Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry might be the top-selling ice creams, but why settle for them when you can get myriad flavors that are bizarrely innovative and delicious? Since many of the mom-and-pop shops make their ice creams from scratch, the offbeat flavors change regularly -- blink once and you could miss them. Chill out with these nontraditional flavors in honor of July being National Ice Cream Month.
Strawberry Balsamic at Family Farm Creameries (Pittsburgh Public Market, Market Square Farmer’s Market; 412-281-4505)
Family Farm swirls balsamic vinaigrette into this ice cream, which has cool chunks of strawberries throughout. The vinaigrette cuts the sweetness and keeps the ice cream light and summery. Now, if we put it on top of lettuce, would that count as a salad?
Movie Time at Dream Cream Ice Cream (539 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412-228-0615)
If you are thinking of a perfect drive-in movie snack, this is the answer. A popcorn-flavored ice cream with sea-salt caramel swirls and caramel truffle. The Movie Time somehow manages to keep that buttery-salty balance.
Baklava at Antney’s Ice Cream (1316 Poplar St., Green Tree; 412-920-1300)
An entire sheet of the Greek sweet treat is turned into a batch of ice cream. Phyllo dough, pistachios, almonds and nutmeg translate a nutty pastry into a perfect buttercream-based refreshment. The toasted flavor of a baklava definitely comes across, and even those signature layers somehow find their way in.
Lavender Red Raspberry at Betsy’s Ice Cream (664 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon; 412-668-0379)
It tastes exactly like how lavender smells. Made with lavender water and natural raspberry puree, the ice cream tastes floral. However, it’s not like you’re eating a garden, but closer to the consistency of a sherbet. The ice cream is notably bright without being syrupy, which is rare when you’re talking raspberry.
Orange Pineapple at Sugar & Spice Ice Cream (5200 Clairton Blvd., Pleasant Hills; 412 882-7326)
Although the old-fashioned soda parlor of Sugar & Spice excels in odd cookie combinations, the orange pineapple ice cream is the hidden gem here. Tropical in tang, it’s reminiscent of a creamsicle, but not so sickly sweet.
Banana Cream Pie at Handel’s Ice Cream (2240 Lebanon Church Road, West Mifflin, 412-653-1983; and 9020 St. Simon Way, McCandless, 412-366-3379)
This banana ice cream becomes serious comfort food when you add in the marshmallow ripple and sugar cookie pieces, which honorably substitute for a pie crust. Banana might seem like a muted flavor, but not so in this ice cream, which we’d take over warm custard any day.
Mexican Chipotle Chocolate; Dave & Andy’s Ice Cream (207 Atwood St., Oakland; 412-681-9906)
Cold and spicy is a thing, really. The silky, rich chocolate first hits the palate and a few seconds later, the chipotle chili kicks in. This is what we would call a “slow burn,” and it’s worth the sweat. It’s the sort of spice that makes you appreciate the sweet all that much more.
Tiramisu at Mercurio’s Gelato and Pizza (5523 Walnut St., Shadyside; 412-621-6220)
OK, it’s gelato and not exactly ice cream, but we’ll let this slide for it best represents the flavors of tiramisu out of all the ones we tried. Made with Italian espresso and marsala wine, the gelato manages to be almost fluffy. There are no ladyfingers or mascarpone cheese to be found, but that’s all for the best, as the gelato feels less like a cake ripoff than a reinvention.
Fig at Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream (Farmers@Firehouse, Mt. Lebanon Farmer’s Market; 412-508-5828)
Using real, dried black mission figs, pureed and combined with white wine, this ice cream manages the consistency of a Fig Newton but with even more flavor. It’s definitely a treat with texture and depth, as the vanilla beans don’t hide in the mix.