Maybe people feel like they need a little pick-me-up to take their minds off the economy.

Or maybe we can blame it on last year’s lousy weather. Can there be pent-up demand for ice cream?

Who knows why, but suddenly ice cream is everywhere. Hard serve and those old favorites, soft serve and frozen custard, are competing with their uptown cousin gelato for space in coffee shops, restaurants, dairy shacks and storefronts all over southern Maine.

And Mainers are eating it up.

“This has been our best summer ever in five years,” observed Brad McCurtain of Others! Coffee, which serves 20 flavors of housemade gelato at its store in Monument Square.

As you are reading this, a gelato maker from Milano, Italy, is headed across the sea to Portland to open a new shop called Gorgeous Gelato.

According to an e-mail from Donato Giovine, he and his wife, Mariagrazia Zanardi, and their two children are moving here to open a shop at 434 Fore St., where they will make and sell “an authentic, Italian, organic gelato.” The store is expected to open by mid-September.

Even President Obama couldn’t resist a coconut cone from Mount Desert Island Ice Cream in Bar Harbor during his visit to Maine last weekend. The sight of the leader of the free world enjoying his afternoon treat sent sales of coconut ice cream soaring at MDI’s Bar Harbor and Portland stores, according to owner Linda Parker. More wholesale orders came rolling in as well.

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream opened in the Old Port in late May, wowing customers with unusual flavors such as blueberry basil sorbet and Girl Scouts Gone Wild ice cream.

Parker said she thought Portland was ripe for a new ice cream shop and “a good fit” for her. She’s been selling wholesale to restaurants here for years — Havana South now serves her spicy Thai chili ice cream — and has had numerous requests from local scoop shops to sell her products.

Parker, who boasts that she “did salt caramel before it was cool,” believes it’s her inventive flavors that set her apart from other homemade, gourmet ice cream shops.

Customers are much more sophisticated about flavor profiles because of the popularity of things like the Food Network, she said. That means they are more accepting of different tastes and are willing to eat more adventurously.

“Five years ago, when I started (in Bar Harbor) and I was making chocolate wasabi, people were, like, ‘uhhh,’” she said. “But now people are, like, ‘chocolate wasabi, yes.’ They’re just much more open to the different kind of flavors that we’re producing.”

Parker likes to push the envelope with flavors, not to be sensational but “because sometimes you can have really surprising, fantastic results by pairing new things.”

“I get inspiration from a lot of sources, especially desserts from foreign countries,” she said. “For example, we make a Sherry Catalana, which is based on a cream dessert from the Catalan region of Spain, which is a creamy sherry base with cinnamon.”

When Parker read that lime and cucumber were a popular flavor combination in Iran, she developed a lime-cucumber sorbet.

If Parker’s sorbets (blueberry basil, star anise, orange tarragon) sound as if they’d be even better with a shot of gin or vodka, well, Parker is one step ahead of you.

She’s developed a cocktail drink line she’ll start selling in the store soon.

“The cucumber-lime goes really well with gin,” she said. “They’re not sorbets, but they’re similar to sorbets. They’re less sweet and they’re icier.”

Despite its adventuresome menu, MDI Ice Cream has held onto the classics that customers love — chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, mint chip.

Joshua Bodwell of Biddeford stopped into the store with his visiting family recently to try the mint chip, which is his favorite flavor. It amused him to watch his relatives try to make up their minds about what they wanted.

“I thought they were going to fill up on the samples,” he said, laughing. “They each had four or five samples, you know? They just couldn’t decide. It was hilarious.”

Bodwell’s choice was easy because he tries mint chip wherever he goes.

“They’ve definitely taken it to another level there at MDI,” he said. 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]