A surge in participation toward the end of our most recent Food Fight competition led to a victory for Swensen's Ice Cream, the longtime northwest-side franchise owned by Jerry and Kathy Sullivan.

Swensen's also won the Food Fight for best milkshake in April 2008.

Swensen's offers 40 flavors of ice cream - and aside from a few nonfat flavors, a couple sherbets and a sorbet - it's all super premium at 16 percent butterfat.

"We're not into dieting here," Jerry Sullivan said.

You'll pay about $2.25 with tax for a 4-ounce scoop. The newest flavor is Cone N O'Brien, which includes pieces of chocolate-covered waffle cone and almonds in vanilla ice cream.

Readers seem to like the Sullivans, former Midwesterners who have owned the place for 24 years, nearly as much as their ice cream.

"Jerry and Kathy Sullivan have been serving up the best, richest, most diverse flavors of real ice cream for almost 30 years," wrote Kevin Jackson, who worked there for a decade. "Nowhere else in town can you watch a pro like Jerry mixing whole milk, cream and cane sugar with dozens of pure (and decadent) ingredients right before your eyes in their in-store factory."

Jackson started there as a dishwasher in 1987, moving up to cook, ice cream manufacturer and assistant manager.

"The Sullivans, through their business, have employed dozens of young people, giving many their first jobs, others the ability to support themselves while going through school or building lives and families of their own," said Jackson, the homeless-youth project coordinator at Wingspan, Southern Arizona's gay and lesbian community center.

Santa Barbara Ice Creamery, near the University of Arizona campus, drew ardent support.

"People in this town simply don't know good ice cream until they have been to Santa Barbara Ice Creamery!" one wrote.

Owner Jo Jensen has built a loyal following during her 25 years in the business. She started selling all-natural Santa Barbara - which has only ingredients you can pronounce - 10 years ago.

She moved to the North Campbell Avenue location, which is across the street from the UA, three years ago. "I have people from all over the world that come," she said - everyone from astronomers to members of the Australian swimming team.

Cold Stone Creamery, the Tempe-based chain that has grown to more than 1,400 locations, drew raves for customized creations such as the signature Cheesecake Fantasy - cheesecake ice cream, graham cracker pie crust, and fresh blueberries and strawberries.

Baskin-Robbins has a longtime fan in Kristina Novickis, who has loved its Pralines 'n Cream for 30 years. She always keeps it, along with Jamoca Almond Fudge (her husband's favorite), in the freezer.

She also has fallen in love with the house-made ice cream at Feast on Speedway since moving here from San Francisco in late 2005.

"It is heavenly. So creamy and delicious, but it's to be eaten in their restaurant," she said.

Gelato also drew enthusiastic support.

Frost, A Gelato Shoppe, was a clear favorite. Andrea Haber praised everything about her favorite flavor: "plain chocolate - smooth, rich, creamy and satisfying, with fewer fat grams and calories than ice cream."

The shops themselves also are standouts. "The display case looks like a photo from Gourmet magazine, and the variety of items is unbelievable," noted Haber, a recently retired Tucson Unified School District finance manager.

"Dairy Queen is the next best," she noted. "Nothing like soft-serve in the dog days of August!"

Ginnie Day tried Cafe Italiano gelato during a visit to the UA in June and was impressed by the "wonderful flavors" and the "very nice" owners (Krystal Adams and Carla Pursel). The family-owned shop opened last year and offers 90 flavors (27 at any one time).

Day, who will return in August to start her master's program in public health, said she can't wait to try new flavors.

"That being said," she added, "please note that while I enjoy gelato (a lot!), moderation and portion size are key. I also like that gelato is lower in fat than ice cream and the intensity of flavor. A little goes a long way!"

The contenders

• Baskin-Robbins: 11 locations, including 8140 S. Houghton Road.

• Cafe Italiano, 2485 N. Swan Road.

• Cold Stone Creamery, 5435 S. Calle Santa Cruz and seven more.

• Dairy Queen, 10 locations, including 8955 E. Tanque Verde Road.

• Feast: 4122 E. Speedway.

• Frost, A Gelato Shoppe, three sites: 7131 N. Oracle Road, 7301 E. Tanque Verde Road, and in La Encantada, 2905 E. Sunrise Drive.

• Marble Slab, 4811 E. Grant Road.

• Santa Barbara Ice Creamery, 1058 N. Campbell Ave.

• Swensen's Ice Cream, 6444 N. Oracle Road.

More than ice cream at Tucson area's only remaining Swensen's

Ice cream brought Jerry and Kathy Sullivan to Tucson in 1986.

The couple had been looking to leave Fargo, N.D., and wanted to invest in a small business.

Swensen's Ice Cream appealed to them, because most of the shops in the venerable chain made their own ice cream.

The Sullivans have been making it ever since.

In addition to the 40 flavors, their restaurant (the only Swensen's in town) offers 20 or so types of sundaes, all kinds of toppings, plus milkshakes and malts.

Still, ice cream accounts for only about 40 percent of their business. Their menu has a variety of salads and more than two dozen sandwiches. The meat for the hamburgers is delivered fresh daily from Dickman's Meat & Deli, which is in the same shopping center.

"We appeal to young families who like to bring their kids in here," Jerry Sullivan said. "We also appeal to senior citizens who remember the old-fashioned soda fountain."

Swensen's is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Did you know?

The world's top ice cream consumers are, in order, the United States, New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, and Belgium-Luxembourg. President Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month in 1984. National Ice Cream Day is Sunday.