Saturday, April 21, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Sundae splurge: Creamy ice cream desserts are for any day of the week


Growing up in Wisconsin, in an extended family full of dairy farmers, I fondly recall devouring a big bowl of ice cream just about every night for my bedtime snack.

If we were feeling festive, we would drizzle chocolate syrup on top of a few scoops, and maybe toss some walnuts in the bowl.

Our family usually had a couple of plastic pails of vanilla or chocolate in our big freezer in the garage.

Doc Burnstein’s Classic Banana Split is big enough to split, if you can find someone willing to share the three scoops of scrumptious ice cream, whipped cream, three sauces, nuts, and cherries, on top of sliced bananas.

Ice cream flavors in the ’70s were not as exotic and varied as they are now.

Here on the Central Coast of California, we can thank another Wisconsin transplant for improving our choices of super-premium ice cream.

Greg Steinberger, owner of Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab, with locations in Orcutt, Arroyo Grande, and San Luis Obispo, grew up in Wisconsin, too.

He hails from a village called Denmark, Wis., near Green Bay.

“Little did I realize how much I loved ice cream as a kid, growing up in ‘America’s Dairyland,’” Steinberger said.

After college and a career in the Navy, he came to California to earn his MBA at UC Berkeley.

Following a stint in the corporate world, Steinberger sought out something smaller and landed in San Luis Obispo County, where he bought Burnardo’z Candy Kitchen and Ice Cream Parlour.

Steinberger learned the ropes and “secret recipes,” and then started creating his own flavors, such as the popular Elvis Special— banana ice cream with peanut butter swirl.

“It’s not easy,” Steinberger said. “You’ve got to be passionate about ice cream.”

Doc Burnstein’s handcrafted ice cream has high cream content (16 percent butterfat) and is made in small batches, so it’s very fresh.

Recently, I took my family to the charming Old Town Orcutt location, 168 W. Clark Ave., where we shared two of Doc’s specialty desserts: the classic banana split ($9.49) and the brownie delight sundae ($7.89).

Doc Burnstein’s Orcutt “Scoopervisor” Sydney Schierman waited on us that day. We can tell you from experience that she makes a mean banana split! (Mean meaning great!)

She explained to us the process: “Take a banana, cut it in half. You take three scoops of ice cream—usually it comes with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry—then you put pineapple topping on the vanilla, chocolate sauce on the chocolate, and strawberry topping on the strawberry.”

Topped off with a generous amount of whipped cream, walnuts, and three maraschino cherries, Doc’s banana split stands at least six inches tall, not counting the stems of the cherries.

When our personal Scoopervisor delivered her masterpiece to our table, everyone’s eyes grew wide! We each eagerly grabbed a spoon and dove in (after patiently waiting several seconds for me to snap a few photos to use in this column, of course).

The Brownie Delight at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab is a warm brownie topped with a scoop of ice cream (your choice in flavor), whipped cream, hot fudge, and a cherry.

We knew time was of the essence because ice cream is known to melt.

But surprisingly, or not surprisingly, we were able to polish off that scrumptious split lickety split.

Next up: the Brownie Delight. 

“First we take a warm brownie, and a scoop of any flavor of ice cream, most people do vanilla,” Schierman explained, “then hot fudge is drizzled on top of whipped cream and a cherry.”

This one was more of a race against the clock, not only because of the heat from the gooey chocolate brownie, but the hot fudge cascading down.

While we were all happy with our ice-cream-filled tummies, it was clear to us that Doc’s employees were happy to be there, too, and definitely took pride in their work.

One reason might be that Steinberger is committed to supporting education and rewards his workers with an annual scholarship day.

“One day in August, 100 percent of sales goes into a scholarship fund and that gets distributed among the staff members who have been with us a certain period of time,” Steinberger said.

This year will be the ninth year Doc Burnstein’s has held the special day for its college-enrolled students who maintain a 2.75 GPA and have worked at the ice cream parlor for at least 500 hours.

Participants are also encouraged to run the business by themselves for a day as if they were the “Doc.”

Last year at the Orcutt location, four of Doc’s workers were able to divide up more than $4,000 to help pay for college.

This year’s Doc Burnstein’s Scholarship Day is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 12, in all three locations, and will benefit a total of 11 employees.

That day, the Orcutt and Arroyo Grande parlors will be open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and the San Luis Obispo store will stay open until 10 p.m.


Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell screams for ice cream. Contact her at

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