Food & Drink

The Great Ballard Ice Cream Battle

There Are Three Ice Cream Shops on One Block in Ballard—Which One Is the Best?

The Great Ballard Ice Cream Battle

Megan Seling

THAT’S MEGAN’S CAT He’s diabetic, so he didn’t get any ice cream. Sad kitty!

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Beth Crook

There is an ice cream problem in Ballard. Okay, it's not a "problem," per se, but now that Li'l Woody's has opened a second location on Market Street with a Molly Moon's ice cream counter inside, there are three places to get gourmet ice cream within one Ballard block—THREE! Just a few storefronts down from Li'l Woody's sits Cupcake Royale, which has been serving a cupcake-inspired ice cream selection for more than a year now (red velvet cake ice cream with cream cheese chunks!), and across the street and one block down Leary is Full Tilt Ice Cream, which carries flavors like Blue Moon ("Tastes like Smurf barf," as its little sign says) and cantaloupe black pepper (a seasonal selection that sounds amazing; I really regret not trying it while I was there).

Now that the sun is out and three different shops are begging for you to cool off at their ice cream counter, it's time to find the winner, once and for all, in this crazy triangle of frozen confections. They all offer unique flavors, milkshakes, sundaes, and to-go pints, and sure, none of them are bad, but which ice cream is the best? To answer this burning question, I gathered up three pints from each shop–chocolate, vanilla, and salted caramel—took them home, hid which brand was which, and fed each and every one to a brave, sweet-toothed panel. I also brought the leftovers into work because, man, nine pints of ice cream is really a lot of ice cream.


Test #1: Vanilla

Full Tilt's French Vanilla: "This tastes more like whipped cream than vanilla ice cream—at least compared to the other two." "It doesn't even really smell like vanilla—it just smells like milk." "Yeah, it's milk-flavored ice cream."

Cupcake Royale's Triple Vanilla: "This is my favorite—it's really rich." "It tastes almost like caramel!" "It smells really good, too."

Molly Moon's Vanilla Bean: "This is the standout for me—I can really tastes the vanilla seeds." "It's more refreshing and crisp than the other one, but [Cupcake Royale's] tastes a little more special."

The winner: Cupcake Royale. It's both clean and decadent, boasting a lot of vanilla flavor without being overwhelming or tasting artificial to the palate.

Test #2: Salted Caramel

Full Tilt's Salted Caramel: "This one is my favorite—it tastes just like a Werther's Original." "I think it tastes kind of like Crunchberries!" "Crunchberries? I don't taste Crunchberries." "This one is the most refreshing—the others are too salty."

Cupcake Royale's Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt: "I like this one because it's not as sweet as the others." "I think it tastes a little burnt..." "Caramel should taste a little burnt. That's all it is, burnt sugar and cream. I like that." "I don't."

Molly Moon's Salted Caramel: "Whoa, this is a kick in the face!" "Yeah, I don't think I want to finish this." "I don't like it at all. It tastes like a stick of butter with salt on it." "The first bite is great, but I don't want to eat any more."

The winner: Full Tilt. They've masterfully crafted a creamy salted caramel ice cream that isn't too salty. If you'd prefer something less sweet, though, Cupcake Royale's Burnt Caramel was a close runner-up (so long as you don't mind your caramel tasting slightly burnt).

Test #3: Chocolate

Full Tilt's Chocolate: "This one tastes like a chocolate Jell-O Pudding Pop!" (Cue a few minutes of Bill Cosby impersonations.) "It has a good mouthfeel." "I hate that word." "How about you make me a mouthfeel sundae?"

Cupcake Royale's Malted Milk Chocolate: "I do not like this one—it's like eating Whoppers." "It's malted, it's supposed to be like that. I love it!" "I don't want it to be malted—it reminds me of Carnation Instant Breakfasts." "My mom drinks those." "So does mine!"

Molly Moon's Melted Chocolate: "This is more bittersweet than the other two, but the aftertaste is weird." "I like this one because it's darker than the others, but I have to say, I like chocolate ice cream very much and none of these really impress me that much." "That's what I was going to say."

The winner: A tie between Full Tilt and Molly Moon's, with one (very adamant) renegade nomination for Snoqualmie Ice Cream's Mukilteo Mudd. And, for the record, if you don't like malt (weirdo), Cupcake Royale also carries a malt-free dark chocolate ice cream that's quite good.

As you can see, there was no landslide winner here. Full Tilt is your most reliable choice, holding the lead with one and a half (out of three) points. Cupcake Royale is close behind with a full point (and it's worth noting that they were the favorite in all categories for one tester). While Molly Moon's doesn't have the best vanilla, chocolate, or salted caramel in town, I'm a sucker for their balsamic strawberry. Each place has its weaknesses; each has its merits—for example, besides really good ice cream, Full Tilt has pinball, and Cupcake Royale makes cupcake sundaes. You might just have to do a taste test of your own. recommended

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Comments (33) RSS

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I understand that both Full Tilt & Molly Moon use Snoqualmie ice cream and doctor it?
That isnt an ice cream shop, IMO.
I like
D'Ambrosio Gelato Seattle
Never go to any of the others.
Posted by emeraldkity on July 10, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Report this
The problem with D'Ambrosio Gelato is they have a nut allergy statement that amounts to "Have nut allergies? Tough." So we don't go there any more.
Posted by LMcGuff on July 10, 2013 at 11:21 AM · Report this
Also, I like Full Tilt's Mexican Chocolate.
Posted by LMcGuff on July 10, 2013 at 11:22 AM · Report this
I used to like D'Ambrosio too, but after I witnessed him giving one of his workers the most degrading, soul-crushing tounge-lashing I've ever heard I can't go to D'Ambrosio without feeling bad for those scoopers. I've heard too many stories from ex-employees about the general awfulness to go back.

D'Ambrosio is such an ass to his employees that it makes all his gelato taste awful. Shame.
Posted by whiskeypony on July 10, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
I so prefer Peaks Frozen Custard on 65th and Roosevelt. It's freshly churned while you are there. So creamy and delicious!
Posted by camiann64 on July 10, 2013 at 12:54 PM · Report this
@1: Snoqualmie Dairy makes and sells a milk mix that almost all the Seattle area ice cream shops use. The mix is the base of the ice cream- milk, cream and sugar. WA agriculture laws require ice cream bases to be pasteurized (even if the milk and cream were already pasteurized) which is very cost prohibitive to most small companies. Each shop does it's own thing to the base - flavor, texture, and even how much air is mixed in- all that is controlled by each company.
Posted by crackedlense on July 10, 2013 at 1:53 PM · Report this
breadandcirce 7
Mukilteo Mudd is the best chocolate ice cream I've ever had. And if you leave in the north end, you can get it delivered when you order pizza from Stacia's, providing they haven't run out of it yet.
Posted by breadandcirce on July 10, 2013 at 2:10 PM · Report this
breadandcirce 8
Er, live.
Posted by breadandcirce on July 10, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
tabletop_joe 9
Full Tilt has an amazing Lemon Marshmallow ice cream. I get it whenever they have it out.
Posted by tabletop_joe on July 10, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
Full Tilt is the Ice Cream of my youth, super sweet, crazy flavors and colors, though the Ube is nothing my kid self would ever try (you missed out kid!). Molly Moon's Salted Caramel is my hands down most favorite ice cream in the universe, but it must must be eaten with something else to cut the salty. Oddly most of the their other flavors don't do it for me...except for Baracky Road which was A-Mazing...and seasonal :-(

Posted by thatgirlkelly on July 10, 2013 at 2:20 PM · Report this
More shops need to make black licorice. My favorite and almost never available. Pairs great w/ salt caramel.
Posted by TBne on July 10, 2013 at 2:32 PM · Report this
3 more ballard blocks and shift down by TJ's to Ballard Av Top Pot - for us better salted caramel than molly or tilt though we've not met the new shops.
Posted by Songbird on July 10, 2013 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Keister Button 13
If Snoqualmie Ice Cream ever expands its retail outlet count (currently 1, way out in Maltby) and ventures into Ballard with its full complement of flavours (beyond what you find at the supermarkets) the nearby locations of Full Tilt, Molly Moon and Cupcake Royale would have unbeatable competition.
Posted by Keister Button on July 10, 2013 at 3:54 PM · Report this
Stripes 14
Thank you for mentioning Full Tilt! I'm still sore from its omission in last week's Suggests issue: Shorty's, John John's, Add-a-Ball, Grizzled Wizard, the Pinball Museum, and ... GAMEWORKS???

I would say the Stranger should be ashamed of overlooking the Ballard Full Tilt; but it's more that you should be embarrassed for devoting a paragraph to a chain that has ONE PINBALL MACHINE while ignoring the dozen+ tables, not to mention arcade machines, that Full Tilt has.

But I'll take what I can get. Full Tilt's lemon marshmallow, as @9 notes, is wonderful!
Posted by Stripes on July 10, 2013 at 5:10 PM · Report this
Cupcake Royale does not use snoqualmie base so its not as sweet. They get it direct from a dairy company with a custom recipe using no corn syrup and natural ingredients the staff member let me know they get it 36 hrs after the cow is milked WOW that's fresh. I heard more than I needed from the staff member, but now I know why I like it the best.

I also love how they bake all their own stuff and chalk it full with goodies. Full tilt is good, but they whip so much air into the ice cream it's to fluffy. Molly moon's holds no candle to CCR sorry.
Posted by Ice cream monger on July 10, 2013 at 9:54 PM · Report this
Fainting Goat is probably my favorite shop in town. But there are many worthy choices in town: the aforementioned trio, plus Bluebird, Old School Frozen Custard, Peaks, D'Ambrosio, Lick Pure, etc. I'm sure I'm missing a few.

Hard to go wrong with ice cream, of course.

Glad I'm not the only one who is repulsed by Molly Moon's salted caramel (a shame, because they make plenty of great flavors).
Posted by Joel_are on July 10, 2013 at 10:18 PM · Report this
17 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Yeaah not so much with the Snolqualmie ice cream. It's ok. I did burn my throat on a sundae with bergamot oil at Molly Moon's once. That kind of cured me of the salted caramel craze.

I'm liking the Sirena gelato location that's opened in Fremont. Yum yum yum!
Posted by Superjivus on July 11, 2013 at 4:32 PM · Report this
Marketime in upper Fremont has Snoqualmie, Full Tilt, and Bluebird in its freezers. Heaven.
Posted by jjb.mac on July 11, 2013 at 5:51 PM · Report this
Snoqualimie Creme Fraiche = the best thing that ever happened to milk
Posted by icecreamplease on July 12, 2013 at 7:49 PM · Report this
madadam 21
For my money, best ice cream in Western Washington is Mallard's in Bellingham. Beats all of these trendy newcomers in Seattle out of the water!
Posted by madadam on July 14, 2013 at 2:47 PM · Report this
raku 22
Cruelty-free ice cream war (coconut milk ice cream & sorbet)

Molly Moon: Vegan Coconut Chunk
Cupcake Royale: Orange Hibiscus Sorbet (vegan)
Full Tilt: Vegan Almond Joy, Mayan Chocolate, Raspberry Sorbet, Crusty Punkin, Raspberry Sorbet

Winner: Full Tilt
Runner-up: Write-ins for Bluebird's Horchata coconut ice cream
Posted by raku on July 15, 2013 at 11:36 AM · Report this
I'm sort of surprised you didn't do Molly Moons, Cupcake Royale, Blue Bird, D'Ambrosio Gelato and old school frozen custard... all of which are within a 3 block radius of each other, AND within walking distance to your office.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on July 15, 2013 at 11:39 AM · Report this
Cupcake Royale's Stumptown coffee ice cream is better than Molly Moon's.
Posted by treehugger on July 15, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Report this
Molly Moon's is the most over-rated ice cream in Seattle. After being disappointed twice (by two different shops); once by a flavor that was non-existent in the eating and once being served ice cream that had obviously thawed and refrozen; we'll not be going back to any Molly Moon's.

Gotta agree with the poster who prefers Peaks frozen custard. It's awesome. Also loving Sirena Gelato in Bellingham, Kirkland, and I think it's just opened in Fremont, too.
Posted by Purrl on July 15, 2013 at 1:42 PM · Report this
There is an ice cream shop up on 32nd NW & NW 65th that sells Snoqualmie Falls ice cream. That's been our go-to place since moving to Ballard. When we lived in Cap Hill, we loved Molly Moon's. Their "standards" are unimpressive, but their unusual flavors are often outstanding. If we are in downtown Ballard and don't want to walk up the hill, we like Cupcake Royale. It has "something for everyone".
Posted by smallwisdom on July 15, 2013 at 3:04 PM · Report this
@1 Molly Moon's has their own mix modified by snoqualmie- but it's different from snoqualmie's base. Basically their own milk/cream/sugar mixture. They make it in-store from that point.
Posted by ohnoohno on July 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 28
Cupcake Royale has somehow managed to make their cupcakes even more revolting than in years past, which means that their cupcake sundaes are not a point in their favor.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 15, 2013 at 4:40 PM · Report this
I'm with @25 - Molly Moon's and most of the ice cream shops in Seattle are totally overrated. I prefer a swirl cone from Little Coney.

And really? Summer means Dairy Queen dip cones.
Posted by cat in a sweater on July 16, 2013 at 6:50 AM · Report this
Fenrox 30
I find all ice cream that isn't homemade vanilla with oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in it to be a disappointment. We all have freezers people, we live in the future with our future stuff, make your own damn ice cream, fatty.
Posted by Fenrox on July 17, 2013 at 7:11 AM · Report this
inquiastador 31
D'Ambrosio for the Win, duh. Don't even start with "it's not Ice Cream"
Posted by inquiastador on July 19, 2013 at 7:51 PM · Report this
Sirena Gelato in Kirkland is really good. My overall favorite in the area is Mora on Bainbridge Island (got one in Poulsbo too).
Posted by SoKirk on July 22, 2013 at 4:17 PM · Report this
So many ice cream snobs in Seattle but I appreciate all the good input! I will be putting on my game face and heading down to full tilt.
Posted by awesomo on September 1, 2013 at 11:17 AM · Report this

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