Restaurant review: Johnson's Real Ice Cream

G.A. Benton

Scooping up delicious treats since 1950, venerable Johnson's Real Ice Cream shares some interesting traits with Block's Bagels(which I also wrote about this week). Both are East Side-based icons that bridge present-day Columbus to a bygone era — and both are currently newsworthy again.

Like Block's, Johnson's longevity has been driven by a consistent commitment to high-quality products that have kept the business vital through generational shifts in its fan base. But the most timely similarity between the classic bagel-maker and the grand old ice cream specialist is that both relatively small, family-run businesses have recently expanded.

The second-ever Johnson's Real Ice Cream takes over the spot in Downtown Dublin formerly occupied by Sisters Sweet Shop — which had previously offered Johnson's frozen delights. Inside what looks like a quaint old house on a street somewhere in New England is an attractive little operation with chalkboards advertising many of the nearly 40 available flavors of homemade ice cream. Also brightening up the new Johnson's shop: multi-colored ice cream scoops hanging pop art-like on a stark white wall and a small but friendly staff of knowledgeable young servers.

Although it only seats about 20 patrons inside, plenty more ice cream aficionados can be accommodated on a large, wraparound patio. Late on a recent Tuesday evening, the shop and its string-lighted patio were hopping. Considering that the area is well represented by other beloved premium ice cream outfits, I assumed that Johnson's larger crowd was in part drawn in by the place's relatively affordable prices — $3.25 for a hefty scoop, which can be two half-scoops of different flavors.

So what to order? That question is facilitated by a liberal sample-your-heart-away policy.

Two seasonal flavors should be strong contenders for a half-and-half pairing: peach ice cream and strawberry sherbet. The former punctuates Johnson's famously smooth and creamy, old-fashioned ice cream with pockets of frozen fruit. The strawberry sherbet has fruit pockets, too, but they're embedded in a lighter base that still comes off as indulgent.

Mining a similar vein, try coupling Johnson's refreshingly tart-sweet, top-notch lemon sherbet with its sweeter lemon cha-cha ice cream. Prefer a richer combo? The Columbus Crunch — think excellent, more dynamic cookies-and-cream — partnered with butterscotch toffee is another knockout combo. But there are also shakes, ice cream cakes, sundaes, smoothies, wacky “clown cones” and plenty more wonderful ice cream flavors to explore.

Johnson's Real Ice Cream

Multiple locations