Sure, artisanal ice cream is all the rage, and I would never pass up a scoop of Brown Butter Makers Mark Bourbon Ice Cream. But, in the end, my heart belongs to Carvel. Vanilla. In a coronet sugar cone. It’s hopelessly suburban, and about as “vanilla” as you can possibly get, but something about soft swirl ice cream just makes me swoon.
Recently, we were in America’s heartland for a family wedding, and my brother stopped at a competing ice cream franchise for a cone. The guy at the counter said to him, “You have Carvelli back east, don’t you?”
Um, that would be CARVEL, please – home of vanilla, chocolate and pistachio cones, Strawberry Bonnets, Flying Saucers and the Fudgie the Whale ice cream cake. I don’t think we ever tasted Fudgie the Whale, (for Father’s Day and a Whale of a Dad) but the name was legendary.
The roadside Carvel store was the local ice cream parlor of my youth. In that Mad Men era of booming commercialized food products, it was actually the McDonalds of ice cream. Carvel stores dotted Long Island. While the name lives on in commercial ice cream products available in grocery stores, there are actually very few stand-alone stores still around. Sadly, our original family Carvel on Broadway eventually went out of business and the building became a barber shop. I still drive by and find myself craving a cone.
A trip to Carvel was a special family treat. My little brother, who’s no longer little, still believes that Memorial Day marks the start of Carvel season. After dinner, we’d pile in the station wagon and head for the store. We’d order our cones at the counter and sometimes sit in the car, or stand in the parking lot and lick them silly. If you really wanted to splurge, you’d get a cone with sprinkles (chocolate or multi-colored) but somehow those sprinkles messed up the perfect spin of swirls that graduated to that jaunty spit curl of ice cream at the top of the peak.
A Carvel vanilla cone was that perfect balance of slick, chilly refreshment and luxurious creamy goodness, with just a touch of a pleasing lactose coma when the experience was done.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that when I bought my own home, there happened to be a Carvel store located less than a mile away. This holiday weekend, I’ll be celebrating with a cold one!
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