Boston: Emack & Bolio's, Ben & Jerry’s Predecessor, Falls Flat on Flavor Development
Friday, July 5, 2013

Continuing with our National Ice Cream Month series, SCOOP Blog is proud to review Emack & Bolio, one of the most historically important ice cream shops in the US.

Founded in a Coolidge Corner basement in 1975, Emack & Bolio’s defined the pre-Ben & Jerry’s hippie ice cream era. The shop started as a late-night hangout and sweet tooth solution for budding musicians in the 70’s, and later expanded out of the basement into its notable Newbury St. store, eventually expanding to locations in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Florida.

To review the oft-mentioned chain’s scoops (and make comparisons to Ben & Jerry’s), SCOOP Blog headed to the source on Newbury. Emack & Bolio’s shop is located on a quiet stretch of the street, on the first floor of a brownstone between Gloucester and Hereford Streets. The shop’s playful vibe goes right down to its flavor names, which include ‘Beantown Buzz’ and ‘Trippin’ on Espresso.’ Across from the entrance is a waffle cone display case in place of where the ice cream flavors would normally be displayed. The chain claims to have invented the flavored waffle cone in 1980, and has since gone on to embellish cones with toppings from chocolate and nuts to Reese’s puffs and fruity pebbles.

Flavor development is not Emack & Bolio’s strong suit. Of the flavors we tried, most were pleasant but not imaginative or out of the ordinary. For nuanced flavor notes, the shop does not hold a candle to the likes of Toscanini’s across the river in Cambidge. The Cosmic Crunch flavor, however, had a unique blend of creamy vanilla ice cream and crunchy nuts and chips; this flavor is worth the trip for those nearby. Emack & Bolio’s also claims to have invented the cookies & cream flavor, but it was below average when we visited.

Emack & Bolio's definitely holds an important piece of ice cream history, and it was fun visiting and reviewing the original Newbury Street location. But sadly, like so many great shops before it, Emack has not updated its recipes to compete with the increasingly sophisticated, independent high-quality shops that have popped up across the US. SCOOP Blog hopes that they update their recipes for a new millennium, letting their legend shine through modern interpretations of their original flavors that are free of artificial colors and ingredients.

Flavor Tasting Notes


Chocolate Addiction

A really good, classic chocolate flavor. The texture is smooth (albeit runny), with well-blended chocolate chips that are not too hard.

Banana Foster

Brown sugar and butter notes overpower the dark rum in this otherwise balanced scoop. Denser than the chocolate addiction flavor.

Deep Purple Cow

Recommended by our scooper, this was our least favorite. Blueberry pieces confuse the raspberry flavor, which is otherwise too sweet. White chocolate chips help, but do not save the cloyingly sweet scoop.

Cosmic Crunch

This is Emack & Bolio’s wildcard winner. Creamy vanilla ice cream is expertly blended with the right amount of caramel, chocolate chips, nuts, and toffee cookie pieces. Texture is spot-on and toppings give each spoon a great bite.

Oreo

Emack & Bolio's claims to have the original cookies n' cream. Even if they did invent it, they definitely didn't perfect it. We found the cream to be goopy, and the cookie bits to be soggy. This version of cookies n' cream pales in comparison to the one we reviewed at Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia.

Strawberry

This flavor had ice crystals and was in no way memorable. Fortunately, they seem to at least use real strawberries, which is a plus.

Maple Walnut

This was one of the other flavors we really enjoyed and recommend, if you happen to be at Emack's. True nuanced maple flavor and fresh, whole walnut pieces. The texture was runny, though, and not particularly memorable.

Grasshopper Pie

This flavor is mint ice cream with oreo and chocolate chip bits. We thought the mint ice cream was reminiscent of Andes chocolates, although a little bit milder. The artificial mint flavor was not memorable. There were large chunks of Oreo in the cream, which was nice, except the chunks were unusually soggy, which made us sad. The texture on the ice cream was disappointing, and we would say it is far below average, exhibiting little density or creaminess. This flavor reminds us of the neon green grasshopper pie we reviewed at Mitchell's, San Francisco. Not recommended.

6.5
Final Score: 6.5/10

Emack & Bolio's

290 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02115