It may seem curious, at first, that brothers Eric and Ryan Berley have opened a second storefront specializing in ice cream just a few doors east of their 1910-themed Old City hit, the Franklin Fountain. But the new take-out space called the Franklin Ice Cream Bar is, in fact, both a distinct operation from its neighboring soda-shop sibling, and a necessary piece of the Berleys' growing ice cream empire.
This address is first and foremost a production facility for the Franklin ice cream brand, which has nearly doubled in volume since the addition of three outlets on the Delaware River between Spruce Street Harbor Park and the Summerfest RiverRink.
But this little shop, outfitted Art Deco-style with pressed tin ceilings, stamped stainless steel walls and vintage tile, has some unique frozen draws of its own. One of those is the excellent soft-serve custard, a full-flavored vanilla-flecked homage to Anderson's Frozen Custard, which Eric Berley's in-laws own in upstate New York. But the Keystone ice cream bars are my newest dessert obsession, not only because, with a choice of Franklin's excellent ice creams, they're already an upgrade over the supermarket variety, but because they also offer a perfect combo of fresh textures, deep flavors and customizable whims, dipped to order in a vivid chocolate (either milk or dark) that's crafted from bean-to-bar cacao roasted and processed right next door at the Berleys' other venture, Shane Confectionery.
Unlike commercial chocolate shells, which use all manner of industrial fats to get the right texture, the Berleys use coconut oil, which allows about three seconds for its "dippers" (Ryan's nickname for those working behind the counter) to sprinkle on your choice of myriad chopped nuts, sweets drizzles, spices and fruits before the warm chocolate hardens.
There are almost too many good options to choose from, but my first combo of coffee ice cream in a dark-chocolate shell streaked with caramel, chopped cashews and Cape May sea salt was sublime, the ice cream cold enough to hold its shape (but not so cold I got a brain freeze), the thin chocolate shell delivering a decisive snap, but also a supple, roasty cocoa richness. And then those toppings: sweet, salty, savory. Yes! Next time, I'm going the fruity route, with strawberry, black raspberry, or caramelized banana, and then taking my Keystone bar for a lovely Old City summer walk.
— Craig LaBan