Monday, June 3, 2013

We All Scream for Ice Cream

I'm old enough to remember ice cream parlors such as Swensen's in Tenleytown (across the street from Roy Rogers: Can you imagine?) These glacial palaces were destination stops for the whole family to come in, sit down for a while and order ice cream sundaes, root beer floats and other sweet treats. Well, those days are sadly gone... Frozen yogurt (yuck) took over the market with its faux flavors and promises of fat free indulgence. Thankfully, some places still exist where you can revel in the real thing. Here's a look at some of the best (and worst) places to please your sweet tooth.

Baskin-Robins: To be honest, I thought this once-popular chain had gone out of business. There's still one in the Woodley Park neighborhood, and the service is a lot better than it used to be. $2.99 gets you a single scoop in a cup: I chose Pistachio Almond, which turns out to be only 170 calories (the wonder of nonfat milk.) Pistachio is one of those flavors that gets overlooked when it comes to ice cream, but I love it. Unfortunately, I found the added crunch of the almonds more annoying than anything else. Crunch without flavor is overrated. So too, is Baskin-Robins. At least I know they're still open.

Grade: C+

Night craving! Thank goodness for iPhone flash

Ben & Jerry's: You can't have an ice cream review without the most famous flavor of all, Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, named after the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. It's quite tasty (cherry ice cream with fudge flakes & cherries) and a nice value at just $4.95 + tax for two heaping scoops. The flakes are crunchy, and the cherries authentic. Tied with Max's for best in DC, but you get a lot value for your buck here.

Grade: B

Cherry Garcia

Burger King: BK's Vanilla Soft Serve is generously sized, rich & creamy and almost free. What's not to like? Available in a cone or cup. Currently on sale for $.50 (normally $1.49.)

Grade: B

BK's Vanilla Soft Serve

Häagen-Dazs: Bring your credit card, as a regular cup runs you $6.33 (including tax) at the Union Station food court. I initially asked for a single scoop in a cup, but the cashier shamed me into buying the next size up from a "kiddie portion." Whether it's one, two or three scoops... I could buy half a gallon of it at any grocers for a fiver. They had less than two dozen choices; and I opted for Mint Chip, which was... ordinary. The aforementioned cashier was all smiles as she returned my change: I wish I could say the same.

Grade: C-

Mint Chip at Häagen-Dazs

Larry's Ice Cream: Camped in a basement space just north of Dupont Circle, Larry's is widely regarded as one of the top scoops in DC. It ought to be, when you consider a two-scoop cup (called a Teenager) sets you back $6 after tax. Larry (or whoever the guy is, behind the counter) is quite the character, greeting a female customer as "Good lookin'" and her husband/boyfriend as "buddy." He was very nice to me (sans nickname... just as well, since I don't like them) and assembled the most unusual combo to date, "Coconut & Diced Dates" A.K.A. the Cleopatra. My I.C. was pretty groovy... with an authentic taste of coconut & cream; but be warned, you have to dig around to find any dates. Some of the best ice cream in the area... True, but a bit too pricey for my taste.

Grade: B-

Coconut & Diced Dates at Larry's Ice Cream

Max's Best Ice Cream: Max has been delighting ice cream lovers in Glover Park for 20 years, and actually deserves to use the word Best. Home to my favorite flavor, Rum Raisin, Max's Best is pricey ($3.80 after tax for a single scoop) but worth it. You can really taste the rum flavor, and the raisins add a welcome crunch. Cash only, and be sure to check out the photo of Max and Vice President Joe Biden by the register.

Grade: B

Max's Rum Raisin ice cream

McDonald's: Only a dollar, McDs' Vanilla Cone reminds me of the soft serve cones my Mom used to buy me at G.C. Murphy's (only smaller.) Lately, they've switched to reduced fat; but they still taste pretty darn good. Great value.

Grade: B

Vanilla Cone at McD's

Safeway: Am I the only one who thinks $3-5 bucks is too much for a scoop of ice cream? Just in case you're on a budget, why not try Safeway Select's Mint Chocolate Chip Light Ice Cream? With 1/2 the fat and as little as a tenth of the price, you can have this 6 oz. cup for 56 cents on sale. P.S. It tastes just as good as its pricier competition.

Grade: B

Safeway Select Mint Chocolate Chip

Thomas Sweet: