Terminal Treats – Green Tea Soft-Serve @ Narita Airport

To celebrate the New Year, I joined K and his family on a trip to Japan! More specifically, to the island of Hokkaido, a quick flight north from Tokyo. K, his parents, and brother are all avid (and talented) skiers, and they’ve talked for years about skiing in Japan together. Hokkaido has several world-renowned ski areas and is loved for its “powder.” While my future sister-in-law and I don’t really ski, we’re big fans of snow and sushi so couldn’t miss out. Our group of six spent a couple days in both  Kiroro and Rusutsu, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in both places. Both ski areas were covered in several feet of snow, although locals told us that there is usually even more snow.

While I visited Tokyo several years ago, I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Hokkaido. I soon fell in love with the less populated countryside, with its rolling hills and Japanese pine trees. The hospitality we encountered at the Sheraton Kiroro and Sheraton Rusutsu was great, and I’d highly recommend either resort. It’s hard to pick my favorite memories of the trip, as there were so many special highlights: “skiing” two mornings with my mother-in-law (who is an amazing teacher, and calmed this little scaredy cat down on the slopes), sharing an epic sushi lunch with the family, going snow-shoeing with the girls, and even trying my hand at dog sledding! I went to bed every night feeling so darn lucky to be in Japan.

We finished our vacation with a quick 24-hours in Tokyo. We stayed at the new Andaz hotel, which was easily one of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. (Thanks, K, for cashing in so many of your hotel points!) We also squeezed in a couple great meals and plenty of walking. But, sadly, we eventually had to get back to the “real world.” We packed up our bags, hopped on a bus, and headed to the airport.

Narita International Airport, Tokyo’s major airport, is large, clean, and busy. Terminal 1, which United Airlines uses, is modern and easy to navigate. We were at our gate with plenty of time to spare. I whined about being hungry, and K suggested that I find some ice cream! I didn’t expect to find anything exciting, but a quick search on Narita’s website pointed me to a café promising desserts and ice cream: FaSoLa Café. There was a location in Terminal 1, and another in Terminal 2. We left our bags with my parents-in-law and headed off in search of the café.

After a 10-minute walk, we finally found FaSoLa Café in the south wing of the terminal. It was a cute little walk-up counter with plenty of coffee, tea, juice, and snack options. I quickly spotted the ice cream offerings: cones of Vanilla soft serve or Green Tea soft serve.

The decision was easy: Green Tea! This generously-sized cone only set me back ¥400, or about $3.50.

The verdict? During a long day of travel, this was such a refreshing treat! The Green Tea flavor was strong but not at all bitter or too strong — perfect for a tea novice like me. The soft serve was thick and creamy, but it could have been served a bit colder since it melted really quickly. The waffle cone  was light, crunchy, and sweet. It all came together for a wonderful airport ice-cream experience.  If you find yourself (and your sweet tooth) at Narita Airport, I’d definitely recommend trying this local treat.

The Stats:
FaSoLa Café @ Narita International Airport (NRT)
2 locations  – Terminals 1 & 2
1-1 Furugome, Narita, Chiba Prefecture 282-0004, Japan
http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/shops/detail/t1sw03_t00019

 

My First Yak Ice Cream (Beijing, Part 3)

On our last full day in Beijing, K and I did some aimless exploring around the city. Some of my favorite travel memories have occurred on such outings. And in Asia, every street feels like an entirely-new world to me. The sights, smells, and tastes are just so foreign compared to my everyday life… unlike traveling to Australia or Europe, where I think the languages, cultures, and foods seem more familiar.

Our day’s adventures brought us to the bustling street of Nanluoguxian. The same friend who recommended I try the ice cream at the Wu Yu Tai Tea Shop also told me about historic Nanluoguxian. K and I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived, but I had a lot of fun exploring around here. It’s a pedestrian-only street, chock-full of food and jewelry stands.

It wasn’t long before K spotted something totally new: yak soft serve. We noticed a giant photo of a soft-serve ice cream cone at a food stand named “A Bite of Tibetan Flavor.” I wouldn’t have known it was yak ice cream, since nothing besides the stand’s name was written in English. But K has been to Tibet, so he knew that the ice cream would be made out of yak milk. Yaks are a source of life to the Tibetan people, who herd the animals for their milk, meat, hide, and even their poo! Since it’s treeless in the high Himalayans, Tibetans use dried yak poo to start fires. K tried yak milk, butter and cheese while in Tibet, and I knew that he didn’t like any of it. But we still couldn’t pass by the opportunity to try yak soft serve. When in Rome China, right?


The verdict? Yak is yucky! There are very few ice creams out there that I find inedible, but this was one of them. When the ice cream first hit my tongue, it tasted mild and creamy. But my taste buds were quickly overcome with that famous rancid-tangy flavor that is characteristic of yak milk. The best way I can think to describe it is sour cream or plain yogurt gone bad. As someone who can’t even handle pungent cow cheese, yak ice cream will never be my thing. While K and I were sad to admit defeat, neither one of us could handle more than a couple small licks of this cone. Still, it was fun to try something totally new to me. And of course, I think everyone should try yak ice cream and make up their own mind about it 🙂

The Stats:
A Bite of Tibetan Flavor
Nanluoguxian, or Nanluoguo Xiang
Dongcheng District, Beijing 100009, China

Tea Time for Ice-Cream Lovers (Beijing, Part I)

It’s been way too long, my friends. I apologize for the long absence; work and wedding planning have gotten the best of me. But while blog writing took a back seat, ice-cream eating did not. And I have several new reviews to share with y’all!

Over Labor Day weekend, K and I flew to China for a mini-vacation. A major reason for our trip was that K needed to practice his Mandarin, which he feared was getting rusty. In his previous job, K would travel to China multiple times a year, making it easy to keep up on his language skills. But his new job doesn’t require much travel to Asia, so he now has to create reasons to go to China.

We started our trip in Shanghai, a beautiful city in eastern China. Shanghai is one of the busiest port cities in the world, so it has a very global feel. The city is very cosmopolitan yet seems cleaner than Beijing. The big drawback of Shanghai? It’s very difficult to find ice-cream shoppes in the city! Sure, McDonald’s and other fast-food chains serve ice cream. But I had my eyes peeled for some mom-and-pop places but didn’t find any. On our last evening in Shanghai, K searched for ice cream on his phone. We hopped into a cab and gave the driver the address of a gelato store, but we arrived just minutes after they closed for the night. I was disappointed, but I knew that we’d have better luck in Beijing.

The last time K and I were in Beijing, we hung out with my childhood friend who was living and working in the city. While my friend has since moved back to the States, she did have some ice-cream recommendations for me. The one that sounded most intriguing was the Wu Yu Tai Tea Shop, which she said was a popular “local” teashop that happened to serve tea-flavored ice cream.

With the teashop’s address in-hand, K and I took the subway to the Beixinqiao stop in northeastern Beijing. The traffic is so bad in this city that taking the subway usually saves you a lot of time! It was oppressively hot outside, but I soldiered on. There was good ice cream to be had!

The first Wu Yu Tai teashop was established in Beijing in 1887, connecting city dwellers with a

variety of teas from the countryside. And 120 years later, Wu Yu Tai now has many different locations in and around Beijing. We had a pretty easy time finding our location. After all, it’s not every day that you see a giant green ice cream cone on the sidewalk!

The Wu Yu Tai teashop was a quiet oasis in a bustling part of Beijing, filled with beautiful displays of tea leaves, teapots, and teacups. One of the two female employees rushed to our side as soon as we walked through the door. K explained in Mandarin that we were here for ice cream. She said they had two different flavors: Green Tea (or “Macha”) and Jasmine. Without even consulting me, K ordered one cone of each flavor. The woman disappeared into a small alcove and resurfaced moments later, carrying two cones. The serving size was incredibly small… probably less ice cream than in an American kiddie cone. But our small cones came with an equally-small price: the bill for two cones was ¥8, which is equivalent to less than $2.

Left: Green Tea / Right: Jasmine
(Not my best photography; it was hot and I was rushing to eat!)

The verdict? I have no idea how Wu Yu Tai does it, but their ice cream tastes exactly like a strong cup of tea with milk. These ice-cream favors weren’t sweet, but they had deep floral notes and that distinct nearly-bitter tea aftertaste. While the Green Tea ice cream had the best visual appeal, it was the beige-colored Jasmine that had K and me asking for more… literally! Neither of us were fully satisfied with the small servings, so K doled out a few more RMBs for another Jasmine cone to share. After all, ice cream offers the sweetest relief in Beijing’s oppressive summer heat. I definitely recommend that any visitor in Beijing try to find a Wu Yu Tai location for this one-of-a-kind ice-cream experience.

The Stats:
Wu Yu Tai Tea Shop
43 Yonghegong Dajie (Multiple other locations)
Beijing, China
http://en.wuyutai.com/default.php

A Girls’ Night In with 16 Handles

A couple weekends ago, I took a bus from DC to New York City to spend a night with Kris, one of my college roommates and dearest friends. Kris has a glamorous (but demanding) career in the PR/fashion world. And while she may attend high-profile dinners and galas, Kris still loves a low-key girls’ night as much as I do. Given our busy schedules this summer summer, we were both looking forward to a night of girl talk, cocktails, and ice cream.

We dined al fresco at an adorable Mexican restaurant in Kris’ neighborhood, enjoying guacamole and fancy versions of margaritas and sangria. Unlike most Manhattan restaurants, the staff here didn’t make us feel rushed, and we lingered over our drinks and food for a couple hours. We eventually decided to head back to Kris’ apartment to watch a movie. Kris knew that I was looking to sample NYC ice cream, so she mentioned that we’d pass her favorite frozen yogurt spot – 16 Handles – on our walk back.

The first 16 Handles store opened in NYC back in 2008. And in just five years, it’s become the most popular self-serve frozen yogurt chain in the city – with stores beginning to pop up in other East Coast cities. Obviously, I wanted to know what all the excitement was about!

It wasn’t difficult to spot 16 Handles; bright neon sign, colorful storefront, and lots of people. The line to the soft-serve machines was vey long, but it moved surprisingly quickly. Plus, the wait time was very enjoyable… thanks to the employee walking down the line offering to grab samples for everyone. I asked to sample the Peanut Butter, which was top-notch. Rich and creamy, it tasted like real peanut butter – no hint of that strange artificial flavor sometimes found in pb ice creams.

Before long, Kris and I were grabbing our empty cups and contemplating the sixteen different flavors available that night. Yes, there are sixteen handles to pull at 16 Handles. You can choose to fill your cup with one flavor (boring!) or all sixteen. Consistent with the modern vibe of the store, the flavor names are posted on bright LED screens. As a gluten-free girl, I really appreciated how 16 Handles identifies its gluten-free flavors with little icons on these screens.

16 Handles seems to offer a flavor for everyone – including people looking for low-fat or no-sugar-added frozen yogurt. For the vegans and lactose intolerant, 16 Handles offers non-dairy sorbet flavors (including Watermelon and Berry Melody). I usually refrain from mixing fruity sorbets with regular dairy flavors after a particularly unpleasant combination (watermelon mocha, anyone?). In the end, I pulled three handles: the Chocolate Love Affair, Salted Caramel, and New York Cheesecake (in honor of NYC). The toppings bar was the best I’ve seen – with plenty of healthy fruit, colorful sprinkles, kid-approved cereal, and one-of-a-kind specialties (including the seasonal “bananas foster”, which was essentially banana slices covered in brown-sugar syrup). I kept it simple and topped my frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles, mini chocolate and yogurt chips, and a few toffee chunks.

Because we were still full from dinner, Kris and I asked to take our creations “to go.” The efficient staff quickly weighed our cups before packaging them up. Knowing how expensive everything is in New York City, I was surprised that each of our servings cost less than five dollars! We paid and continued on to Kris’ apartment, where we popped our 16 Handles bag into the freezer. We then relaxed on Kris’ couch, watching the first Sex and the City movie (i.e. the best one) until we had an appetite for dessert!

The verdict? Go ahead, you can add my name to the list of 16 Handles fans. Not only was the self-serve experience fun, but this frozen yogurt was top-notch. Despite an hour in the freezer, my frozen yogurt was smooth and creamy  – more like great soft-serve ice cream than low-fat frozen yogurt. The New York Cheesecake had that distinct cheesecake flavor, but it was mild enough to pair well with almost any other flavor. I really liked the Chocolate Love Affair, as it tasted more like dark chocolate than milk. But my absolute favorite flavor was Salted Caramel. Unlike some versions I’ve tried, 16 Handles’ flavor has that deep, buttery caramel taste without being, well, salty. After all, the theory behind salted caramel is that a pinch of salt enhances the taste of caramel – not that salt should be a separate flavor! I was impressed that such a complex flavor could be achieved in frozen yogurt. Sure, 16 Handles may be trendy – but I think this is one trend that’s here to stay.

The Stats:
16 Handles
Various locations in NYC and beyond
http://16handles.com

The Apple House Ice Cream Stand

Summers in the District of Columbia are h-o-t and humid. When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, I’m itching for ways to stay in the AC or – better yet – leave the city. Lucky for me, K and our friends Becca and Bryan are always up for an adventure. So this Saturday, we all drove an hour into Virginia to go tubing on the Shenandoah River. We’d all gone tubing before, but we were seriously impressed with the service provided by the Downriver Canoe Company. For $22, you get to park your car, rent an inner tube, catch a ride down to the river, enjoy a lazy 3-hour tubing trip, and then hop into a waiting bus that returns you to your car. I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to go tubing with minimal hassle.

We had just left the tubing place and were on our way back to DC when we spotted this…

… a sign for the Apple House‘s ice cream stand! The Apple House is a restaurant serving up fish, burgers, and BBQ, but they open a roadside ice cream stand during the summer months. This big sign makes the place hard-to-miss, and a cold, creamy snack sounded like heaven to us.

The Apple House’s Ice Cream Stand is nothing fancy, but the crowded parking lot and picnic tables were a good sign. The Apple House only offers soft-serve ice cream, with Vanilla and Chocolate flavors available everyday. This afternoon, the rotating “flavors of the week” were Peanut Butter and Coffee. You can get your soft-serve “straight-up” in a cup or cone or made into a sundae, “candy blast” (mix-ins blended in), or a shake. While the soft-serve flavors aren’t exactly interesting, the extensive menu of toppings and mix-ins means that you can get creative with your order. The “Rice Krispies Shake” caught my eye, but K and I were sharing – and he had his eye on the marshmallow topping listed on the menu. In the end, we opted for a “small” cup of classic Vanilla soft-serve with marshmallow topping and rainbow sprinkles. The small-cup of ice cream itself was $2.39, but our two add-ons brought the bill to over $4.
K and my cup, and Bryan modeling his cone

The verdict? Vanilla soft-serve with sprinkles screams “Summer!” to me. I’m always transported back to early-evening outings with my family, licking dripping cones standing next to our car or on an old, sticky picnic table. The Apple House’s Ice Cream Stand lived up to the standard of good-ol’ vanilla soft-serve, but it didn’t surpass it. The marshmallow topping was sugary-sweet like it should be, but was a bit to runny for K’s taste (he prefers the thick, goopy kind). Still, I was really disappointed with the measly spoonful of rainbow sprinkles – especially because I paid almost a dollar extra for them! In New England, most mom-and-pop ice cream stands will drown your cup or cone in sprinkles for free. That being said, the Apple House’s soft-serve was very enjoyable and made the oppressive heat a little easier to bear.

The Stats:
Apple House Ice Cream Stand
4675 John Marshall Highway
Linden, VA 22642
http://www.theapplehouse.net

Taste of the Southwest in Newport, RI

I rarely go anywhere when I go “home.” That’s to say, I usually travel to Massachusetts for the sole purpose of spending time with my family. This usually means sticking close to our childhood home, where my parents still live and which serves as a central meeting place for me and my sisters. I’ll head into Boston or Worcester to visit friends, but I make these excursions brief. I’m always trying to maximize my “family time” before I inevitably have to leave. In fact, this constant traveler transforms into quite the homebody when she sets foot in Massachusetts. So there remains many places in New England that I’ve never seen: Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island, and Block Island (just to mention a few). But when I was home for Christmas, I crossed Newport, Rhode Island off my bucket list. My father wanted to take the whole family on an outing as an early Christmas present, and I was thrilled by his choice to visit to the Newport mansions.

The drive from our house to Newport, Rhode Island takes just 90 minutes (excluding the mandatory Starbucks pit stop, of course). Upon entering the picturesque coastal town, my dad headed straight towards the most famous Newport mansion of all: The Breakers. This Vanderbilt family summer home sits right alongside the shore, where powerful Atlantic waves “break” into jagged cliffs (hence its name). In 1948, the Vanderbilt family donated The Breakers to be converted into a museum. Today, The Breakers is the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island – with over 300,000 visitors touring the premises each year. And come December, The Breakers is decorated elaborately for Christmas – with dozens of trees, garlands and wreaths adding even more splendor to the mansion. Given my family’s obsession with all things Christmas, my dad rightly assumed we’d appreciate The Breakers even more during the holidays. I wish I could’ve taken some photos to share, but photography is a “no-no” at The Breakers.

When we’d finished our individual audio headset tours, my dad announced that it was time for lunch. As part of his Christmas present, my dad made lunch reservations at an undisclosed restaurant. The minivan GPS had us heading towards Thames Street, Newport’s main tourist strip. Driving down Thames Street, with its colorful t-shirt displays, fudge shoppes, and picnic table-lined sidewalks, brought me back to summers in Maine and Cape Cod. I awoke from my daydreaming when my dad pulled up to Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant, which is arguably the most popular dining spot in all of Newport.

For over 30 years, Brick Alley Pub has been inviting tourists and locals in with its cheerful white-and-yellow awnings and comforting pub food. Although we had a 12:30pm reservation, we couldn’t be seated immediately since the restaurant was packed (even on a cold Saturday afternoon in December!). The bar area was filled to capacity, so we stood next to the salad bar. Little did we know – but we’d end up standing there for over 30 minutes! In my opinion, there are no excuses for such a wait when you have a reservation. The only silver lining was that we had plenty of time to peruse the extensive menu and read the many reviews and awards Brick Alley has mounted on the wall. I saw numerous plaques congratulating Brick Alley Pub for having the “Best Nachos” in Rhode Island. Mmm… Nachos are my favorite greasy pub food. And since we were all famished by the time we were seated, it didn’t take too much convincing to get my family on board with ordering a platter. Our waitress was very attentive, but she somehow forgot to put our nacho order into the computer system. We realized her mistake when the entrees arrived at our tables before any nachos did! The waitress apologized and promised that dessert would be “on the house.” I was disappointed about missing out on these award-winning nachos, but really – could any nachos be better than dessert?

After the wait and nacho fiasco, I was relieved when our meals didn’t disappoint. My dad and Ava ordered bowls of the Lobster Bisque, which was rich and hot enough for my Dad, who detests nothing more than lukewarm soup. Carolyn and I each ordered a Lobstacado Sandwich – cold lobster salad, avocado, and cheese served on on a toasted English muffin (or on Boston Bibb lettuce for this gluten-free girl). My mom seemed happy enough with her Harvest Salad, but I think she was secretly envious of our lobster lunches. While our lunches were satisfying, we all saved room for our free desserts. Compared to their food and drink menus, Brick Alley Pub’s dessert choices were quite limited. But one dessert stood out among the six options: the Southwestern Sundae. My dad read the description out loud, and I was sold as soon as I heard “soft serve.” My dad and I are BIG fans of soft-serve ice cream, so we decided to split the sundae. It’s rare for a normal full-service restaurant to have a soft-serve machine, so we weren’t about to miss this opportunity.

I’m not what I was expecting the sundae to look like, but I was floored when this arrived at our table:

Check out my dad raring to go with that spoon…

The verdict? The first thing we noticed about the Southwest Sundae was its size. This is a MASSIVE sundae; perhaps the biggest I’ve seen without a menu disclaimer that it’s “made for two” or more. The sundae bowl is actually a fried flour tortilla shell dusted with cinnamon sugar. I tried to stay away from the shell, but the rest of my family loved its churro-like flavor. Then comes the best part: copious amounts of vanilla soft serve drizzled with honey. Brick Alley Pub’s soft serve reminded me of the classic McDonald’s version – sweet, creamy and very thick. I was worried that the fried tortilla shell would be warm and melt the ice cream before we could finish, but Brick Alley smartly waits for the shell to cool before filling it. The honey drizzle was a new topping for me – but it worked. Its warm, earthy flavor complemented the cinnamon well. The sundae is garnished with heavy dollops of whipped cream, almond slivers, and a sprig of mint. The whipped cream wasn’t anything to write home about, but the sundae would’ve seemed naked without it. The almond slivers added a nice crunch and the mint sprig made the dessert look a little healthier. While the experience was marred by the long wait, Brick Alley Pub redeemed itself with this sundae. And kudos for developing the first sundae ever that my dad and I couldn’t conquer together. Here we were, thinking we were “taking it easy” on dessert by splitting a sundae. Yeah right. Even half of the Southwest Sundae is bigger than the average-sized dessert. Luckily, this family helps each other out. So my sisters and mom stepped up to the plate (literally and figuratively) and helped to polish off the sundae. After all, how often is so much ice cream “on the house”?!?

The Stats:
Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant
140 Thames Street
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-6334
www.brickalley.com

Puppy Love at The Ice Cream Shack

I’m sorry to disappoint, but this post isn’t about real puppies.

To make it up to you, here is a picture of a real puppy:


Just try to resist this face!
This is a post about “puppy chow” (also known as “muddy buddies”). This classic treat, often found at holiday parties, is made by mixing Chex cereal with melted chocolate and peanut butter and then coated it all in powdered sugar. I find it terribly addicting. Stand me next to a bowl of it, and five minutes later you’ll find an empty bowl and my face covered in powdered sugar. Come to think of it, now I know why it’s called “puppy chow”…  

This year’s “puppy chow” season began early for me. In Peoria, Illinois, of all places. The boyfriend and I spent Labor Day weekend visiting his grandma, who lives in Peoria. (Coincidentally, the boyfriend’s parents were also in town for their high school reunion. They were high school sweethearts!) While our trip began and ended in the city of Peoria, the bulk of our time was spent at his grandma’s cabin on an old strip-mined lake in central Illinois. This place is rustic. No toilets, no running water, no phones or internet. The boyfriend loves it. My hair does not.

After two days of fishing, swimming, slamming fingers in doors (just me), and dodging rain showers (courtesy of Hurricane Issac), we returned to Peoria for a shower and comfy bed before our morning flight back to DC. During a family dinner, the boyfriend’s sweets-loving aunt tipped me off to a local ice cream haunt called The Ice Cream Shack. I had to see it for myself. When in Peoria, do as the Peorians do.

We arrived at The Ice Cream Shack after dark, but the place was buzzing with activity. The Shack is more well-known for its wide selection of toppings than their ice cream itself. Not unlike Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot, the Shack uses vanilla and/or chocolate soft serve in their cones, “wizards,” shakes and sundaes. They also serves chili dogs and fries – perfect for a quick pre-dessert meal. The locals rave about the 25 different types of “wizards” (soft serve ice cream blended with toppings). Their best seller is the “Turtle Wizard,” a blend of caramel, hot fudge, pecans, and vanilla ice cream. But I was craving something even more unique. Perusing the menu, the first thing that caught my eye was the “Freight Train Wizard.” But while the lady behind the counter listed the ingredients in the “Freight Train” (nine different candies such as Kit Kats, Snickers and M&Ms), my eyes landed on: “Puppy Chow.” After confirming that “Puppy Chow” meant what I thought it did, I eagerly ordered a small serving. The Ice Cream Shack is cash-only, but their prices are so low (less than $3 for a small) that it wasn’t a problem.
“Puppy Chow” reincarnated

The verdict? Pretty doggone good! The Ice Cream Shack’s “Puppy Chow Wizard” is a cool and refreshing twist on my favorite holiday party mix. The Shack’s vanilla soft serve is mixed with peanut butter, Chex cereal, and mini chocolate chips. The ice cream itself is creamy and thick (just the way I like it) with an intense peanut butter flavor. The cool creaminess is contrasted by the crisp crunch of Chex cereal, which has been finely crushed by the Shack’s mixer. My one complaint is a lack of the deep chocolate flavor that’s characteristic of the holiday treat. The mini chocolate chips are either too small or too frozen to add much flavor to the Wizard. I would suggest substituting them with thin flakes of milk chocolate. However, the Shack is very generous with toppings – making the first bite as good (i.e. topping-filled) as the last. So the next time you’re in Peoria, ring in the “Puppy Chow” season early at The Ice Cream Shack.

The Stats:
The Ice Cream Shack
2313 NE Adams Street
Peoria, IL 61603
(309) 686-2828
(cash-only)

The Other Depot… Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot

For me, the word “depot” conjures memories of Home Depot trips with my dad. While tools and home improvement supplies bored me, I always loved exploring the cavernous aisles with Dad. When it was just Dad and me, I was allowed to stand on the carts he pushed around the store. When he brought all three of us girls, Dad forbade such activities to avoid the inevitable sister squabbling over who got to ride. Wise man.

This past Sunday, I found a new Depot to love. The boyfriend and I were in Northern Virginia to visit a close family friend who is starting her freshman year at George Mason University. After walking around the massive GMU campus, we were famished and looking for a snack to tide us over until dinnertime. A quick Bing search yielded a few recognizable frozen yogurt chains nearby – and a place called ‘Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot.’ Hmm… I’d never seen “depot” alongside “ice cream” and was curious. Upon further reading, I learned that Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot holds the title of Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2011 ‘Best In Frozen Treats’ Winner. How did this place miss my radar? The Depot is nine miles west of the GMU campus (i.e. not on our way), but my obliging driver agreed to make a special detour to Clifton, Virginia. “It’s for the blog, after all.” 😉

The town of Clifton is definitely off the beaten path – but I’m glad that Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot provided a reason to visit. Old Town Clifton is teeny-tiny but packed with history and charm. According to Wikipedia, Clifton has a population of 282 (not a typo) and is the only town in Fairfax County that still has a railroad crossing. Notable residents include congressmen, computer scientists, professional football players, and writer Jeff Arch – who supposedly was living on Main Street when he wrote the screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle. Small world, eh?

When we pulled onto Clifton’s Main Street, we didn’t spot Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot right away. Unlike the Home Depot, the Ice Cream Depot is a small establishment hidden down a narrow, tree-lined alley. Just a small yard sign marks the entrance. From the numerous informative (and colorful) chalkboards that line the stony path, I learned that the Peterson Family chose “Depot” to pay homage to Clifton’s rich railroad history – not their love of Home Depot.

 

When we emerged from this shrub-lined alley, we found ourselves at the front register of Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot. We were the only customers (a rain shower had just passed), so the friendly staff was more than willing to explain the menus and share their favorite creations. I was surprised to see that Peterson’s serves a variety of “real food” as well. The specialty hot dogs, nachos, and french fries all sounded delicious. But I was here for ice cream. In true Depot style, Peterson’s boasts over 30 different milkshakes and malts, dozens of toppings, and 10 signature sundaes. The gal behind the counter clarified that Peterson’s uses its secret-recipe soft serve as the base for all dessert creations – and customers have the choice between vanilla, chocolate, swirl, and the “flavor of the day.”

My boyfriend was interested in sharing a sundae – so I scanned the board for something we’d both like. We are both big fans of coconut (thank goodness. I don’t understand how people can hate it), so Clifton Creation #7 caught my eye: 

#7  Jasien’s Almond Joy – “Ever eaten an Almond Joy candy bar? This is better (we think). Vanilla ice cream covered with almond slices and coconut flakes, then topped off with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry.”

We hadn’t eaten much for lunch, so the almonds sounded like a great idea (protein, right?). After placing our order, we moseyed on back to the seating area: a patio under a canopy of well-manicured greenery. A dozen high wooden tables with umbrellas provide shade from the heat. Moments later, our sundae was ready…

You won’t find this at Home Depot

The verdict? Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot knows good ice cream. The vanilla soft serve base was thick and delicious, but the best part of this sundae are the toppings. Generous layers of toasted coconut and slivers of almonds add texture and crunch. Thick, only-slightly-warm fudge lines the cup, ensuring that chocolate makes it into every bite. Frothy, light whipped cream and a cherry top everything off. The Almond Joy sundae is obviously handcrafted with care: a hidden layer of toasted coconut and almonds is found at the bottom of the sundae. Best of all? Portions are huge… so no fighting necessary while sharing 😉

The Stats:
Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot
7150 Main Street
Clifton, Virginia 20124
http://www.petersonsdepot.com
Open from mid-March thru mid-November