Sunday, May 31

We All Scream: My Life in Ice Cream

If I'm not mistaken, tomorrow is the first of June (see how sharp I am?) Pretty soon here, we're gonna have to stop denying that it's summer (or nearly so, for those of you who are sticklers for that whole equinox, "official date" thing). And summer means one thing, my friends. Ice cream.

But before I slide down that long slippery decadent slide into cold creamy reverie, I have to stop for a moment, and give credit where credit is due.

As you know, I've been known to be occasionally critical of various facets of my current state of residence, which is really a lot more about my affection for other places than my disaffection with here. But there is one thing about Boston that just doesn't exist anywhere else. Ice cream.
No, that's not what I mean. I know there's ice cream in other places. Lots of it. Some that's really really good.

But here's the thing, especially for those of you who have never visited the deep dark blue state of Massachusetts, where for five years now same sex couples have been able to dreamily gaze at one another over ice cream with the full endorsement of the state, even though we're not really a state, we're a commonwealth, which is pretty much lost on me. People in Boston eat ice cream--lots of it--all the time. Year round. When it's snowing out, when it's blustering, when it's pouring, when it's hot, when the leaves turn, pretty much anytime...there is a line at the ice cream store. It's not really a summer thing at all, with the exception of some small regional ice cream shops that close up for the winter, which kinda blows my premise here, but I don't really care.

Yeah. Really. Anytime. And it's GOOD ice cream. It's effin' amazing, and I just want to say up front (yeah, I know, too late) that I love that.

So back to June. And ice cream. And reverie.

Gladly. Thanks for reminding me.

Last night, I went to see the new Pixar movie, Up. I liked Dug (I thought it was Doug, but I love that it's not) the best, for what that's worth. Cute movie. My only regret is that I saw it in Boston, rather than in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why? Well, for the riotous applause moment. Because one of the finest moments of the film was, well, lost on the audience here. Aside from Dug, my favorite moment--the one that made me smile for days (well, it's only been about 12 hours so far, but I think it's gonna last, you can check in with me later)--was the ice cream reference (don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything). I think I smiled so big that I laughed out loud, which probably made the people around me (we were surrounded by recent masters degree graduates from MIT, one of whom worked on the film--we cheered for his 37 frames) think I was nuts (or wonder what they missed). There they were, the main characters, sitting on the sidewalk, counting red and blue cars (cars of color?), enjoying their Fentons ice cream cones (there were actually two, count 'em two, references to Fentons). And the sign was even the real Fentons sign.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, check it out.

My favorite memory of Fentons which is most famous for its sundaes, like this banana split,

was when a whole group of us stopped at Fenton's on our way home from a three day whitewater rafting trip in the Sierras. We sat at those old fashioned tables, and ate ourselves silly. Good times.

And then there's the stuff of memory. For me, it's a place called Peggy Lee's. Was a place called Peggy Lee's. (by the way, I would pay good cash for a photograph of Peggy Lee's--I am so far convinced that one does not exist anywhere in the world). It was on Laurel Street in San Carlos, California, next to Morrissey Liquors and near the intersection of White Oak Way. This is the building, now, after multiple facelifts--Peggy Lee's closed more than 30 years ago. Peggy Lee's was where the yellow building is.

It was a nearly religious hangout for all the kids in my neighborhood when I was in elementary school--everyone was there, sitting on the old aluminum lidded ice cream chests, and buying penny candy, which was (gasp) actually a penny. The scoopers were a mother and son--his name was Vince, but I can't remember her name. I wish I could. I used to get root beer slushes, mint chip ice cream dipped in chocolate (that was my dad's favorite too) and sometimes blue bubble gum ice cream with pieces of colored gum balls in it. Not too long ago, when I reconnected with a childhood friend (hiya, Marc) via the wonders of the internet, this was one of our first topics of conversation--"I remember blue bubble gum ice cream..." Yeah. You sure do. Me too.

You know, when I started writing this, I don't think I really knew the central place that ice cream seems to play in my history. I'm finding out that I can actually write my bio via ice cream (kinda scary). Let's see.

I met my one and only high school boyfriend at the Baskin-Robbins in San Carlos, which was the only place to go for ice cream after Peggy Lee's closed. No comparison. He worked there. Whoa, what a memory that is. Ew.

There also used to be that Edy's ice cream store in Town and Country shopping center in Palo Alto--real old fashioned place. They called the mint chip "Emerald Isle".

Oh, and of course, Farrells (ohmigod, it still exists) where they had a player piano and much revelry and a Victorian style menu and they made you stand on a chair and sang to you on your birthday and put on a heck of a kids party. I always used to eat a tin roof sundae there, which was vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and spanish peanuts. This is me (dig the blue pointy glasses!) on my ninth or tenth birthday, you can see the tin roof sundae in my hand--the only thing I remember from that party is that this waiter guy scooped some whipped cream off my sundae onto his finger and he was holding it up to my mouth and telling me to lick it off, which is so disgusting and offensive that I can barely even write about it and which I am thinking may be responsible for my becoming a lesbian. :)

Oh, and the really good softies at Fosters Freeze in Menlo Park. Still there too, looks exactly the same, still really good softies, WAY better than DQ, which I think is nasty. Iconic.

Then there's college. This is my college boyfriend (why is he looking at her so adoringly?) and one of my roommates at Mountain High Ice Cream (upstairs, in the loft) in the Russell Shopping Center in Davis, CA, circa 1978 (great restaurant next door that we frequented all the time but I can't remember the name...Bev?). They had wicked good honey vanilla ice cream, which we put carob chips on. Hey, it was the 70's.

I never did quite get the fuss over Buds, which I note is still called "Buds Ice Cream of San Francisco" but which is made in Bangkok. I thought Double Rainbow was a pretty good addition to the market. And there's always gelato, though I think it's overpriced (except for that seasonal pumpkin gelato at Gelato Classico in Palo Alto--nowhere else).

Speaking of Boston (which I wasn't, but I'm trying to bring this whole thing full circle, you understand...stay with me....), when I was in high school, I had the great privilege of visiting Boston (my sister lived here), and frequenting the phenomenon that was Steve's Ice Cream in Somerville. When it was the real Steve's Ice Cream. The stuff (and the place) of legend. Yeah, it was the best thing I had ever had. Lucky for me, it morphed, relatively quietly, into Herrell's some time back now, and although Herrell's never developed the fanatical reputation for mix-ins that Steve's had, it's still my favorite ice cream around. Now there's mostly just toppings (yeah, I know Herrells will mix 'em in, but no one does that anymore--it was required at Steves) Toppings are good, they're fine. It's not the same.

The unfortunate thing is that when you describe the phenomenon of Steve's to people, they say "Oh, like Cold Stone Creamery!" No. Gawd, no. They have terrible ice cream. Gooey-ness is the name of the game, kids. What Steve Herrell calls "low air". Now you're talkin'.

I'm a purist about ice cream. I am about most foods, for that matter. I'm not one of those people who don't like things mixed together, that's not it. I'm just one who doesn't think that weirder is better. Mexican food is mexican food. Vegetables are vegetables. Ice cream is ice cream. That's why, even though people here LOVE Christina's, it's not really my thing. Emack and Bolio's? They pass muster, but only on a couple flavors. Good name though. Of the seasonal places, I like Ericksons, but mostly because of the feeling of a summer ice cream place and the fact that they sell doggie ice cream. Oh, and I didn't talk about Ben and Jerry's. Yeah, they're good. They got the idea from Steve, y'know. Cool factory tour in Vermont.

And of course, a couple of summers ago, I discovered the middle of the country (well, okay, I didn't discover it, it was there all the time. I just went there). And there I discovered frozen custard. Uh-oh. Sheridans. You can even read about it on our trip blog from way back then, which is still up. The post is here. So now I'm also a big fan of frozen custard (especially black raspberry). These days, I get it at The Chilly Cow, whose website, I just discovered, plays music like Ferrell's, which is leaving me a little bit traumatized, but I'll get over it, thanks for your concern.

I told you there was a lot of ice cream in Boston.

And then there's the whole Toscanini's vs Herrell's thing. Geez, it's like the Montagues and the Capulets. I'm not getting into that one here. If you want to discuss it, you know where to find me. But some things are best left alone. Yeah, I know the New York Times calls Toscanini's the "best ice cream in the world". Please to remember: New York is a pizza and bagel town.

Ice cream is important. I've decided this.

It's the stuff of childhood. It's one of those things that's really bad for you that people who never eat bad stuff still seem to eat. It's so good that they even make versions--lots of 'em--for people who don't eat dairy, proving the point that this just may be a food product that people can't live without. My sentiments exactly.

Ice cream has apparently even been the stuff of scandal (scroll down to the marvelous pic of Einstein & Gödel) at some upper echelon universities (Jane, Joan, you'll always get a second chance with me) which makes it all the more impressive that two of the best scoops you can get anywhere are within spitting distance of Harvard Yard.

So, what's YOUR life in ice cream? I can't be the only one. Any and all stories encouraged, especially those with accompanying embarrassing photographs from, shall we say, a more youthful time.

Oh. It's almost summer. Any day now I start making my homemade peach ice cream. Nothin' like it. Drop in anytime.


ConverseMomma said...

We have an old-fashion, independently owned ice cream place by us. They have games for the kids to play. We love taking them up in the wagon in the summer. I hope they have many memories from that place.

Audrey said...

Wow. A life in ice cream. I have so many memories:

Jahn's ice cream parlor in Queens (NYC for you luddites...). They had great sundaes and a mammoth thing you could order called "The Kitchen Sink." I always wanted to order one, with friends, but my mom would never let me. :( Here's a link to an article:

Unlike you, Robin, I have nothing but wonderful memories of Baskin-Robbins. It was a mainstay of my childhood (one of the few good ones!). Whenever cousins would come visiting, my dad would take all the kids to the local B-R and we would each get to pick out our own PINT(!)--2 or 3 flavors!!! Another B-R memory: in the late 60's, a few of my parents' friends were doing the "cool" wife-swapping thing. One of them said to my father something like "Why settle for vanilla? Wouldn't you like to have chocolate sometimes?" to which my father responded: "My wife is Baskin-Robbins." Sweet.

Then there's always Serendipity in Manhattan. OMG, need I say more? The sundaes the size of Kentucky, and the frozen hot chocolate...heaven...nirvana...bliss
...perfection! It was another place we always took visiting relatives and friends. And that I still love going to every once in a while.

And for other wonderful childhood memories, there's the Good Humor man (I remember winning a free ice cream once, and getting to reach my hand into the freezer part of the truck to pick it out. I think I was about 4 or 5, and I still thrill to that! And Polar Cub, another ice cream truck--way better than Mr. Softee--owned by Edna, if memory serves correctly. To me, spring has always sprung (thanks Ogden!) when the ice cream truck comes around and rings its bell. (Ahh..another memory--being able to ring the bell, by pulling a chain, for goodness sake, if you were really REALLY lucky!)

Thanks for this wonderfully evocative post!

Bev Sykes said...

First if all -- The Graduate. It's still there.

Secondly: check this.

My real ice cream history started with Swensons. Earl Swenson opened his first ice cream store when I in grammar school, only one block from us. Is it any wonder why I've had a weight problem all my life? Now it's a chain and I'm sure it's not nearly as good as it was back in the 50s.

Robin said...

The Graduate! That's it! Thanks!

Oh, yeah. There was a Swenson's in Menlo Park, too.

Holly said...

OMG!! talk about memory lane! My life in ice cream... First there was the Baskin Robbins in downtown Los Gatos where my Mom and I would go on Saturday Mornings after going to the Laundromat. Believe it or not I would get a double scoop with mint chip and licorice (now I say yuk, but as a kid I loved the black tongue effect). And Farrell's! I spent many a birthday there- mine as well as others. I was so proud when I could finally eat a pig's trough all by myself. And my brother got his name on the board for eating a zoo. Do Farrell's really still exist? All the ones I know of in WA, CA and OR are gone.

When I lived in Tokyo the ice cream from the grocery store was awful, but the American club had a good mint chip. Then Davis... I loved Mountain High Ice cream!! Especially honey peach. I think the restaurant was the Graduate- we used to go there for pizza after gym meets.

Speaking of Davis restaurants, what was the name of that place we used to go for special occasions that had the great salad bar and a drink called "between the sheets"?

And there was a small ice cream shop in East Davis where they made their own ice cream- my fave was "Jic Jac", sort of a mexican chocolate with chocolate and cinnamon. The early 80's brought the frozen yogurt fad- I think Davis had 5 different shops just downtown. Then came gelato in the mid 80's-I also loved the palo alto gelato shop- is it still there? I was hoping Tyler would go to Stanford so I could check it out, but he will be in LA. Know any good ice cream shops there? And Fenton's!! I'm so glad you mentioned that because I was trying to think of the name of it last summer when I was in SF- I wanted to take my kids there. Wasn't that the place that we would drive from Davis to SF just to get ice cream? Was I on the rafting trip you mentioned where we went there (out of our way) on the way home? Because that rings a bell...

So I guess I will have to visit you in Boston so I can sample your ice cream. Steve's sounds good. I like the idea of mix ins, but you're right that Coldstone's ice cream is yukky (my kids like it though). My current fave is a gourmet local grocery store brand with a flavor called "extreme moosetracks" . Tillamook's "tillamook mudslide" is good too. I think I'll go have a bowl...Who knew ice cream could inspire such passion??


Coffeegurl said...

FYI, given your interest in frozen custard, you might wish to check out Abbott's frozen custard. It's a national chain that just opened (about 9 months ago) in Needham Center. I had it once, thought it was good, but no comparison to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (home of the "concrete") in St. Louis. You can try it and give me your review :-)

Robin said...

Abbott's Frozen Custard. Check.

I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

WOW, used to ride my bike down White Oak Way to go to Peggy Lee's. What a trip I'd love to see a photo too.....Did you go to San Carlos High?

Pam said...

Mountain High in Davis! Thanks for bringing back memories. I haven't thought about that place in over 30 years! Abbie and I used to go there. I loved their mint chip. I was also a big fan of Buds ice cream -- used to go to one in Tiburon, in a mall where Cindy Stearns' mom worked at an a designer eye glasses store.

Sadly, there is no good ice cream to be found anywhere in Corvallis. I have to drive an hour to Eugene, where two of my girls go to school, and visit Prince Puckler's. It is worth the price of gas!

Anonymous said...

Many great memories at Peggy Lee's in San Carlos.
The lady who owned it was named Jay.

Anonymous said...

Great memories at Peggy Lee's in San Carlos way back when.
The owners name was Jay and her son was Vince.

Anonymous said...

I have a picture of Peggy Lees from the outside!

Anonymous said...

Well, you gotta go back in time, to the late 1960's. Dad would say let's get some Peggy Lee's. We'd pile into the station wagon, head down Bauer drive to Peggy Lee's. I seem to remember peppermint ice cream, but that may have been what my sister liked. Dad would chat to the lady for a minute, then we'd head back. She was always nice, had blonde hair, I remember.