Growing up in Lansing, Michigan may not have provided gustatory excellence where restaurants were concerned, but when it came to ice cream, that town has always served it up. Barn Hills, where every kid wanted to have a birthday party, had a candy counter that rivaled its ice cream. The showstoppers were huge jawbreakers in glass containers, so enticing they could drive a kid to lie, cheat and steal to get one. I confess that at Bobby Fata’s birthday party there, we played Pin the Tail on the Donkey for a giant jawbreaker, and I could see through my blindfold. I didn’t tell a soul. I pinned the tail right where it belonged and walked off with the prize.
The Country Parlor was another late great ice cream haunt, one of those places that had a 30-scoop sundae and gave t-shirts to anyone who ordered and finished it. Then there is the Tasty Twist, the ultimate soft-serve which is so dear to my heart that I’m going to hold off on saying more now, for a dedicated post at another time.
My favorite, though, was Melting Moments in East Lansing. The homemade ice cream was ahead of its time, among the first of them to fold Oreo cookies into the mix and make everybody a little crazy. I loved the stuff so much that I wanted to work at the shop during the summer after I graduated from high school.
Mom tried to dissuade me. Just because you like to eat the ice cream doesn’t mean you have to work there, she said. This wasn’t because she didn’t want me to have the experience, but likely because the shop was all the way across town from where we lived. As low man on the totem pole, I worked the late shifts and had to clean and close up shop, a task that had me walking out the door well after midnight. There was not going to be any walking to my car alone at that hour, so my mom would come and get me. But Dad didn’t want her driving across town alone at that hour, so my sister would come with her. You can see how things got out of hand.
At first I was thrilled with the whole situation. I mean, who wouldn’t want a free waffle cone filled with your choice of ice cream every day? But after a week of battering up the waffle irons for the cones and coming home smelling like a waffle cone myself, I started to take a pass on the free cone at the end of my shift.
Then came the harsh reality of working an ice cream counter: scooping the rock-hard flavors. The warm water bath for the scoops was far from enough to cut into the big buckets of ice cream. Vanilla was especially solid, and of course the flavor most often ordered in pints. My scrawny arm rejected my will; there was no mind-over-matter to be employed as tendonitis set in and I could barely lift the freezer display lid, let alone scoop the ice cream. When someone ordered a pint of vanilla, I told him that the Oreo was especially good that day and wouldn’t he like a taste?
When I discovered ice cream scoops with a fluid in them that warms their metal exterior and cuts through cold ice cream like butter, it was a game-changer. I bought two for myself and one for everyone in the family and wanted to supply every ice cream shop I went into with the things. I used to get them at Crate & Barrel, but now I get the Zeroll scoop from Williams-Sonoma.
The only downside to the scoop is that it makes access to a bowl of ice cream that much faster and easier, which can be in direct conflict with the healthy voice on your shoulder, reminding you that you just had some yesterday…