Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Corner Ice Cream Parlor

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for those neighborhood institutions and establishments that, one-by-one, seem to be slipping away. In most communities the family-owned, corner ice cream parlor is an anachronism, having long been replaced by drive-through or national chain restaurants.

The idea of an old fashioned ice cream parlor conjures up images of Archie Comics and “Happy Days.” Believe it or not, one actually still exists not far from my home. OK, maybe it’s not my corner, but Krisch’s Ice Cream is located on a corner in the slightly drowsy town of Massapequa, Long Island. The family-owned business has been operating on Long Island for 87 years, originally in Queen’s, before eventually migrating to Massapequa. They are famous for their homemade ice cream.

It’s been years since I’ve visited Krisch’s, so I locate their menu online which promises retro 50s style burgers, fries and many luscious flavors of ice cream. If that’s not tempting enough, there’s also meatloaf, milk shakes and cream pie. Meatloaf, ice cream and pie??? That’s the food of the gods in suburbia. It seems like a visit is in order.

I recruit Cousin Steve to join me. Cousin Steve is an edgy graphic illustrator and comic book artist who knows far more about four-color printing than four-star restaurants. I can confirm that he has an identical twin brother named Frank, which can cause some wacky mix-ups at family gatherings. What better person to take to a restaurant that may only really exist in the funny papers?

There is a full moon, and it’s a frigid night, a dubious time to sample homemade ice cream, but we’ve come too far to turn back. As we approach Krisch’s, I take note of the fact that there is outdoor seating available. “Let’s try that … next summer,” Cousin Steve shivers.

Inside, I see that Krisch’s has had a bit of a makeover since my last visit, in basic primary colors of red, turquoise and black, but the booths and swivel stools at the counter remain a staple. Most of the wait staff is about a third of my age. We are seated in a back corner in the “cheap seats” as there is a line for the cushier booths in the center of the restaurant. There’s a glass case filled with homemade chocolates, and some kind of Valentine’s Day decorative theme going on with lots of hearts, flowers and stuffed bears. I scan the main dining room for any sign of Betty and Veronica. “Are you hungry for Wonder Bread, yet?” Cousin Steve asks.

Cousin Steve checks out the authenticity of our booth, and holds up an old-fashioned glass sugar dispenser that sits with a bottle of Heinz on the gray Formica tabletop. “No Splenda here.”

The theme from “Hawaii Five-O” is playing in the background and we are handed oversized laminated menus to peruse the endless selection of entrees. Cousin Steve comments that the logo has recently been updated to the 1980s. I’m torn between the Corn Dog Platter and the Pizza Burger, but Cousin Steve seems fascinated by two karmic options: The Twin Burger or the Mt. Steven Burger Deluxe.

“Did you see that there’s also Mt. Steven Chicken on the menu?” I ask.

“What’d you call me?” retorts Cousin Steve. He’s a little put off by the fact that “Mt. Steven” is not spelled “Stephen” but when he learns that the deluxe burger entree comes with two burgers, he’s convinced. “Two burgers!” he cheers. “Biology is destiny.” I settle on the less ambitious Pizza Burger.

As an appetizer, we split an order of potato pancakes and applesauce, and I order Krisch’s famous milk shake. At the risk of seeming too Vanilla, I order … well, Vanilla. The drink arrives in a tall silver “frappe can.” The thick, chilled milkshake crawls up the straw and tastes sweet and silky-smooth.

On the wall is lots of Massapequa and malt shop memorabilia. There’s a poster of “Monkey Mountain,” a peculiar roadside tourist attraction that was part of the Massapequa Zoo in 1954, and there are signed photographs of Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin – Massapequa’s first sons of comedy and theater – hanging just over the cash register.

Our entrées are delivered and Cousin Steve is aghast at the sheer volume of his burger. “It’s got its own zip code. Even my mouth’s not that big!”

The Mt. Steven Burger is a double stack of beef sirloin, bacon and cheese (“real cheese, not that orange goo,” according to my cousin) that sits about eight-inches high once you’ve figured out how to cap it with the pile of shredded lettuce, pickle and Kaiser bun that sits to one side. Cousin Steve slaps the two parts together like cymbals, and clutches it tightly. “With the Mt. Steven Burger, you have to commit,” he explains. “Once you’ve got the two parts together, you can’t put it down.”

I try the same technique with my Pizza Burger, and a river of marinara sauce floods out of the other end of the bun. On the other side of the table, Cousin Steve is trying to conquer Mt. Steven. “It’s smirking at me,” he proclaims. “It’s daring me to finish it.” Finally, the man triumphs over the mountain, and the Mt. Steven Burger is no more.

But, Cousin Steve is in search of another conquest. He orders a Mini-Waffle Sundae with Cake Batter Ice Cream, real whipped cream and hot fudge, topped with a maraschino cherry. I regress back to childhood and order a huge scoop of Fluffer Nutter Ice Cream. The Cake Batter Ice Cream tastes like something Betty Crocker just popped out of the oven, “but colder,” as Cousin Steve points out, “despite the hot fudge.” The Fluffer Nutter Ice Cream is a super-soft and creamy blend of Marshmallow Fluff and Peanut Butter, although after several spoonfuls, I start to crave Welch’s Grape Jelly.

Cousin Steve’s dessert platter is close to squeaky clean. “There may be some volcanic activity in Mt. Steven Burger tonight,” he groans. As he is consuming the last bit of Cake Batter Ice Cream, an entire Pee-Wee Basketball Team enters for some post-game refreshments.

“Kids in shorts, hopped up on sugar, and a full moon?” asks Cousin Steve in horror.

We decide it is prudent to pay the bill and make a quick exit.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Jann said...

I hope someone took photos of you guys eating your gigantic burgers?The post was great fun to read-cheers!

Anonymous said...

What a treasure! We had one of these near us growing up too, and I miss it so much.

Anonymous said...

This post is so funny. I get nostalgic about old ice cream parlors since there was one across the street where I grew up from. It' great you guys got out of there when the kids came in...what with the full moon and all.;)

wheresmymind said...

oh man...I love old skool ice cream places!

Diana Leto said...

What a delectable read! Your description of Krisch's definitely reminds me of Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe from Archie Comics! You guys really left a nostalgic smile on my face. Oh.. and I am also going to try that Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese! Not only because it looks delicious but also your "Bewitch"ing side notes!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Pamcake Girl - Thanks for visiting! These old soda shoppes need to be preserved, don't you think? Hope the Double Good Macaroni was magical!