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Five sweet ways to cool down

Ice cream isn’t just a dessert in New England — it’s a way of life. And anyone spending the summer in Boston should make a point of trying the finest local purveyors, all having something both distinctive and delicious to offer. BU Today visited five of our favorite haunts, in Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge.

1255 Cambridge St., Cambridge (Inman Square)
Price: $2.70 (small)

At Christina’s in Inman Square, you could stick with a relatively tame flavor, such as coffee toffee or sweet cream. But why go with the standards when there are options like corn and khulfi? The proprietors own the neighboring spice shop and make all the ice cream on the premises, resulting in some improbably delicious blends. Even the conventional options are rich and intense — just try Gina’s Mocha Explosion for proof. And then there’s the atmosphere — if you’ve opted for an unwieldy sundae, you can sit at one of the few tables and take in local artwork, or cone in hand, stroll up and down Cambridge Street to hear music pouring out of the Druid or the Zeitgeist Gallery.
Take the Red Line to Central Square and walk up Prospect Avenue or Inman Street.

Cold Stone Creamery
201 Brookline Ave., Boston (in the Landmark Center)
New location coming soon to 957 Commonwealth Ave.
Price: $5 (small Cold Stone Original)

Prepare to be creative at Cold Stone Creamery, because here you invent your own flavors. The ice cream is made to order, with employees mixing your concoction on a frozen granite slab right in front of you. Choose the base from a variety of ice cream flavors, including coffee, chocolate, sinless strawberry, or mint, and let the fun begin — adding mix-ins such as candy pieces, nuts, fresh fruit, peanut butter, marshmallow Fluff, and even yellow cake. Don’t feel like thinking too much? Stick with a Cold Stone Original, which comes in flavors such as Apple Pie a la Cold Stone, made with cinnamon, graham cracker pie crust, caramel, and apple pie filling; Monkey Bites, banana ice cream with pecans, coconut, Crunch bar, and banana; or Berry Berry Berry Good, made with sweet cream ice cream, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Sizes are Like It, Love It, or Gotta Have It. The only cone option is a fresh-baked waffle cone or bowl, which is an additional $.79. Whatever you choose to create, Cold Stone Creamery’s smooth premium ice cream is a masterpiece for the taste buds.
Walk to the Landmark Center/Fenway AMC Theatre.

Herrell’s Ice Cream
15 Dunster St., Cambridge (Harvard Square)
Herrell’s Café
155 Brighton Ave., Allston
Price: $3.60 (small)

The guys behind the counter look like they’re on a raving sugar high. Apparently the ice cream here is too good to resist. Herrell’s still uses the flavor recipes invented by founder Steve Herrell, and fresh batches are made right there in the store. In 1973, Herrell got to tinkering with the workings of a small commercial batch freezer, and lo! the gourmet ice cream renaissance was under way. Herrell is credited with awakening America to the joys of really good, really creamy ice cream, as well as with creating the “smoosh-in,” which pairs crumbled-up Heath bars, Oreo cookies, walnuts, or whatever with any flavor of ice cream. And the flavors, which change every week, range from mango to chocolate pudding (a thick and luscious store favorite), without missing any of the standards in between. The Harvard Square location is just opposite Au Bon Pain, right in the middle of the Square’s beguiling mixture of academic pomp and street-smart punk. The Allston store, which also serves breakfast (French toast — in an ice cream store!), is conveniently located near BU and sometimes has live music.
Take the Red Line to Harvard Square or the B Line to Harvard Avenue.

JP Licks
311 Harvard St., Brookline (Coolidge Corner)
Seven other locations, including Newbury Street, Jamaica Plain, and the BU Hillel House (academic year only)
Price: $3.50 (small)

JP Licks is such a hometown institution that when shortstop Nomar Garciaparra left the Red Sox for Chicago, it renamed the Cherry Garciaparra ice cream Cherry Ortiz — and left Nomar’s name crossed out on the menu as a warning to potential defectors. Founded in Jamaica Plain, Licks now has eight locations around Boston, including one, open during the school year, at BU’s Hillel House. There are more than 20 flavors of ice cream at every store, plus sorbets, lactose-free flavors, and even the Moolatta, the JP Licks take on the ubiquitous frozen coffee drink. During the good weather, hit the Coolidge Corner or Newbury Street locations for post-sundae strolling and shopping.
Take the C Line to Coolidge Corner or the Green Line to Newbury Street.

1310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge (Harvard Square)
Other locations in Central Square and Davis Square
Price: $3.25 (small)

You don’t just order chocolate ice cream at Toscanini’s. You order Belgian chocolate or Mexican chocolate. Or you venture in for a scoop of Kahlua or Kheer (rice pudding) ice cream. Or try burnt caramel, the flavor that “bring(s) us to our knees,” according to the editors of Gourmet magazine. Other treats include frappes, floats, and a tiny bit of deliciousness known as the micro sundae (larger sizes available, too). There’s also a wide assortment of specialty coffees and teas. Outside the cozy shop, all of Harvard Square awaits. If you’re lucky, you can grab a seat at one of the two outside tables, watch the tour buses pull up to Harvard Yard, and listen to snatches of conversation about politics and particle physics from passersby. Or you can stroll down the red-brick sidewalk and check out whatever street performers (or evangelists) have set up near the T.
Take the Red Line to Harvard Square.