When the weather gets warmer — which takes what can only be called a depressingly long time in Detroit — we can finally indulge in some cold treats. Namely, we're talking about ice cream. But alas, there are those of us for which ice cream is not an option. We speak, of course, of lactose intolerance. Dairy does a number on a large portion of the population, but we still want ice cream, or at least ice-cream-adjacent treats. Here are some local spots (excluding the Baskin-Robbins and Cold Stones of the world) that have lactose-free, and in some cases, vegan options available.
22965 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3440 | 4160 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-818-0084; treatdreams.com
Treat Dreams prides itself on offering a variety of esoteric flavors. Some of their more, um, interesting past options include jalapeño and mac and cheese. They also often provide vegan options made of rice milk or soy milk. Since Treat Dreams rotates its offerings every week, we can't tell you what will be there when you stop in. When we were there, the vegan flavors were cookies and cream, chai tea, pistachio, and peanut butter chocolate. We sampled the chai tea and pistachio, which were both made with rice milk, which aren't particularly creamy, but quite flavorful.
Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy Store
32808 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-565-1071 | 6854 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-250-9574; oberweis.com
Oberweis is a regional Midwestern chain mostly based in Illinois. We emailed them to ask if they had any dairy-free options on the ice cream front. The company says they use their own milk for its products, and that they only gently pasteurize its milk, which still kills pathogens but leaves as much of the natural flavor and nutrition as possible. Apparently some people sensitive to dairy can still handle it. Otherwise, they do have a lemon sorbet that, like all sorbets, is water-based. This spot is clearly all about dairy, though, so the sorbet feels like a bit of an afterthought.
Erma's Original Frozen Custard
6451 Auburn Rd., Shelby Township; 586-254-3080 | 2080 14 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-275-2447 | 28840 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores; 586-275-2447; ermascustard.com
In addition to the regular offerings, Erma's serves up three weekly flavors that rotate throughout the season. One of them is always a Dole soft serve made with fruit juice instead of dairy. It's usually a citrus-y fruit flavor, and you can actually see the schedule for the year on its website. The week we checked in, orange was the flavor available. It reminded us of the Orange Lazarus from "The Adventures of Pete & Pete," which is just a parody of an Orange Julius, but my mind has been warped by pop culture.
532 E. Nine Mile Rd., Hazel Park; 248-571-2064; the-split.business.site
The Split has an old-school ice cream shop vibe. It's the kind of place that has a banana split, a decidedly retro ice cream treat, as a namesake. While the Split doesn't have any non-dairy ice creams, they do have some options for the lactose-intolerant. In addition to three flavors of Italian ice (lemon, mango, and watermelon), they have non-dairy "ice cream" bars of shaped like Spongebob and Spider-Man. That's good to know for the child in your life — or more like the twentysomething with an intense nostalgia for Spongebob.
Milkster Nitrogen Creamery
20570 Haggerty Rd., Northville; 248-832-5501; milkster.com (multiple other metro Detroit locations inside Biggby Coffee stores)
Milkster has only one vegan flavor — the almond delight vegan.
Ashby's Sterling of Grosse Pointe Woods
20081 Mack Ave., Grosse Pointe Woods; 313-886-2560; ashbysicecream.com
Ashby's has been around for 35 years, and its website champions its award-winning ice cream. Of course, we aren't here for the ice cream. They have four flavors of sorbet, including black raspberry pomegranate and Sicilian blood orange.
208 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-916-7700; facebook.com/ClawsonDairyO
This one comes with an asterisk. Perhaps unsurprising, a place with "Dairy" in its name does not, at present, have lactose-free options. However, when we contacted the store, we were told that they were under new management, who are in the process of considering dairy-free and lactose-free options. So keep an eye on Dairy-O. If they ever change their name to "Dairy-ish" you might be free to stop in.
3546 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-722-7249 | 43702 Schoenherr Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-991-7132
iFreeze, despite the name that seems like the punchline to a joke from the mid-2000s, has a lot going for it. They make ice cream frozen by liquid nitrogen, and they have some interesting "house mixes" they will use as a base for your ice cream treat. These include Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch for you cereal fans. Also, they have crepes, though they are only available Fridays through Sundays. More importantly, they have vegan variants of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and coffee listed on their menu. They didn't need to make it good ... but they did. This was a real tasty crepe, stuffed to the brim and elegantly presented. And as for the ice cream, this was, hands down, the best vegan ice cream we've ever had, with the look, texture, and mouthfeel of real ice cream, pairing great with the warm crepe.
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