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The Ice Cream Chronicles (Vol. 11): The Tale of Two Mitchell's (San Francisco, CA/Cleveland, OH)

It may have been the ninth store built, but the Ohio City neighborhood
location of Mitchell's Ice Cream, located in an old theater, has quickly
ascended to be the flagship store of this Cleveland-area business.
The recent spate of summer-styled weather reminded me it was about time to revive a mini-segment of posts that kind of took a life of their own last year. This season's first candidate is one I know by name, but is really two entities. One of those I grew up with as a kid, while the other I first sighted late last year on a visit to Northeast Ohio. This shared name, in fact, has become the source of some unknowing mis-identification by numerous Twitter users trying to rave over ice cream they were tasting from these two same-named entities on social media.

Despite the confusion, I already knew one was a longtime favorite, while one was I heard great things about. So why not a double post about the ice cream known as Mitchell's?

For me as a kid, Mitchell's Ice Cream was something that my grandpa would bring home as a treat for me and my siblings on a regular basis, and no matter what the flavor, it was devoured in short order. This particular Mitchell's, now a Bay Area institution, was opened up in the 1950s sporting 19 fairly standard flavors and an old-school ice cream with a distinct mouth-coating texture (due to its high butterfat content.) These days, however, it is the tropical and Filipino-styled favors like Halo Halo, Ube and Buko that provide as much if not more of a draw for ice cream lovers than the more traditional flavors. In fact, this ice creamery was the first in the Bay Area to introduce Mango as an ice cream flavor; this proved to be an instant hit and remains the store's most popular flavor.

Their small, cramped storefront on San Jose Avenue, located at the merge of the San Francisco's Mission District and Noe Valley neighborhoods, typically has lines out the door, with a "take-a-number" system for those wanting to purchase cones, bowls and other ice cream and frozen confections. Thankfully, the store keeps one cash register open specifically for those who want to pick up pre-packed half-gallon tubs from their freezers, so customers (and there are many) can get in and out in fairly quick amount of time. Mitchell's ice cream is also served by the scoop by a select number of scoop shops/restaurants; a number of grocery stores also sell the pre-packed half-gallon tubs.

There is a distinct lack of parking close to the store (the store's small parking lot in the back is often full); for auto-bound customers, it helps to have a "partner in crime" to get into line while the other tries to park the car. Tourists who want to pay Mitchell's a visit may be best served by taking public transit and walking a few blocks over to their shop, or even taking a taxi for a visit.

Mitchell's (San Francisco) offers old-school ice cream with a tropical
twist, including this combo of Ube (purple yam) and Lucuma, a fruit
from the South America Andes Mountain regions.
Here in Ohio, Mitchell's is a Cleveland-area institution that started in 1999 with a focus on the use of local and/or sustainably-produced ingredients. Their current flagship location, which I had the chance to visit, is actually the company's ninth store, but it's easy to see early why their parlor at the former Rialto Theater in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood has ascended to the prime spot for a visit.

It's quite easy to picture the trappings of an old-time structure when you look
 Mitchell's (Cleveland) expansive and remade main parlor area.
The main parlor space is clean and expansive with lots of seating; it's easy to picture the counter that now holds ice cream-filled cases being a concession stand for the old theater. If you look carefully behind the servers, you'll find that the journey is just beginning; glass windows give a hint of the production facility located behind the parlor area. Customers can scoot on over to the back to get a closer look: not only will you find more seating but get a closer look at the employees and the myriad of ice cream production equipment. A stairway to the second level allows you to glance down from overhead into the area; it reminded me a bit of the experience we had taking the Jelly Belly Factory Tour in Fairfield, California.

Mitchell's (Ohio) ice cream production from the side and above; plus
but a small sample of the works of art found throughout the building.
Mitchell's Ohio seems to stay in the wheel of traditional flavors sprinkled with some more novel seasonal offerings. In similar fashion to last year ice cream samplings, I grabbed a trio of scoops, including my traditional pick of butter pecan, plus something simple (strawberry) and a seasonal (their Great Lakes Brewing Porter Chocolate Chip.)

With the small batch production, the texture of Mitchell's ice creams fall between Jeni's and a more commercial-styled ice cream like Velvet. Of the three, I enjoyed the perfect blend of tart and sweet that the strawberry gave me. Their take on Butter Pecan was also quite nice, with hints of butterscotch and sea salt adding some complexity. I didn't quite get as much of a porter taste profile as I would've liked with the GLBC ice cream; however, I did love the irregularly-chunked dark chocolate chips. It reminded quite a bit of the wildly-sized chocolate chunks you get in Graeter's french pot processed ice creams that feature chocolate chips.

Both Mitchell's Ice Cream franchises are basically area-only enterprises; for anyone visiting either the San Francisco or Cleveland areas, these same-named (but not the same company) ice cream makers are well worth the stop.

And yes, there is also a Mitchell's Ice Cream (not the same as either) in Chicago as well. I'm thinking I'm going to have to make it a trifecta one of these days, right?

Mitchell's Ice Cream - San Francisco
688 San Jose Ave (Bernal Heights)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-2300
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Mitchell's Ice Cream -  Cleveland
1867 W 25th St (Ohio City)
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861-2799
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