An Ode to Swiss Orange Chip

By on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

My first and still favorite ice cream is an obscure flavor, available almost nowhere and made, as far as I know, by only one company.

In the three decades since I first tasted it, Swensen’s Swiss Orange Chip remains the only ice cream — the only dessert — that evokes in me such a heady mix of desire and nostalgia. Even the mind-blowing mascarpone gelato I once tried in Florence in my post-college years comes in at a distant second.

I was five, maybe six years old, when I discovered Swiss Orange Chip, a mix of rich milk chocolate ice cream (darker than any chocolate ice cream I’d ever had from a grocery store) with orange essence and cool, brittle shards of dark chocolate. It was the first time I had tried chocolate and orange — together. It’s still one of my all-time favorite flavor combinations.

When I brought home a good report card, after every honor band recital, sometimes just for fun, we went to Swensen’s. Once, I held a birthday party there. Guess what flavor I chose for the cake.

Swensen’s had other flavors, plenty of them: lime green pistachio, a cloying pink ice cream riddled with gumballs. I never gave them a second look. That was stuff you could find anywhere else. While I was inside a Swensen’s, I had a strictly monogamous relationship with Swiss Orange Chip.

Where Did All the Swenson’s Go?

Once a popular chain of ice cream parlors, Swensen’s fell on hard times. Perhaps it was a victim of changing tastes or increased competition. The old-timey theme, complete with curlicue lettering and imitation Tiffany pedant lamps, that seemed so exciting to me as a child might seem stale and cutesy in this new era of hip, upscale, house-blended ice creams.

I think the Swensen’s in my hometown had closed by the time I left for college. For years after, Los Angeles still had a franchise (in Santa Monica, to be precise). That one closed too. The ice cream chain that once seemed to dot suburban California like candied pecans in caramel ice cream, has been reduced to only one outpost in this state. (It’s actually the original 1948 location in San Francisco at the corner of Hyde and Union streets.) There’s one each in Texas, Minnesota and Florida as well as a few in Arizona and Nevada. If you loved Swensen’s as a child and want a profound sense of cognitive dissonance, definitely seek out the one in the Luxor casino. When I last checked in, it did serve Swiss Orange Chip.

Swensen’s also seems to be a big hit in Singapore, where it has two-dozen outposts — more than all of its American locations combined. Perhaps there is hope for my childhood favorite. I just have to travel halfway across the world to find it. Or learn how to make it

Written by Elina Shatkin

Elina Shatkin is West Coast editor for Toque as well as restaurant critic and staff writer for LA Weekly. Shatkin was a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and has written for a variety of publications in print and online. She's the co-founder of the incipient food blog Guzzle & Nosh.

20 Comments

  1. Gayle Sato says:

    My first real job was at Swensen’s in my hometown of El Cerrito, California. I scooped — and swiped — several gallons of Swiss Orange Chip (sorry to Nadine, my erstwhile manager, whom I loved). It is delicious, oddly so. I shared my first scoop of Swiss Orange Chip with a guy named Kevin, who had to force me to try it. “It’s weird but once you taste it, you’ll keep sneaking more.” So sad, so true. Thanks, Elina, for the memories!

  2. Who remembers Swensen's and Swiss Orange Chip ice cream? Elina does. New on Toque http://tinyurl.com/4qvv4vp

  3. Erika Kotite says:

    Who remembers Swensen's and Swiss Orange Chip ice cream? Elina does. New on Toque http://tinyurl.com/4qvv4vp

  4. Do you remember Swiss Orange Chip? It is the best ice cream flavor EVER & served only at Swensen's. An ode: http://bit.ly/hwKl9h

  5. linda says:

    All my dates throughout College included Swensens Ice cream. The “sweetest” break- ups and the best way to say “goodbye” is with great ice cream nearby.
    Little did some of my suitors know “why” they were taking me there..:-)
    Swensens never let me down!

  6. RK says:

    I still have very sweet dreams about Swiss Orange Chip ice cream…

  7. Robin says:

    My husband and I “discovered” Swenson’s Swiss Orange Chip in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1980s. Then I found Swenson’s was close to home in Slidell. No one else has this flavor; it is THE flavor we always would choose above all others. I miss it. Come Back Swenson’s!

  8. Steve says:

    There was a Swenson’s in my neighborhood in Long Island back in the ’70s. It is still my favorite flavor. I found a Swenson’s a couple of years ago in Las Vegas and Swiss Orange Chip was every bit as good as I remember it.

    I am glad to see others had the same memory.

  9. RT @ToqueMag: An Ode to Swiss Orange Chip http://t.co/jHowPwY

  10. The Cat's Meow says:

    Nice to see there are other fans of this delicious flavor of ice cream! In my ideal world, Swiss Orange Chip ice cream would be just as prevalent in every grocery store as chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla flavors are!! It is the best ice cream flavor ever!! Thank you for this ode to a wonderful taste treat!

  11. Robert says:

    Well folks, its has been about 20+ yrs since I had Swiss Orange chip. We had a shop in Cupertino and then in Los Gatos many years ago.

    Last night on Father Day I stopped by outside the shop on Union and Hyde on my why to dinner at my in laws in the San Francisco. I called in an order for a half gallon and a worker can outside the shop and I purchased the ice cream from my car. Thank the lord did not have to find parking. 🙂

    My family and 6yr old daughter just love this best flavor in the world. I even took the rest home in Cupertino in a cooler and is waiting for me when I get home from work. It was great to taste this again and share it.

    Please open a new shop in Cupertino when the DownTown project is complete.

    – Robert

  12. Dee says:

    Well a little update. The shops in AZ are no longer around and you cannot get the delicious Swiss Orange Chip anywhere around here. I too had my first job at Swensons and fell in love with Swiss Orange Chip. My sister-in-law and I both love it. In the 1980’s (if I am correct),Swensons made a small effort to sell their products in stores. As they seem to be dying off why don’t they try it again?

  13. Birgit says:

    Ditto…first job in Menlo Park, Ca. What a great time I had working there. Swiss orange chip with Jimmies was my favorite. I still crave it, and did get a scoop in Vegas a few years back. Mmmmmmmmm!!!

  14. Tamara says:

    Another SOC devotee here! Come back! I love you!

  15. Andrew Cohen says:

    You don’t have to search far for this ice cream any longer…Well, sort of. After having grown up on Swensons’ Swiss Orange Chip from the El Cerrito location, I had to request that my brother re-create if for our own Cashew line of ice creams named Mr. Dewie’s. This can be found at most Whole Foods and other natural food markets from Seattle, down to San Diego. We call simply “Chocolate Orange Chip”!

    You’ll see for yourself that my brother nailed it!!!

  16. Erika Kotite says:

    Wow that is pretty good news. We’ll let Elina know for sure.

  17. Joan Mayeaux says:

    No need to mourn Swiss Orange Chip!! If your ever in So Cal head to Hans Ice Cream on Bristol St. in Costa Mesa. It used to be a Swensons that Hans bought along with the recipes. He still makes several of the original Swensons flavors including my fave – Sticky Chewey Chocolate! They even have the original photos of the sundaes on the walls. You’re welcome

  18. Babette says:

    OMG! Going to Whole Foods ASAP. Swiss Orange Chip was my very favorite ice cream EVER! Have not felt complete since it went away. :(. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  19. Babette says:

    Sigh. I didn’t finish reading…California only? My dreams are dashed. Mr. Dewie you need to head east.

  20. Gail says:

    Three Twins Ice Cream makes Chocolate Orange Confetti….tastes just like Swiss Orange Chip. It is available at stores nationwide!

Leave your comment