When it comes to frozen treats, Sonny’s Amazing Italian Ices & Cremes in Sherman Oaks covers the spectrum—from icy to creamy, from old-fashioned to newfangled. With well over 50 possible flavors of housemade Italian ices, creme ices, and ice creams, Sonny’s can serve up countless combos of scoops, sundaes, shakes, floats, malts, and more.
All this frosty variety comes from the ambitious efforts of New York transplants, Sindy Habib and Matt Hoch. Sindy opened Sonny’s in 2016 as a side business to her veterinary career, pursuing a passion she inherited from her father, who had made and sold ice cream in New York. While she’s still a full-time veterinarian at McGrath Veterinary Center, Sindy spends her spare hours churning out artisanal flavors at Sonny’s. When Matt jumped in to manage the shop after retiring as a school principal, he crammed to learn the ice cream business and continues to find new flavors through experimentation. Together, Sindy and Matt run Sonny’s with a fresh take on the ice cream parlors they enjoyed as kids in Brooklyn.
“It starts with the 56 flavors we make, and they are the real deal,” Matt said. “The flavors are great, made with the highest quality ingredients. It’s fun to create other treats from those to give people more dessert options.”
While New Yorkers have enjoyed Italian ices for generations, it’s often a new experience for Los Angelenos. So Matt helps explain to new customers that Sonny’s ices are similar to sorbet, made from a blend of water and fruit (or other ingredients like chocolate) for a more natural concentrated flavor, which gets churned to a smooth, velvety texture as it freezes. It tastes and feels distinctly different from other water-based frozen treats like snow cones or shave ice, which pour syrups over plain ice to add flavor. And since Sonny’s Italian ices are entirely dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan, they’ve been particularly well received by diet-conscious West Coasters.
The housemade quality of Sonny’s ices shows through in the bits of fruit embedded in flavors like cherry, mango, peach, strawberry and more. Likewise, the tangy citrus flavors contain the characteristic zest of hand-squeezed juices. “Our flavors come from high-quality liquid bases,” Matt added. Among the 20 rotating Italian ices, curiosity may lead you to try less commonplace flavors such as sour blue raspberry and tiger’s blood (a blend of strawberry, watermelon, and coconut).
But if your sweet tooth is screaming for ice cream, Sonny’s offers many options to hush your craving. The ice cream menu includes the classic trio of flavors with subtly upgraded labels: Vanilla Bean, Dark Chocolate, and Strawberry Balsamic. For the strawberry, the berries are marinated and heated in balsamic vinegar, giving the strawberries a fruitier, brighter, robust taste. “It could be the best strawberry ice cream you’ve ever had,” Matt suggested to one customer.
You’ll find a similar scrutiny for quality mixed into all the creative creamy flavors. The Maple Walnut ice cream is made with 100% pure Vermont maple syrup and wet walnuts, which are steeped in simple syrup for a sweet, chewy nuttiness. More novel dessert and candy flavors include Apple Pie, Red Velvet, Lemon Cookie Crunch, Cotton Candy, and The Stakeout (coffee & glazed donuts). Sonny’s also makes vegan ice creams using a coconut base, offered in flavors such as matcha, cookie butter, and cookies & cream.
“We are putting our best foot forward by using top of the line ingredients for everything that we do,” Matt explained.
It’s because there’s no skimping on the cream that Sonny’s ice creams merit the “premium” label. They contain 14% milkfat, which is on the high end of the 12-14% US standard for premium ice creams, versus the minimum 10% milkfat in regular ice creams. Whipping a bit of air into the mix keeps the ice creams scoopably soft, achieving a densely rich and creamy consistency that’s both indulgent and gratifying.
When you can’t decide between the decadently rich ice creams and the vibrantly light Italian ices, Sonny’s creme ices will meet you in the middle. “If the Italian ice and the ice cream were to have a baby, it would be the creme ice,” said Matt. Made with a base of 75% water and 25% premium ice cream mix, creme ice brings the smooth richness of dairy to Italian ice, with less fat and a lighter texture than ice cream. Flavors include orange creamsicle, peanut butter, pistachio, nutella with chocolate ganache, and cherry vanilla chocolate chunk.
Still looking to intensify your dessert experience? Pile your scoops into a housemade waffle bowl with your choice of over 20 toppings, including fresh whipped cream and various fruits, nuts, candies, sprinkles, and sweet sauces. Baseball fans can even have scoops served in a mini baseball helmet, featuring teams from the East Coast, West Coast, and in between.
Or you can chill out with a signature sundae. Sonny’s Chocolate Brownie Sundae, Strawberry Shortcake Sundae, and Cookie Sundae are all made with freshly baked goods and two scoops of ice cream. While the Sonny Split takes longer to make, you’ll see why it’s worth the wait. Once the banana is split lengthwise, the inner surfaces get fired with a brulee torch, creating a caramelized layer that gives the flat sides of the banana a sweet, crispy shell. The two candied slices then flank two scoops of vanilla ice cream, topped with a mountain of whipped cream, sprinkled with graham crunch, and drizzled with caramel sauce, all packed into a waffle bowl.
“People identify that with us, because I don’t know anywhere else that you can get it,” Matt said.
Other rare finds at Sonny’s give you an excuse to think of ice cream as a meal. After all, it’s practically brunch if you add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and a sprinkle of powdered sugar to a pile of warm mini Dutch pancakes known as poffertjes (PAW-fer-chez). You can order freshly made poffertjes coated with cinnamon sugar or topped with caramel and bananas, chocolate sauce, wild cherry topping, or strawberry sauce.
And then there’s Sonny’s latest lunchy creation: the Panini Pressed Ice Cream Sandwich. In the true sense of a sandwich, an ice cream scoop is centered between buttery brioche buns. Matt adds sauces and crunchy stuff such as pecan pralines or cereal, and heats it up in a specialized panini press that seals the bun around its cold contents.
“Tasting is believing. What you get with that is the hot bun when it’s pressed and the cold ice cream inside. And you get the soft ice cream with the crunchy texture within it,” Matt explained.
If you’re too rushed to handle a hot-cold sandwich or even balance a bowl and spoon, you could always consume your frozen dessert with a cup and straw. Shakes, floats, and malts deliver any of Sonny’s artisanal flavors in more slurpable forms. Try the Cake Shake made with cake batter, or one of the six different Girl Scout Cookie Shakes, which include real Girl Scout cookies with ice cream, toppings, and sauce combinations that recreate the flavors of specific cookies. There’s even a float inspired by a beverage from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at nearby Universal Studios: the Butterbeer Float. It’s made with cream soda, butterscotch, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. “Many, many people have said that they like this better than what they’ve had at Universal,” said Matt.
Though the extensive dessert choices at Sonny’s may undermine your decision-making skills on your first visit, take comfort in knowing there are plenty of reasons to return to try more. As the specials board wisely advises, “Try them all!! (Not all at once, silly).”
You may catch a bout of silliness when you spot the large cartoon logo painted on the wall. It pictures Sonny the dog sitting in a cross-legged lotus pose, balancing a bowl of colorful scoops in one paw and gripping a spoon in the other. His gaze seems fixed on you as he patiently licks his chops, as though waiting for you to give him the go-ahead to dig in to his dessert. It’s a whimsically playful depiction that memorializes the shop’s namesake. Sonny was a rescued black labrador with a life-threatening condition that Sindy took in as a puppy. Under Sindy’s care, Sonny persevered through his illnesses and enjoyed a full life of 13 years.
“He never really held a bowl of ice cream, and he didn’t really sit in a lotus position,” Matt confessed. “But he was a great pet.”
As ice cream spots go, Sonny’s Amazing Italian Ices and Cremes is a young pup with a lick of old-timey gusto. Nostalgic hints at ice cream parlors and candy shops of bygone eras are embedded in the cherry red metal furnishings and shelves full of retro candies, including Necco Wafers, Big League Chew, Reed’s Candy Rolls, and Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy. A wall of vintage New York photos and baseball scenes further hint at the East Coast inspirations behind the business. In both the atmosphere and the flavors, Sonny’s mix of old and new, East and West, triggers a sense of familiarity and wonder.
“Most people come here not just to satisfy a sweet craving but to relive some long-ago memory from their past,” Matt commented. “They’re sharing something that means something to them.”