First Bite: Brooklyn-Based Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Shop Opens In Houston

photo of a pint of ice cream next to a Yellow Rose bourbon bottle

Walking through the doors of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream’s cozy new Rice Village digs at 2565 Amherst, it’s immediately apparent that this is not a typical scoop shop. Chocolate? Strawberry? Sure. But also Peanut Butter Brownie Chip and Marionberry Cheesecake and Yellow Rose Bourbon Pecan Pie. The latter is exclusive to the Rice Village location (Van Leeuwen will also open shops in Uptown and Montrose this year).

The Brooklyn import has made a name for itself over the last dozen years with its dairy and vegan ice creams, all made from scratch, all made from natural ingredients, none made with anything artificial. We got to sample some of the goods during a hosted media visit.

“We look for the eat-ability factor,” said founder Ben Van Leeuwen. “We want to make ice cream that you want to eat, you’ll keep eating and you’ll feel good about.”

And there is plenty to feel good about here. Every flavor we sampled was rich, creamy, well-textured and balanced the ratio of ice cream to fruit, cake and nuts. There’s a dizzying array of options available by the scoop, cone or sundae, as well as by the pint. Look for ice cream bars to join the rotation sometime this summer.

Picture of several cups of ice cream and some pints of ice cream on a table.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream’s Rice Village location offers artisan-made flavors available by the scoop, cone and pint. Photo by Holly Beretto

Van Leeuwen uses milk, cream, cane sugar and free-range eggs as the base of its dairy ice creams. Vegan options are made with cashew, oat or coconut milk. The eagle-eye attention to detail is apparent in the menu offerings, as well as in the excellent ways the ingredients provide layers of flavor; it’s not unusual to find creamy, sweet and savory all in one mouthful.

The Peanut Butter Brownie Chip is actually Van Leeuwen’s favorite and it was ours, too. The base of peanut butter ice cream, made from nuts processed in New York City, offers a smack of flavor that feels like taking a bunch of super creamy peanut butter and putting it into even creamier milk. Augmented by chewy brownie bits that are made from Ecuadorian fair trade chocolate and the slight crunch of chocolate chips, this is a complete crowd pleaser.

photo of a pint of ice cream next to a Yellow Rose bourbon bottle
The Yellow Rose Bourbon Pecan Pie is like a taste of Texas in a creamy sweet treat. Courtesy photo.

Unique to Rice Village is the flavor developed in partnership with Yellow Rose Distilling called Yellow Rose Bourbon Pecan Pie. It’s a taste of Texas in a frozen treat, with the hyper-rich ice cream threaded through with hints of bourbon and the unmistakable taste of pecans. This one’s for those who want to show their Lone Star pride in their ice cream choice, but also for anyone looking for a creamy, nutty combo.

The gluten-free Honeycomb was a pleasant surprise. It is made with caramel candy, not honey, and offered a pleasant, sweet taste. The Marionberry Cheesecake brought a sassy berry bang that’s somewhere between an overripe blackberry and a juicy raspberry. It’s underscored by a crumbled graham cracker crispiness that adds a surprising depth to it all. The Sicilian Pistachio was another winner and one of the richest, most wonderful examples of pistachio we’ve ever tried; not overly sweet, it allowed the imported nut’s flavor to shine.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream founder Ben Van Leeuwen scooping ice cream into a cup
Founder Ben Van Leeuwen behind the counter at his Rice Village location. Photo by Holly Beretto

Guests can look for new flavors each month; Van Leeuwen offers four, two of them vegan, that will add seasonality and creativity to an already creative menu. And when the Uptown location opens it, too, will have its own unique flavor. That one will be based on horchata, the sweetened cinnamon-spiked Mexican rice milk drink, and created in partnership with Hugo Ortega.

Van Leeuwen’s press materials note that the company chose to set up shop in Houston because of the city’s “cultural and culinary diversity.” The ice cream shop definitely adds to that, and sweet treat lovers looking for something well-crafted and just a little extra will definitely come back again and again.

Van Leeuwen’s Rice Village location is located at 2565 Amherst. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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