creams are made with different combinations of oat milk, cashews and coconut cream to ensure an extra creamy texture that is as close to dairy ice cream as possible (some might say the vegan ice cream is even better than the non-vegan).
What should you expect when visiting Van Leeuwen’s ice cream shops? For one, they always have their staple flavors available, like mint chip, strawberry and vegan chocolate chip cookie dough, and they also always carry a series of exciting seasonal flavors. For the spring, that includes a malted milkshake and fries flavor (yes, you read that right, and it’s delicious and actually made with real Idaho potatoes) and a vegan berry sorbet.
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D.C. residents will be treated to special Van Leeuwen collaborations with local chefs; at the Union Market location you will find a birch bark with raspberry jam flavor ice cream that chef Johnny Spero created for his former restaurant Reverie. You can always expect new and creative options to be introduced by the Van Leeuwen team, who “take a very nerdy approach to food” and are “obsessive about creating” brilliantly unique but tasty ice cream flavors. Recent inventions include flavors like ranch dressing, mac-n-cheese and glass onion developed as a nod to the popular movie.
People often come for the new flavors, but as Van Leeuwen notes, “Ice cream is a nostalgic experience for most people around the world,” meaning that often, guests gravitate towards the classics, like rich vanilla bean or cookies and cream, sold in regular and vegan, respectively.
The Van Leeuwen team is thrilled to be in D.C., and in hindsight, wishes they had opened up here a long time ago. The D.C. community loves ice cream (hello, 100-degree humidity), and lines at the Union Market location are already out the door. Stop by soon for a scoop, a milkshake or a sundae, or to purchase a few pints to go. Next up are openings in Georgetown and Adams Morgan.
Insider tip: Ice cream will be $1 on the opening day of each of the new locations. Welcome to D.C., Van Leeuwen.
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