“Some people just like a little bourbon with their ice cream,” the counter girl at Humphrey Solcombe answered when I asked why the flavor “Secret Breakfast” was the most popular. This flavor, made with corn flakes and bourbon, is one of the many unique flavors that the Humphrey Slocombe ice cream shop offers to connoisseurs of this cold confection. Blending the sweet and savory, the seasonal and the local, Humphrey Slocombe ice cream flavors are as unique as the shop.
On the corner of 24th and Harrison in San Francisco’s Mission District, a small sign stating “Humphrey Slocombe,” is the only indication of the ice cream shop nearby. A blue awning with two words juts out from a cream-colored building, shading several tables and chairs. “Ice cream,” is printed in white on the facing side. On arrival, I heard the exclamations of satisfied customers. “Delicious,” two women exclaimed through full mouths. The undulations continued inside, “This is wonderful” another customer shared when tasting a beet sorbet, “it tastes just like beets.”
Inside there is a feel of an old soda fountain with red vinyl and chrome stools on one side of a black and white tiled floor, across from a freezer chest of ice cream buckets. That is where the traditional ends and the strange begins. T-shirts for the store feature cartoon ice cream cones with smiles, but eyes exed-out like dead characters. Subtle, but startling, a two-headed calf wall mount looks directly at the service line with black eyes. Sweet and scary, Humphrey Slocombe is purely San Francisco.
The rotating ice cream offerings are unique (Balsamic Caramel), local (Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee), charitable, (FlufferNutter for Project Open Hand), reflective (Secret Breakfast), and seasonal (Sweet Summer Corn). The creativity spawns loyalty and lines. Already a favorite of locals – one woman in line was picking up her weekly pint of Secret Breakfast – and national foodie press, Humphrey Slocombe ice cream is a staple on any visiting foodies list of must-eats.
On the Saturday I visited, the store was celebrating Halloween. Spiders, pumpkins, and skeletons danced on the wall, right next to the weird mount. The flavors were playful, varied, and overall delicious. I tried the Secret Breakfast first and then moved on to the Halloween flavors like Devil’s Food Cake (red velvet and cream cheese), Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke), Carmel Apple, and O-Positive (beet and hibiscus sorbet). “You can try as many as you want,” the counter girl offered. And I did, happily trading an empty, tiny metal spoon for a new, filled one.
My final choice: one scoop of caramel apple and one of the O-Positive. I ate both scoops outside the shop, enjoying the sweet, flavorful coolness on a rare, sunny San Francisco day. Humphrey Slocombe offered me unique flavors in a unique setting on a unique day.
By Kristin Zibell, editor and author of travel blog Takeyourbigtrip.com. After two years of traveling around the world, she is currently traveling locally in the city of San Francisco. All photos copyright 2011 by Kristin Zibell.