An exceptional ice-cream sundae isn’t a DIY mess of toppings and sauces; it’s a single composed dish that highlights a careful mix of textures and flavors. (Also, sticking with tradition, a sundae involves hard ice cream, not soft serve.) In updating last year’s ranking, we’ve decided to include restaurant sundaes as well as those found at ice-cream parlors. Some are brand-new creations, and others are old, nostalgic favorites, but no matter where they’re served, they’re the absolute best ice-cream sundaes in the whole city.
2. Loring Place
21 W. 8th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-388-1831
ABC Kitchen’s popcorn-topped salted-caramel sundae was always a standout, but chef Dan Kluger (who left ABC to open this restaurant) has an even more impressive sundae on his menu: a “blizzard” with housemade vanilla ice cream, pretzels, walnut toffee, chocolate-cookie fudge, and Meyer lemon ($12). It tastes like an adult Dairy Queen treat (and you’ll inhale it in the same way you did as a kid) — but the real star, and what elevates it past something you’d buy for $3 at DQ, is the surprising hit of light, candied citrus. The acidity balances out the richness of the other flavors.
3. Uncle Boons
7 Spring St., nr. Elizabeth St.; 646-370-6650
This sundae is a master class in the sweet-salty contrast: Il Laboratorio del Gelato $8 coconut gelato, unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut cookies, and whipped cream, would make a strong sundae on their own. But the addition of roasted, candied peanuts is the master stroke. You will put your spoon down halfway through, in an attempt to show restraint, realizing it’s futile. Blame the peanuts — red-skin peanuts with a dark-caramel candy coating, sprinkled with Maldon salt — which tastes just as good as the wafting aroma of New York’s ubiquitous Nuts 4 Nuts street stands.
4. Hanoi House
119 St. Marks Pl., nr. Ave. A; 212-995-5010
New York Magazine’s love of Hanoi House’s Vietnamese $9 sundae, a riff on the traditional chè dessert, is well-documented, and that’s because it truly is a triumph. Starting from the bottom, the layers include lychee, black-grass jelly, palm seeds, candied ginger and coconut, aiyu jelly, fresh mango, coconut milk, mango gelato and black-sesame gelato (from Il Laboratorio del Gelato), condensed milk, and peanuts. Somehow, the staggering number of ingredients work perfectly in tandem. Some bites of the sundae are chewy and sticky; others are soft and creamy, until it’s all one melted, sweet, beautiful mess at the bottom of the tall glass.
Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St., nr. Bleecker St.; 212-691-8211
What makes the $9 hot-fudge sundae at Pearl great is how it works in context of the full Pearl experience — a lobster roll, a cold beer, and then this simple, nostalgic sundae, with just three ingredients. There’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato vanilla ice cream, housemade hot fudge (dark chocolate, malt vinegar, fresh vanilla bean), and whipped cream that’s made fresh every day. The hot fudge quickly cools, becoming a ribbon that ties the sundae together.
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
2 Rivington St., nr. Bowery; 212-209-7684
It’s fitting that the $12 New God Flow sundae invokes Kanye West: It’s one of the best sundaes in New York. Two scoops of Nicholas Morgenstern’s raw-milk ice cream sit on top of a thick, fluffy slice of Japanese milk bread that’s coated in honey and toasted with a blowtorch. In tasting sundaes all over town, many were just too sweet, but this one has a delicate balance, and the warm bread melts the ice cream just enough.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
1 Fifth Ave., at 8th St.; 212-995-9559
Otto can feel stuck in 2003, which, when it comes to its desserts, is a great thing. Despite pastry-chef legend Meredith Kurtzman’s departure, the gelato and sundaes haven’t really changed, and they remain exceptional. The sundae to order is the $12 olive-oil coppetta, with rich olive-oil gelato offset by tangy tangerine sorbet, plus candied blood oranges and pine-nut brittle.
513 Henry St., at Sackett St., Brooklyn; 718-522-6260
Somewhat surprisingly, the ice cream that serves as the base of Brooklyn Farmacy’s $15 sundaes isn’t made in-house (it comes from Adirondack Creamery), but the Carroll Gardens soda fountain makes up for this fact with both its variety and ambience. Housed in a restored 1920s apothecary, the vintage space is without a doubt the most delightful setting for sundae-eating in New York. There are 18 specialty sundaes, with a heavy emphasis on simple, kid-friendly toppings, like Nutella, toasted-marshmallow fluff, broken pretzel rods, and rainbow sprinkles. They also specialize in mixing sweet with salty, in creations like the Mr. Potato Head (vanilla ice cream, North Fork potato chips, peanut butter, warm caramel sauce, whipped cream). The top pick, however, has to be the Flyin’ Hawaiian, which mixes coconut ice cream, vanilla cake, pineapple compote covered in li hing mui (a tart dried-plum powder), macadamia nuts, and whipped cream. It’s like a piña colada on steroids.