Summer and ice cream are pretty synonymous. Unfortunately, so is gluten and ice cream. The cones aside - oh, sweet waffle cones... - often makers include gluten in their ice cream in the form of inexpensive thickeners and stabilizers. I'll forgive the addition of things like gluten-y cookies and brownies, because, well, that's delicious, but those other gluten-based additions are just unnecessary. Between these sneaky additives and all those cross-contamination possibilities, it's easy to feel left out as a celiac watching every summer passerby licking an ice cream cone.
But there is hope! Even in the land of gluten (beer! pretzels!) and limited celiac understanding ("but you can have spelt, right..?"), Berlin has some shining beacons of that ubiquitous summer treat safe for the intolerant among us. There aren't any 100% gluten-free establishments, but after my first summer post-celiac diagnosis exploring Berlin's ice cream scene, these are my favorites that have kept my sensitive gut, not to mention my very particular palate, very happy:
Leck Mich, Mitte & Prenzlauer Berg
First off, let's just admit that the name - "lick me" - is amazing. In fact, this shop's whole branding and decor is spot-on. But it wasn't until I discovered that this ice cream was gluten-free that I became a regular. The part that absolutely wins it for me? Gluten-free waffle cones! Not the out-of-a-box ones that a few other places use (see below), but homemade, real-deal waffle cones. Bar none, the best in Berlin. For the actual ice cream, we're talking 100% natural, organic ingredients with flavors like kafir lime, basil, cran-apple and yogurt. Reminiscent of gelato, the flavors are light and refreshing, perfect for summertime. Or anytime, if you're an ice cream lover like I am.
While the site claims they are 100% gluten-free, it's important to note that there is a cheesecake flavor which does contain gluten, as well as having wheat-based waffle cones, so the possibility of cross-contatmination is there, but still significantly less than most places. There's a lovely employee at the Mitte location that has clearly influenced the shop's gluten awareness, from the way they wrap the gluten-free waffle cones in plastic to handling them carefully-wrapped in a napkin so as to prevent gluten contamination (note: I have not seen the Lychener Str. location employ these practices, so it's worth asking for this level of care if your intolerance is high). They even sold some of her delicious gluten-free brownies one time I visited. Here's hoping they have even more gluten-free offerings, especially once peak ice cream season comes to a close.
What to order: Kabuba (Karotte Buttermilch Banane) on a gluten-free waffle cone or the affagatto, also available in a version for kids made with hot chocolate
Ackerstrasse 144, 10115 Berlin-Mitte
S Nordbahnhof/ U/tramRosenthaler Platz
Tel: 030 54843909
Tues-Fri: 14-22, Sat & Sun: 12-22*
Lychener Strasse 11, 10437 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
U/tram Eberswalder Strasse
Open: Tues-Sun 12-23*
Eis Voh, Friedenau
In business since 2010, Eis Voh was among the first to cater to the needs of the gluten-free here in Berlin. In addition to ice cream and gluten-free waffle cones (corn-based and out of a box, OK but not a dupe for the real thing), they have serval different kinds of cakes and breads, as well as some savory options. The sweets are unsurprisingly very German, from ice cream flavors like plum and poppy seed to less-sweet, drier cake selections, but there are a few not-so-common options like cinnamon ice cream and French-inspired eclairs as well. I've heard there is gluten-free Spätzle available here, which pleases me to no end, as it's one of the German foods I've missed the most. For now, I've only frequented this spot for the sweets.
How aware are these folks about cross-contamination? Let's just say that when my husband was about to put my gluten-free cone into the cone holder to free up his hands to pay, he was quickly stopped and warned there could be gluten on it from the wheat-based cones they also offer. Clearly, they know the needs of their customers. So while there are "regular" waffle cones for the rest of the customers, I'm pretty sure just about everything else in this shop is gluten-free, from the ice cream and cake selections, to the freshly-baked breads and few shelves of gluten-free mixes, cereals and boxes of cones to take home. The location is a bit off the beaten track, but I promise it's worth the trek out there.
What to order: Eierlikör (Germany's answer to American spiked egg nog) and raspberry (one of the best I've tried) ice cream or the can't-believe-it's-gluten-free chocolate eclairs
Bundesallee 118, 12161 Berlin-Friedenau
Tel: 030 85402065
Open daily 11-20*
Known for it's simple yet special flavors and organic ingredients, Eisbox is truly a treat for Berliners. The stark, clean shop interior is perfectly aligned with the flavorful, unadorned ice cream in the case. You'll find no child-centric graphics or dusting of some unknown accoutrement on top of the flavors here, just excellent Eis that speaks for itself. Standby's like licorice, tonka and lime-rosemary are accompanied by the best of seasonal flavors: rhubarb-yogurt in the spring, cucumber-melon in the summer and plum-cinnamon in the fall. Another bonus? You can find cartons of a few select flavors for sale at Denn's Biomarkt as well.
Even though the ice cream here is all gluten-free (at the time of inquiry for this post) and gluten-free cones are on offer, the awareness of gluten-free needs is a little less than ideal, with the gluten-free cones handled and set up without protection, the same as the wheat-based cones. Depending on your level of intolerance, it is something to be aware of and possibly ask for more care when you order.
What to order: cafe oriental, a spicy cinnamon and cardamon with a hint of coffee, the simple orange-essenced vanilla or any of the unique herbal-fruit combinations
Elberfelder Str. 27, 10555 Berlin-Moabit
U Hansaplatz/ Solinger Strasse bus
Tel: 030 54484652
Open: Mon-Sat 12-21, Sun: 12-20*
Giorgio Lombardi, Mitte
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Italian gelato and lucky for me, this newer spot does not disappoint. Giorgio Lombardi has the winning combination of a prime spot on Weinbergsweg in Mitte and flavors that will knock your socks off: Pineapple and lime, banana and ginger, melon, Italian classics like Tiramisu and Stracciatella... Plus, they take quality seriously. The nuts in the pistachio hail from Sicily and the 75% dark chocolate uses the best Domori cocoas. And it's no wonder they know their stuff: They already have a shop in Northern Italy.
All the ice cream, as well as the cakes and savory items are labeled as to their gluten, and vegan, status. With only one ice cream flavor containing gluten when I've been on various trips there this summer, cross-contamination possibilities are rare, though they also stock gluten-containing waffle cones (sadly, no gluten-free cones are on offer here). Overall, they seem very knowledgeable about gluten on the production end and the labeling is clear. Thank goodness those Italians and their celiac awareness have made it to Berlin.
What to order: the unbelievable ricotta with candied orange, the coffee that is a dead ringer for the long-time holy grail of coffee ice cream from Häagen-Dazs or one of the special ice cream cocktails when they are available
Gelateria Giorgio Lombardi
Weinbergsweg 5, 10119 Berlin-Mitte
U/tram Rosenthaler Platz
Tel: 0152 12086378
Open Mon-Thurs 9-22, Fri 9-24, Sat 10-24, Sun 10-22*
Runner-Up: Zwei Dicke Bären
Even though they're not really a shop (you can find them with their freezer cart at various food events around the city and at Mos Eisley, the gelateria where they source their ice cream) and the product is really more cookie than ice cream, I felt my good friends The Bears deserved some mention on this list. I like to think that in some small part because of my special food needs, the guys developed a couple gluten-free options in the last year that mean I can get my ice cream sandwich fix like the rest of the gluten-eating Berliners. They were also just featured on the premiere episode of "How to Make It In: Berlin", a web series by two New Yorkers about small business owners and their success stories around the world.
The Bears' allergy-friendly standby, the vegan and gluten-free almond cookie with chocolate sorbet is pretty tasty, but it was their chocolate meringue cookies with raspberry ice cream they did for the Berlin Ice Cream Market earlier this summer that blew me away. If you have gluten-free needs, be sure to ask them about what they offer and pick up a gluten-free sandwich whenever you can, so they know the demand is there!
Zwei Dicke Bären
Find them at Street Food Thursday and Gelateria Mos Eisley
* Opening times often vary from one season to the next, so be sure to check before heading over
ice cream cocktail photo courtesy of Ana Dahan