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Food & Drink

House-made soft serve is Toronto’s trendiest dessert right now

Here are six of our favourite spirals

No one is safe from summer’s siren song: the ice cream truck jingle. But the city’s restaurants have stepped up their soft serve game so much in the past couple of years that Mister Softee’s appeal is waning. Here are some of our favourite fancy house-made spirals.

Dotty's soft serve ice cream
Photo by Daniel Neuhaus

Chef Jay Carter turns out expertly executed interpretations of soda fountain food at his Dupont Street diner, so it’s no surprise that Dotty’s soft serve game is strong—a recent late-spring creation married strawberry with rhubarb. For Carter, the choice to put soft serve on the menu had nothing to do with trends. “It’s the simplest, most classic dessert on the planet,” he says. “How could I not?” And while co-owner Susan Beckett agrees that the dessert is popping up at more restaurants these days, her motivation had more to do with Dotty’s overall let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously vibe. “Ice cream is fun and casual and has never gone out of style,” she says. “I grew up a few blocks from a Dairy Queen and could take down a Peanut Buster Parfait when I was a kid. That would do me in now, but I remember it fondly.” 1588 Dupont St., @dottys1588

Tiramisu soft serve at Porzia's
Photo by Joshua Best

Basilio Pesce, the chef-owner of Oakwood Village’s popular Italian trattoria, wanted to offer a dessert that brought the same kind of satisfaction as his many-layered lasagna. “I selfishly chose soft serve because I really like it,” says Pesce. “I have a nostalgic connection to it because, when I was a kid, we would go to Dairy Queen after my soccer games. I remember eating ice cream out of those tiny plastic baseball caps and just being in my happy place.” Though Porzia’s soft serve doesn’t come in a baseball cap, Pesce certainly knows a thing or two about taking his customers to their own happy places. He consistently has two flavours on the go, the staple being his take on tiramisu: vanilla soft serve on a base of coffee-soaked ladyfinger biscuits and a mascarpone-cream mousse. The second flavour rotates with the seasons and is currently a perfectly spring-like swirl of pistachio and Ontario rhubarb. 319A Oakwood Ave., porzias.com

Soy milk and silken tofu soft serve from Sunnys Chinese
Photo by Daniel Neuhaus

“We wanted to make soft serve because it’s a cravable item that’s super refreshing and familiar,” says Sunnys Chinese chef Braden Chong. “But we also wanted to distinguish ourselves from obvious flavour profiles.” Sunnys doesn’t necessarily base their ice cream on what’s in season but instead matches flavours with the food program. The selection rotates, but the most prevalent is their soy milk and silken tofu soft serve. “People in North America don’t really think of tofu as a highlight of a meal—or as a dessert—but it’s all over China,” says Chong. “We wanted to stay true to the traditions of the cuisine we’re interpreting here at Sunnys while still making it appeal to the Toronto crowd.” Though soy milk is their most popular flavour, Chong occasionally experiments with other ingredients, like corn and Hong Kong egg tarts. “Through ice cream, we aim to give a surprise factor—it’s a dish that looks very American but tastes classically Chinese.” 60 Kensington Ave., sunnyschinese.com

Soft serve ice cream at 915 Dupont
Photo courtesy of 915 Dupont

This listening bar and café slings third-wave coffee, crushable cocktails, izakaya-style small plates and—the reason we’re here—soft serve. While there’s barely even room for chef Arush Singh to move around the bar’s tiny kitchen, owner Nigel Wang felt it necessary to purchase a soft serve machine. “It’s partly selfish, because I wanted to be able to eat proper frozen yogurt as part of my new health regime,” says Wang. But the machine is not exclusively for his benefit. “The yogurt is definitely taking a back seat to the ice cream,” says Singh, who uses vanilla soft serve as a base upon which he incorporates a variety of flavours and textures. Currently, the creamy spirals are topped with crunchy sweet-and-salty frosted walnuts and chewy rum-soaked raisins. And the future remains bright for soft serve fans. Right now, ice cream is only on the bar’s evening menu, but the summer will bring soft serve during the café’s daytime hours. “We’ll pair it with matcha or coffee to make nitro cold brew floats,” says Singh. 915 Dupont St., @915dupont

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Lemon gelato with candied lemon at Bar Ardo
Photo by Ashley van der Laan

“There are so many fond memories associated with soft serve, attached to childhood days of running toward the ice cream truck,” says Jacqueline Nicosia, co-owner of this new Sicilian bar in St. Lawrence. “As adults, we don’t tend to race toward the truck, but it’s nice to sit down at the table and be served something that still delivers that same feeling.” Standouts in chef Roberto Marotta’s rotating selection of flavours include classic vanilla anointed with olive oil, Maldon salt and fresh strawberries from St. Lawrence Market. Marotta’s personal favourite, though, is the salted caramel. “I throw it in my coffee when I get to work and make an affogato for a treat,” he says. When you’re an adult, nobody can tell you that ice cream for breakfast is a bad idea. 169 King St. E., barardo.ca

Soft serve at Taverne Bernhardt's
Photo by Renée Suen

Zach Kolomeir built ice cream into his restaurant’s concept from the very beginning. “When we thought up the idea of Bernhardt’s, there were three things that were important to us: serving large portions, making fresh salads that we were proud of and having ice cream on the menu.” For Kolomeir, the decision to offer soft serve came out of the desire for the scale of the dessert to match its quality. “We simply wanted to give our customers a lot. Huge portions were important to us, and if we went with hard ice cream, the quality would be sacrificed for size.” But Kolomeir is by no means pumping out standard chocolate and vanilla twists (not that there’s anything wrong with that). His MO is to operate directly with small Ontario farms to produce everything on his dinner menu, ice cream included. This means the brightly coloured spirals are made with seasonal herbs and fruits, including Kolomeir’s personal favourite: the strawberry-and-lovage twist. 202 Dovercourt Rd., bernhardtstoronto.com

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