Bicycling central Iowa for ice cream, Ames man takes on sweet summer hobby
James Douthit loves biking. He’s also an ice cream connoisseur. This summer, he’s combined those two interests into a delicious project as he cycles from his home in Ames to ice cream shops in central Iowa.
“Over the past few months I have been biking from my home in Ames to every single ice cream originator within a 40-mile radius,” Douthit said.
Biking more than 80 miles a week on his quest to taste delicious frozen concoctions has led the 23-year-old to a variety of shops in the Ames and Des Moines area.
“I'm from Colorado. I grew up there and fell in love with biking there. A lot of my friends were into biking, so you get into what your friends are into,” Douthit said.
Originally from Denver, he attended college in Boulder at the University of Colorado. He moved to Ames just over a year ago to work at Workiva as site reliability engineer.
When Douthit undertook his ice cream challenge, he expected he’d have to pedal a lot of gravel roads.
“I think Iowa is really lovely,” he said. “And what I’ve found is that to get to every ice cream place, I haven’t needed to go on any gravel roads. I like to go fast, so I always take my road bike."
Douthit has become a fan of the ice cream products he's tasted in Iowa.
“Maybe I’m giving the Colorado ice cream scene a bad rap, but I’ve never had ice cream as good as here in Iowa,” he said. “Iowa ice cream is awesome.”
One of the bonuses of Douthit's pedaling-for-dessert project is he doesn't have to feel guilty about eating lots of ice cream as he puts the miles behind him.
“When you ride far, the calories you consume can get crazy,” Douthit said. “Biking takes about 50 calories per mile, and I bike about 18 miles per hour. So we’re talking about 900 calories burned in an hour. I don’t think you can even get close to replacing it with ice cream.
“It’s almost inverse guilt. I just want to get as much ice cream in there as I can.”
Douthit considers himself an amateur ice cream rater.
“I’ve had some culinary education, but I’m by no means an industry expert,” he said. “I really liked all the places I went to, and I thought every one was great.”
Mint chip flavor is one of his go-to selections when trying a new location. He also likes to taste the vanilla because he thinks it gives a good indication of the base flavor and consistency of the ice cream.
“When you don’t put anything in it — any of the extras like mint flavoring — you can really taste the craft of it, the art of it,” he said.
Ice cream shops still on Douthit's list to visit include:
- Heavenly Delights, 105 E. First St., Grimes, which offers 40 flavors of hard pack ice cream and 19 flavors of soft serve, according to its Facebook page.
- Over the Top, 955 NE 56th St., Pleasant Hill, which has "super-premium homemade ice cream made in-store daily."
- Starbuck’s Drive-In, 1620 Lincoln Highway, Nevada, is a Story County icon featuring "old-fashioned" soft-serve ice cream, with flavors that change each week as well as its classic vanilla, chocolate and twist.
Douthit was a little thrown when Starbuck's in Nevada came up on his Google query of local ice cream proprietors. He thought it was part of the ubiquitous coffeeshop chain.
“I was informed about Starbuck's by a coworker, so I’m going to have to go out there too,” he said.
James Douthit offers tidbits about each location, including some of his favorite flavors
Marmalade Moon, 207 Main St., Ames — Owners Graham Watkins and Ann-Marie Widdowson opened this ice cream and gift shop just before Christmas 2021. They offer 12 flavors, including dairy-free and vegan options, and options change each week. “I like this ice cream a lot,” Douthit said. “It reminds me of what ice cream is supposed to taste like.” His favorite flavor is mint chocolate chunk.
Wiggy’s ice cream trailer, North Grand Mall parking lot — “I love their ice cream. I think they do a really great job," Douthit said. "They’re interesting because they pre-make it all and have like two scoops in a little container. But it’s always really cold no matter what time of day I’ve been there.” He said Wiggy’s is also “amazing with their mix-ins. The mint chip flavor is phenomenal, he said.
Iowa State University Creamery, 2953 Food Sciences Building, 536 Farm House Lane, Ames — “They have a very large list of flavors and they have crazy names for them. I got their peanut butter flavor, and it was impressive that they really knew what they were doing,” he said. “I highly recommend it. They have a huge two-story room where they make the ice cream and it’s all glass so you can see the shop floor. That was super worthwhile. ... They have a corn base flavor, and I’d never seen that anywhere else before.”
Black Cat Ice Cream, 2511 Cottage Grove, Des Moines — “That place is kind of an experience all of its own. It’s kind of kitschy, in a really good way,” Douthit said. “It’s got black cat motifs everywhere and a real vintage atmosphere with a lovely wooden countertop.” He tried one of the shop’s classic flavors, brown sugar cookie dough. “I’d say that was one of my favorite scoops of ice cream of the summer,” he said.
Double Dipped Ice Cream & Coffee Shoppe, 204 N. Highway 69, Suite 204 D, Huxley — With 18 flavors available each day, this locally owned shop offers hand-dipped classics. "Although they don’t make their own ice cream on site, I thought they had really good ice cream. And they were friendly and cool," Douthit said. "I especially liked their ice cream base — their vanilla,” he said. Like Wiggy’s ice cream, Double Dipped does a great job with mix-ins, he said, like waffle cone chunks that aren’t soggy. “Double Dipped and Wiggy’s both display a serious mastery of their mix-ins,” he said.
Outside Scoop, 2410 SW White Birch Drive, Suite 100, Ankeny — “I thought they were seriously cool. It’s like a phenomenon. When I went, it was almost at the end of the day on a weekday, and the line was out the door,” he said. “It’s really good. They do a great job.” The shop offered his favorite scoop of ice cream in Iowa so far — goat cheese roasted cherry. “It’s unbelievable. When I tasted it, I was like, ‘This is the best ice cream I’ve had in my life,’” he said. “It left me speechless.”
Chocolaterie Stam, 230 Main St., Ames — “It doesn’t technically fit on my list because it’s gelato rather than ice cream, but the gelato is really lovely. They have a great shop. It’s such a cute store with a European vibe with its furniture and arrangement,” he said.
The Filling Station, 129 S Water St, Madrid — “It’s a little ice cream store in Madrid, which is near the High Trestle Trail Bridge,” he said. “They were great. I got a blended ice cream shake, and I had their chocolate ice cream, which was great.”
Swede Point Creamery, 1659 334th Road, Madrid — This goat-milk creamery opened in 2016 and is 1 mile west of Madrid. “It’s also close to the High Trestle Trail. I got their vanilla. I think that’s a really good way to taste because the real flavor comes through,” he said.
Picket Fence Creamery, 14583 S Ave., Woodward — “It’s really lovely ice cream. It’s super smooth,” Douthit said. “They have a minty base flavor and I got a scoop of that. They also have a great vanilla base.”
Bauder Pharmacy, 3802 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines — “It was a cute place. It’s a pharmacy with an ice cream counter, and they make their own ice cream,” he said. Bauder is well-known for its stand at the Iowa State Fair, which offers a variety of flavors, including peppermint ice cream bars coated with fudge and Oreo cookie crumbs.