Nothing says summer quite like a stop at the local ice cream store. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about frozen desserts, so suffice to say when Red Bicycle Ice Cream announced its opening, I was looking forward to it. It's located at The Pines in Urbana, at Philo and Windsor Roads. The C-U community is undoubtedly excited about having an ice cream store; the line was almost around the building for the soft opening on July 4th. On each of the handful of times I’ve gone in there has been a steady stream of customers in line or sitting and enjoying their frozen treats at one of the many tables.
The location is the former Café Zojo, and not much has changed inside. It’s still an open space, with high ceilings and plenty of seating. The red bicycle hangs from the ceiling toward the right of the space, which seems strange, but there it is. When you approach the counter the ice cream freezer is on your left, and the cash register is directly in front of you. You order at the register, not at the ice cream freezer.
Dairy for the ice cream is from Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury. There are usually about 14 to 16 flavors, give or take, with at a few non-dairy options. (The flavor menu is posted daily on Facebook, and I’d suggest Red Bicycle take up an Instagram page, too.) You can sample up to three flavors, which on one hand seems understandable — you don’t want to slow the line by having each patron sample every single flavor — but on the other hand seems a little draconian. I know supply is limited, but I think being a little generous with patrons will beget generosity from patrons. When there are similar flavors, it’s hard to figure out if vanilla bean is better than vanilla combo, or if coco cheerios or milk chocolate are better than dark, dark chocolate. I’m more apt to order two scoops if I taste some and can’t decide which once I like better.
I’ve managed to try a lot of the ice cream flavors, either in sample or scoop. The selection isn’t too extreme or creative — you’re not going to find breakfast sausage flavored ice cream at Red Bicycle. That is totally fine with me, and I’d guess with most of the patrons. I’m all for classics like vanilla and chocolate and cookies and cream, but I’m certainly open to more adventurous flavors like goat cheese, lavender, rose, or sage cranberry.
clockwise, from bottom left, all mini: vanilla combo, cream and cookies (Oreo cookies), green apple sorbet
You can get it to go, too! Clockwise, from bottom left: mini peanut butter and jelly, mini cream and cookies (Fig Newton), single scoop peach
And I know you’re dying to know: how’s the ice cream? In short: it’s pretty solid. The texture is right on: it’s milky and creamy and smooth. My constructive criticism can be summed up in one way: flavor in the ice cream is not concentrated enough. Almost all of the flavors are subtle, which is a little disappointing. The flavors with chunky stuff — cookies and cream, cherry chocolate — simply don’t have enough chunks and the chunks are too pulverized. I should be able to taste the vanilla in the vanilla bean, and the vanilla combo (Madagascar and Tahitian vanillas) should be rich and flavorful. The peach ice cream should be super peachy (with peach chunks!), and it’s not. The Nutella should be rich and chocolaty and taste of hazelnuts, but instead is mildly chocolaty, like the final melty liquid in the bottom of a chocolate-vanilla twist cone. On my last visit I had a scoop of the cream and cookies (sweet cream ice cream with Fig Newtons), and there was only one tiny little cookie piece, and no flavor of Fig Newton. This is a super easy adjustment: just add more stuff! I know that might initially up the overhead, but I am absolutely certain that it will be worth it.
mini cream and cookies (Fig Newtons), with teeny tiny cookie bit
That being said, there are a few flavors that are not lacking: the peanut butter and jelly, the dark, dark chocolate, and the raspberry vanilla swirl. The peanut butter and jelly is pretty insane — it tastes just like a PB&J sandwich. The dark, dark, chocolate is exactly as described, “so dark, so good.” It’s rich and chocolaty, but not too sweet. My favorite of the three, for no reason except personal preference, is the raspberry vanilla swirl. It’s fruity and sweet and creamy. I had it in a milkshake ($5.25), which was topped with whipped cream. It was pretty tasty. This might be my go-to flavor from here on out.
There are two more flavors worth mentioning. Snaps to the person who came up with Windsor Road, “a rocky road in Urbana.” This rocky road riff has the nuts and marshmallow mixed in, and is served with a little humor on the side.
Agatha Christie is a flavor that appears to be offered every day: it’s literally a conglomeration of all the leftover ice cream. When I asked about it, the young man working the counter excitedly explained this to me, and proclaimed it was a mystery, just “like the detective.” I didn’t have the heart to correct him. I did, however, have the heart to order it. Since it’s made up of whatever is left over, it changes daily. If there happen to be a lot of chocolate ice creams in the mix, it’ll taste mostly like chocolate. I had a scoop placed in the bottom of my two-scoop ice cream cone, so that the top flavor would melt into it and make it more mysterious.
Nutella top, Agatha Christie bottom
I have not tried many of the non-dairy sorbets, but it appears that you can regularly find horchata (sound delicious), something fruity, and, of late, autumn berry sorbet. This is likely a slightly different autumn berry sorbet than the one I’ve written about previously, but I can’t imagine that it’s all that much different, particularly in flavor. All of this is to say that there are several options available for the dairy-intolerant or averse.I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to tell you about the crisp and chewy waffle cones (with sprinkles!, $0.75). The cone was yummy enough that someone I was with decided that s/he needed a cone — and only a cone — after s/he had already finished a cup of ice cream. There was a moment of confusion, but no judgment from the cashier. A kiddie/mini cup/cone is $1.85; a single scoop cup/cone is $2.75; double is $4.75; a flight of four mini scoops is $7 (so glad this is an option!).
mini peanut butter and jelly
Red Bicycle also serves coffee from Columbia Street Roastery and smoothies, though I’m not sure I want to be friends with the self-righteous person who rolls up to an ice cream shop for a green smoothie. (I’m sure the smoothies are delicious; and they're pretty cheap: 12oz. for $3, and 16oz. for $3.75.)
cream and cookies (Oreo) top, Nutella bottom
When I was a kid, we went to a local ice cream spot called The Jolly Cow. It was one of those places that had been open forever, and had the basic flavors. More memorable than the ice cream was the beloved fiberglass cow sculpture that sat out front. Kids waited in line for their parents to lift them up so they could sit atop the cow — it was the thing to do. Red Bicycle doesn’t need to have super fancy ice cream flavors to win the hearts and minds of patrons. As the only locally owned and locally made ice cream store, it has the market. Now it needs its hook: a red bicycle parked outside for kids to wait their turn to plop down on the seat as they drip ice cream on their shirts.
Red Bicycle Ice Cream is located at 2740 South Philo Road, Urbana, and is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. For daily flavors, check Facebook.
All photos by Jessica Hammie.