About eight years ago, Greenpointers began seeing the butter-yellow Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream trucks popping up on our streets, often with one of the owners, Laura O’Neill and brothers Pete & Ben Van Leeuwen, inside. It didn’t take long—they were approached by a Whole Foods rep literally on their first day of business back in June 2008—for the Greenpoint locals to become the next big thing in ice cream. But of course, every “next big thing” in food needs a brick-and-mortar shop, and with their hearts already in the neighborhood, the team opened up their very first ice cream shop on Manhattan & Bedford in early spring 2010.
Van Leeuwen was created out of a love for super-rich ice cream using the best ingredients available. Both Pete and Ben are former Good Humor truck workers who wanted to create premium ice cream as naturally as possible—meaning no stabilizers, filler, or gums—and using things like Michel Cluizel’s soy lecithin-free chocolate; pistachios from Bronte, Sicily; palm sugar from Balinese heritage palm sap; heritage Mexican corn; and Oregonian boysenberries. The shops allowed for the menu to expand; now you can find Toby’s Estate Coffee, Doughnut Plant doughnuts, plus baked goods from (Greenpoint’s own) Ovenly and Balthazar to supplement your sundae. But the most important development since the truck-only days of yore was the development of their vegan flavors. Using a special, magical formula of cashew milk, coconut cream, cocoa butter and cane sugar, Van Leeuwen creates one of the creamiest, richest, most decadent lactose-free ice cream bases possible. It’s fabulous enough for many an avowed omnivore to prefer that to “regular” ice cream.
Nowadays, the Van Leeuwen classic menu consists of about eleven flavors ranging from traditional vanilla and mint chip to the more modern salted caramel and Fluffernutter crunch. Same goes for the vegan menu which has a delicious dark chocolate, chocolate chip cookie dough, banana nut and matcha green tea among others. But the wheels are always turning in their heads, and limited-edition and seasonal flavors pop on and off the menu regularly. My personal preference is to pick up the classic sundae of vegan dark chocolate topped with their homemade hot fudge made from Michel Cluizel chocolate.
Last spring, Van Leeuwen hopped across Nassau Avenue to their Greenpoint 2.0 spot at 620 Manhattan Avenue (between Nassau and Driggs) and then opened a 1200-square-foot flagship store at 204 Wythe Avenue (between N. 5th and N. 6th) in Williamsburg. Both spots feature the relaxing blonde wood and white interior of the first shop, just now with more seating and flavors.
This summer’s specials include S’mores (Papua New Guinea Tahitian vanilla beans are smoked with pine wood chips before being blended into the ice cream, with chocolate-covered homemade graham crackers and torched gelatin-free marshmallows); Malt Ice Cream with Marionberry Birthday Cake; Pine Ice Cream with Red Currant and Cornbread Swirl (fir pine needles are steeped in the ice cream base, chunks of sweet cornbread made from Masienda heirloom corn, and jam made from Hudson Valley red currants); Vegan Boysenberry Shortcake (boysenberry jam, vegan yellow cake and vegan rosewater meringue); and Vegan Turmeric with Palm Sugar Shortbread (organic Fijian turmeric ice cream with chunks of palm sugar shortbread cookies sandwiching vegan coffee caramel).
Van Leeuwen Greenpoint is located at 620 Manhattan Avenue. They are open Monday to Friday, 7am – 11pm; Saturday & Sunday, 9am – Midnight. Van Leeuwen Williamsburg is located at 204 Wythe Avenue and is open Monday to Friday, 7am – 11pm; Saturday & Sunday, 9am – Midnight. And for those of you who just can’t live without delivery, Van Leeuwen is also available via UberEATS.