There’s a reason that the sun-ripened strawberry ice cream at Coneflower Creamery tastes so purely of sweet, ripe, red summer fruit. There’s also a reason that the tart cherry crumble, with its massive hunks of tender, sweet berries blended into a creamy vanilla base, has such perfect balance.
It’s the ingredients that owners Katie Arant and Brian Langbehn use, yes. There’s nothing artificial — I love telling friends and visitors that Coneflower makes everything from scratch, even sprinkles.
Because of that, their operation involves a complex process, and that’s what makes Coneflower’s fruit ice creams, and really, all its ice creams, so remarkable.
Most of my readers already know that the ice cream at Coneflower Creamery — in Blackstone, and now at a new, second location at Millwork Commons in north downtown — is the best in town. But what they might not know is that each batch of Grandma Minnie’s lemon bar or Rhubarb go through several tests before they ever get scooped into your homemade waffle cone.
Arant said every single batch of fruit ice cream goes through a “freezer test,” beginning with jam or compote that eventually gets swirled through the ice cream. The ratio of sugar has to be right. The right amount of water has to be cooked out of the jam.
“Something can taste great and have a fantastic texture at room temperature or even 40 degrees, but can be really off putting when frozen,” she said.
Coneflower takes into account the changes in local fruit each season — more rain might mean a strawberry needs more acid to taste balanced in ice cream. The fruit, she said, always needs to be balanced with rich milk, cream and egg yolks in the base.
“We mostly rely on our palettes,” she said, “to make sure every batch is well-balanced.”
I tried several of Coneflower’s fruit flavors on my two recent visits to their petite, welcoming Millwork Commons location. Each one impressed the heck out of me. The sun-ripened strawberry has a reputation for being excellent, and I’d always missed the limited treat in past summer seasons. This year, I finally got a scoop from the summer’s final batch.
The Coneflower team hand-picks the fruit at Kimmel Orchard, and turns the batch into a pale pink confection that perfectly captures the flavor of the season.
Tart cherry crumble has been one of my favorites since I first wrote about Coneflower, in 2017, and have since included it on both my Eater Omaha essential lists. Big pockets of perfectly sweet-tart cherries are suspended through a vanilla base, and a homemade oat crumble swirled through adds just the right amount of crunch.
The new Millwork Commons location has twice the amount of seating that the Blackstone location does, Arant said, and I saw several people take a seat on one of the small wooden stools or along a banquette on the west wall. There’s also several tables outdoors, and a park across the street, perfect for a sit down when the weather allows.
Visitors are greeted by a “cone window” at the new location: across from the front door, a large window gives a glimpse into the waffle and sugar cone making process; often, Langbehn is in this spot. Now that Coneflower has this larger space dedicated to cones, Arant said they’ve added gluten free waffle cones, available at both locations and made on a dedicated waffle iron.
“We wanted customers to have a few glimpses into our daily production, hence the test kitchen and cone window,” she said.
Arant said she and Langbehn were attracted to Millwork because of all the other local businesses in the area, like Archetype Coffee, Sweet Magnolia’s, and Kros Strain. They also liked the proximity to Schwab field and the new RiverFront attractions, like the Kiewit Luminarium.
“With an emphasis on the arts and native prairie plantings outside, it just made sense.” she said.
So far, the location has been doing well, she said. I saw evidence of that during my two visits: on the first visit, we didn’t encounter much of a line. But on the second one, we found a line that more resembled the one constantly in Blackstone, no matter the time of day.
We tried some non-fruit flavors on our second visit, and I have to say, the combination of one scoop of birthday cake and one scoop of cinnamon cheesecake crunch tucked into a deep, homemade waffle cone is a treat I won’t stop thinking about any time soon. Those colorful homemade sprinkles dot the rich birthday cake flavor, which tastes of pure, deep vanilla with an intense sweetness that’s bold but not overpowering. And the cinnamon roll-esque cinnamon cheesecake crunch, latticed with bits of crispy cinnamon, is alarmingly good. If you encounter it, I insist you try it.
The cones at Coneflower are an airy, buttery, crisp-tender delight. I generally am not a waffle cone person, but I may have been converted. Next time, I’ll try a sugar cone.
Also excellent: Thai iced tea, with a pleasantly surprising undertone of rich black tea; pistachio, with the flavor of warm, roasted nuts, and Coneflower’s take on chocolate chip cookie dough, which, smartly, abandons the sometimes extremely artificial tasting knobs of frozen cookie dough for something softer, smoother and less sweet.
Coneflower’s army of fans recently voted it the number one ice cream shop on Yelp’s list of the 100 best ice cream shops in the country — I get it.
Arant said the first seven years for the shop have been a wild ride, and they’re looking forward to using their expanded space to add more ice cream sundaes and sandwiches, and put more emphasis on ice cream cakes, which, so far, have only been available by word of mouth. (My birthday is in December, Matthew: hint hint.)
Coneflower has always created its lineup of treats with care and consideration from top to bottom. Maintaining that takes work. I love their ice cream. But I also admire their dedication paired with their deep creativity. Omaha is lucky to have such a singular “farm-to-cone” experience.