In the midst of historic Old City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Berley brothers both fit in and stand out. They have taken everything from the décor and machinery of their shops to the recipes and processes they use to handcraft their ice creams and confections straight out of American history. On the other hand, the brothers, Eric and Ryan, with the help of local suppliers, go beyond their predecessors whenever possible, striving to use only the best local and organic ingredients in their delicacies.
The brothers have been operating Franklin Fountain, 116 Market Street, since 2004 and acquired Shane Confectionary, practically next door at 110 Market Street, just three years ago. Both shops locally source their most essential ingredients. Chocolate is supplied by Wilbur’s, a previously Old City based chocolatier now located in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Eggs, butter, cream, fruit, and bacon (to be covered in Wilbur’s chocolate) are provided by Glenn Brendle and Green Meadow Farm of Gap, Pennsylvania. These ingredients are used to concoct not only the rich and frothy Vanilla Egg Cream I sampled, but also all of their fresh small-batch ice creams and many of their candies including jam squares and fruit-filled chocolates. Wricley Nut Products Company, a whole-sale nut distributor located in South Philadelphia, provides nuts for clusters as well as peanut butter for ice cream. Finally, the flour they use for baked goods, which may be overlooked, comes from Daisy Flour in Annville, Pennsylvania and is produced entirely organically.
To some, candy is candy, ice cream is ice cream, and sweets taste good no matter what. The Berley brothers feel differently. To them, it’s in their best interest to have the customer’s best interest at heart. They don’t use corn syrup (unless it’s necessary for products such as the decorative “clear toys”) because they don’t want their confections to be overly sweet and flavorless. They use local cream that’s not ultra-pasteurized, preserving the flavor of this central ice cream ingredient.
As could be expected, then, the Berley Brothers’ seasonal ice cream selection, which rotates monthly, is a delicious testament to their commitment to high quality and fresh ingredients. July’s ice cream is an organic blueberry flavor made with blueberries from Little Buck Organics Farm in Hammonton, NJ (http://www.littlebuckorganics.com/) and comes in a non-dairy variety as well, made with a coconut cream base. For a blueberry lover like myself, this unique flavor is divine and superbly summery. According to Eric Berley, the secret that makes this flavor so good is its slight crumbliness, produced by ice crystals of just the right size. In August you can keep your eye out for a watermelon-flavored sorbet.
Always changing up their offerings and adding to their repertoire, the Berley’s keep customers coming back for more. Though most of their candies are prepared strictly according to time-tested recipes and procedures, the Whirley Berley Bar is entirely an invention of the Berley brothers’ ingenuity. They do use the same vintage processes as with their other candies to make the two-bite-size bar, but have paired their traditional torrone with dark chocolate and salted caramel to create a completely unique treat. Of all the candies I tried, this was certainly the most decadent with rich flavors and a chewy texture (that somehow doesn’t stick to your teeth!)
The Berley’s go further than simply sourcing and shopping local. The brothers have built personal relationships with many of their suppliers, customers, and other neighborhood vendors, and some of these relationships have even inspired menu items. The hot milkshake, a one-of-a-kind dessert offered by the fountain, was inspired by a customer who asked for a slice of hot pie to be added to his shake. Now a whole line of hot milkshakes can be found on their winter menu, and may be added to their year-round menu soon due to immense popularity. After sampling Philadelphia Distilling’s Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure, the Berley’s conjured up a mint and anise flavored phosphate worthy of a nod to one of America’s greatest authors: the Hemingway’s Dream Phosphate. Ultimately, avoiding overly-processed ingredients, using what is organic and local as much as possible, and turning to the community and customers as a resources have been the most important elements of making better candy and ice cream for the Berleys. In their own words they embody the values of “craftsmanship, social responsibility and experimentation to better serve the people,” the same values promoted by their ice cream saloon’s namesake – Benjamin Franklin. Shane Confectionary and Franklin Fountain are entertaining examples of living history fit for both tourists visiting to learn of our country’s past and Philly locals looking for a distinct way to indulge in decadence. In either case, the use of local and organic ingredients lends itself to the authenticity and value of the experience.