Dairy-Free Summer Indulgences

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

If you’re accustomed to indulging in a sinful soft-ripened cheese or you prefer to dip your chips in sour cream, having to follow a dairy-free diet is a tough act. But when the need to follow said diet arises in the summer, it’s downright cruel. In the season of ice cream, milkshakes, and flaky, buttery fruit desserts, people abstaining from dairy need to find other ways to satisfy their sweet teeth. Having just completed a two-month fast from all things milk-based, however, has shown me that it’s not impossible. Local bakers, ice cream makers, and restaurants serve up some mighty tasty treats that, in many cases, will force yourself to admit that this dairy-free existence isn’t as tortuous as you imagined.

So where should you go if you’re itching for a snack that doesn’t contain milk, butter, cream, or cheese? The Heavy Table has done some sleuthing and can point you in the right direction if you’re in the Twin Cities metro area. But by no means is this list exclusive. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments — especially if you’ve found a good substitute for soft-ripened cheese.

Frozen Desserts

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

There may be no better reminder that summer is here than the sound of the ice cream truck driving around the block. But if you can’t partake in the real stuff, don’t fret. Sorbet is here to save the day. Several local ice cream shops offer at least one variety of sorbet — typically a fruit-based flavor — daily, so you don’t have to look on longingly at your friends while they gobble down cones. Edina Creamery recently offered a raspberry sorbet ($3.25 for one scoop) that was so creamy, it was hard to believe that it lacked actual cream. Izzy’s Ice Cream in St. Paul lists several sorbets on its menu, such as coconut, guava, and passion fruit, while Minneapolis’ Crema Cafe dishes up Sonny’s sorbets in unique flavors like cherry zinfandel. It won’t get you buzzed, but the fruitiness of the wine plays well with the chunks of cherry studded throughout the scoop. And as a bonus, you can pick up pints of Sonny’s at Lunds and Byerly’s (where it sells for $5.39 / pint), Kowalski’s, and local co-ops in case a trip to the cafe isn’t in your plans. Or, if you have an ice cream machine handy, you can whip up your own sorbet — check out our recipe for Vodka Rosemary Peach Lemonade Sorbet, created by yours truly last summer.

Soy-based ice creams are also an alternative, though many people with dairy intolerances are also sensitive to soy. Our round-up last summer of non-dairy ice creams included only one local brand, Izzy’s, and while the panel didn’t give high marks to its soy chocolate flavor, we hear the soy peanut butter variety has fans among the Heavy Table ranks.

Liquid Refreshments

It’s hard to replicate the thickness of a milkshake without the milk, but you can gulp down other beverages that satisfy your requirements for something cold and sweet. Horchata, a rice- or nut-based drink popular in Spanish-speaking countries, can be found at many Latin American restaurants locally. Try El Centro Pupusería in Minneapolis and La Fonda Mexican Eats in St. Paul. If you’re craving something cold but not necessarily creamy, D’Amico and Sons has a basil lemonade ($2.95) on the menu this summer. The earthiness of the basil makes an interesting and ultimately complementary match with the sweetness of the lemonade, and you get a whiff of a fragrant herb garden every time you take a sip.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Thankfully, most cocktails are dairy-free, so pulling up a seat at the bar is usually a safe bet. El Pelón (above) at Porter & Frye got a Heavy Table thumbs up earlier this summer, and summer is the season for sangria, which you can find at restaurants ranging from the expected, like the tapas-centric Solera, to the surprising, such as Red Stag Supper Club. If you’re apt to mix your own, we’ve got a couple of winners from last year’s Crispin Cider cocktail contest.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Baked but Not Buttery

The world of baked goods can be tricky to navigate for the dairy-averse. The surface innocence of a muffin or scone is often undermined by a stick of butter or dash of milk in the batter. One of the easiest ways to zero in on dairy-free pastries is to look for a vegan label or a hekhsher (Jewish certification seal) of pareve (rhymes with Favre). Even if you eat eggs or don’t follow Jewish dietary laws, you can rely on these descriptors on a food product to indicate that it doesn’t contain dairy products.

Luckily, it’s not hard to find either of those kinds of baked goods in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The local Breadsmith retail locations are all dairy-free, and during the summer months you can enjoy seasonal treats like lemon-blueberry muffins, peach scones, and zucchini bread. Seward’s Cake Eater Bakery offers a rotating menu of vegan muffins, scones, and cupcakes. Recent picks like a red velvet cupcake ($3; pictured top right) and a blueberry pecan muffin ($2.50; bottom right) were devoured quickly, and its vegan raspberry lemonade cupcake won top honors in Heavy Table’s cupcake taste test this spring. The Wedge’s bakery counter has perhaps the largest selection of vegan treats locally; we enjoyed the peach raspberry scone ($2.29; top left) and peanut butter chocolate chip and carob almond cookies ($1.39 each; bottom left).

Of course, the best way to guarantee that your dessert will be dairy-free is to bake it yourself. Chocolate chip beet cake, anyone?


  1. Liz

    Some other gems:
    Seward Cafe’s VCCP- Vanilla “Cream” Cold Press (made with vanilla soy milk and maple syrup. This is magical)

    Koplin’s Coconut Cold Press- rich coconut milk with cold press and maple syrup

    Mississippi Market’s Mango Dream smoothie (super thick with mangos and cardamom- can’t believe there’s no dairy!)

  2. Erika

    Sebastian Joe’s always has a sorbet available on their menu.

    My absolute favorite, although not local, are the sorbets by Ciao Bella. It’s sold at Whole Foods and Target (grocery retail locations)… and it’s pure bliss. Your friends eating that Raspberry Chocolate Chip or Ben & Jerrys WILL be jealous, that is if you even let them taste it.

  3. Sharyn

    Also, La Chiquita on the West Side of St. Paul. Loads of delicious, freshly made popsicles, ice creams and sorbets that are either fruit based or coconut milk based. I feel very lucky to have such a gem in my neighborhood.

  4. artsy

    Also, great homemade sodas at Dandelion Kitchen at Midtown Farmer’s Market on Sat. 9-1 and at the Uptown Market on the greenway Sun. 11-5. They make an excellent ginger ale with fresh ginger, only $2…also yummy homemade popsicles! And young coconut smoothies and fresh juices at Ecopolitan…

  5. Sharyn

    Oh right – I had Dandelion’s basil lime soda on Sunday and it was delicious! Saw their popsicles too. They are about half the size of the ones La Chiquita makes but that is actually all right by me.

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