Finding the best dessert on the Downtown Mall

Chaps or Splendora’s — one ice cream cone to rule them all

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Splendora’s serves a variety of sizes including the bambino.

Sadie Goodman | Cavalier Daily

The Downtown Mall is a staple of the city of Charlottesville. Its beautiful brick pedestrian walkway is lined with shops and restaurants of every kind. As a child, two of my favorite places on the mall were Chaps Ice Cream and Splendora’s Gelato. Deciding between the two was always the hardest part of my night, but I’ve finally made my choice

Both stores are locally-owned and operated, located just a few doors down from each other on the Downtown Mall. 

Chaps is welcoming and charming — it serves up rich and delicious ice cream and has a variety of options to satisfy any craving. Their thick and creamy ice creams have been made using family recipes for over 75 years and their scoops are best eaten from the waffle cones handmade in the store. 

Splendora’s adds a twist on the traditional cold treat by making gelato, not ice cream. Gelato, Italy’s version of ice cream, contains many of the same ingredients, but the final product tends to be healthier because it contains less fat. 

The environment in Chaps is cheery with plenty of ‘50s themed decorations and a large, mirrored wall alongside the booths and tables. The bright, plastic booths are comfortable, but there sometimes isn’t enough seating to enjoy your ice cream in the shop — especially during the hotter months. There’s always a TV or two on for entertainment if you do end up snagging a booth. 

In addition to ice cream, Chaps serves a variety of hot drinks and classic diner food with options for breakfast and lunch. Of their non-dessert options, I’ve only tried the fries but I guarantee these, at least, are delicious. 

Splendora’s has an open, modern interior filled with bright pops of color. There is a large brown couch that stretches along the majority of the back wall; I always thought it looked like the chocolate waterfall from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The couch is lined with chairs and tables, ensuring plenty of seating for everyone. The large window by the front of the store lets in a lot of natural light and is the perfect way to people watch on the mall. Splendora’s also has candies, baked goods and hot drinks available to complement the frozen desserts. 

The ice cream in Chaps is kept in large plastic buckets in the display case. There are so many flavors, it's hard to choose. Chaps sticks to many traditional sweeter flavors like mocha chip, rainbow sherbert, black raspberry, butter pecan and chocolate chip cookie dough. A single scoop will cost you $3.90, with sprinkles coming in at an additional $0.20. 

The gelato at Splendora’s is kept in metal tubs in a well-lit case. The flavors at Splendora’s aren’t always as self-explanatory as the ones at Chaps, but they offer free samples on colorful tasting spoons to help you decide. Flavors like peanut butter, amaretto and rose are sure to need a taste test, but more familiar options like lemon, mint chocolate chip or salted caramel are always available if you’re not a fan of what you try. One of my favorites is cucumber mint, but it is unfortunately only available in the summer. It doesn’t sound incredible at first, but it is such a light, palate cleansing flavor that I can’t stay away. 

Splendora’s serves a variety of sizes including the bambino — “child” in Italian — cone, the perfect size for those desiring a sweet treat but not too keen on indulging in a huge dessert. A bambino is $2.00 and for $4.25 you can get a small cup or cone with two flavors. Toppings at Splendora’s are an additional $0.50. 

Overall, Splendora’s offers a healthier product and more novelty with their flavors. The interior is more spacious and welcoming with ample seating, and they make a great effort to add and create new flavors, which is always exciting. While Chaps is delicious, the flavors can feel repetitive. If you’re looking for a fun, new place to enjoy dessert on the Downtown Mall, Splendora’s is the way to go. 

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