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Food Feature: We scream for boutique ice cream

But will the real dairy queen please stand up?

I have climbed the pint-sized Everest of local homemade ice cream shops. I've gotten the scoop at the frozen pinnacle of perfection. And I have come back down from the mountain to give you the good news.

I concentrated exclusively on the creme de la cream made in small Atlanta-based shops — that is, what you might call "boutique" ice cream. Along the way, I found out that the richest ice cream contains a whopping 18 percent butterfat. And I learned to chant the gelato mantra: "only 6 percent, one-third the fat of ice cream."

Our ice cream vendors tend to top their frosty delights with poetic, exotic or quixotic titles. "Strawberry Fields" and "Buzzy Expresso" are two of the evocative names at Lexington Chocolatier. Orange & Scarlett's evokes the local landscape with "Georgia Marble" (cookies & cream) and "Piedmont Perk" (pistachio). Then there's the Italian twist — you'll find stracciatella (chocolate chip) in all the gelato shops. And Jake's Southern argot: "Chocolate Slap Yo' Mama" (ask for an interpreter).

After consuming pounds of clever concoctions, we chose What's the Scoop? for mind-altering gelato and Jake's for superlative ice cream. Newbie J. Ripples gets an honorable mention for delightful Italian ice. But the real dairy queen is Greenwood, a local ice cream "factory."

GREENWOOD ICE CREAM: Greenwood rules. In a small, unassuming brick building just off Peachtree Industrial in Chamblee, the 50-year-old plant churns out high-quality standards as well as signature flavors for myriad local restaurateurs. For the new Pricci, a Japanese Neopolitan juxtaposes green tea, plum and vanilla ice creams. Eclipse di Luna just special ordered a sangria sorbet, and an ice cream tinged with figs and sherry. Even Johnny Rockets and the Varsity purchase custom creams here.

Greenwood makes the "mix," either liquid or frozen base, for some of our ice cream and gelato parlors. J. Ripples has Greenwood blending its secret gelato recipe while Lexington mixes texture and flavor into a special pre-frozen base. Already selling scoops of pleasure to walk-ins in 1.5- and 2.5-gallon tubs, Greenwood promises to offer a liquid mix for ice cream lovers who want to freeze their own at home this summer. 4829 Peachtree Road, 770-455-6166. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Prices range from $13-$22.50 for 1.5 gallons. Coming soon: 1 gallon ice cream mix: $10.00

''JAKE'S ICE CREAMS & SORBETS: Small tables under red parasols outside the brick-front building set the scene for a most excellent old-fashioned ice cream experience. Inside, youthful scoopers help you select from more than 20 different daily varieties of ice cream and sorbet (often solving riddles like Nutter Nanner Elvis and Chocolate Slap Yo' Mama). Inventive fruity and chocolate concoctions abound. Thin Mint, Chocolate Leya Cake and Betwixed are just a few of the textured flavors.

Be careful what you wish for at Jake's: Last week, my one dip of Jamoca Almond Chip had enough coffee in it to keep me going half the night (that's how I made deadline for this story). 676 Highland Ave., 404-523-1830. Tues.-Thurs. and Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Child's scoop, $2.25; one scoop, $2.95; two scoops $3.95; three scoops, $4.75.

LEXINGTON CHOCOLATIER: Lexington added ice cream to its gourmet chocolate biz a year ago. Mixtures with milk, light or dark chocolate are made from a chocolatier's perspective. "Each one has chunks of this and that ... they're not plain boring ice creams," says owner James Chalifoux, who develops all the flavors according to his personal cravings. Among super-chocolatey, super-chewy selections are Bavarian Crunch Truffle Swirl — vanilla beans, white chocolate and almond toffee — and Razzmatazz — chocolate with raspberry truffle and dark chocolate chunks. 931 Monroe Drive, suite A106, 404-875-0111. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. noon-7 p.m. Small, $2; medium, $2.50; large, $3.50.

ORANGE & SCARLETT'S: Situated next to upscale Cavu and across the street from sexy Spice, Orange & Scarlett's is a Midtown must-stop. As you cruise down that fast-moving, one-way stretch of Juniper, watch for the neon ice cream cone on your right and hope to score one of the few free parking spaces out front. The entirely homemade ice cream comes in some original flavors. A mix of pine nuts, honey and feta called Georgia Pine must be the most exotic creation in town.

Smart and friendly, the staff makes crepes and panini to order and offers smooth La Selva coffee from Chiapas, Mexico. It's so good, there's a second O&S opening in late July just down the road at 1071 Piedmont Road at the entrance to Piedmont Park on 10th Street (next to Willy's Mexicana Grill). 814 Juniper St., 404-877-0040 Mon.-Fri. 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Small, $2.75; large, $3.75.

PAOLO'S GELATO ITALIANO: A giant plastic ice cream cone and a video in the window tout the frozen dessert phenomena to be found inside this tiny Virginia-Highland boutique. Like a mosquito in your ear, Paolo cheerfully insists that you adore his gelato. Over a dozen creamy choices, chocolates and lollipops keep company with flavored coffees, espresso and cappuccino. Aromas are in persistent (and happy!) flux. When we stopped in, the loveliest was Fiori Arancio (orange blossom). Hyper-tart lime had a bitter aftertaste. 1025 Virginia Ave., 404-607-0055. Tues.-Fri. 4-10 p.m.; Sat. noon-midnight; Sun. noon-10 p.m.

Small $2.80; Large $3.74.

J. RIPPLES: Welcome Atlanta's newest sister-and-brother act. Jennifer Allred and Judd Levy went to gelato school for the secret recipe that they've shared only with Greenwood. Chocolate peanut butter, amaretto, super beany vanilla, malaga (rum raisin) and blueberry are some of the creamy tastes up for scoop. They make wonderfully smooth Italian ice in orange, lemon, black raspberry, watermelon and cherry flavors. The small shop just off Collier and Howell Mill is bright with tropical pop colors — designer glass lighting, a long wavy banquette and round upholstered seating in pink, orange and green. 2020 Howell Mill Road, suite F-1, 404-605-0059. Mon. 5-10 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs. noon-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. noon-midnight; Sun. noon-8 p.m. Gelato: kiddie, $2.50; regular, $3; large, $5; Italian ice, $2-$3.

WHAT'S THE SCOOP?: Simply divine. Served in a contemporary minimalist setting, the supreme gelato is absolutely an in-house creation. Owned by Alon Bolshon of Alon's (that really fine bakery three doors down), this place makes the best Italian ice cream. Top choice is dulche de leche, a caramel toffee, but there are other faves, including deep chocolate, coconut, stracciatella, Heath Bar and the fruity sorbets. Already offering gourmet coffees, What's the Scoop? just started serving sweet and savory crepes, too. 1402 N. Highland Ave., 404-724-0444. Sun. 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Mon.-Tues. 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 9 a.m.-midnight. Small cup, $3; large, $4.30. u??


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