The Delicious Dozen
by Elizabeth Folwell
You can’t travel far in the Adirondack Park without finding a twist. On a cone or in a dish, rainbow sprinkled, hot-fudge covered and topped with an alarmingly red cherry, soft-serve ice cream is ubiquitous. There are many reasons for its popularity: you just can’t replicate the stuff at home, it’s made fresh every day, it has less butterfat than hard ice cream, it has enormous eye appeal and it tastes good. Part of why it tastes so good is, arguably, because soft ice cream comes to you at a higher temperature (around 20 degrees F) than its hard cousin (about 0 degrees) and your tongue isn’t numb from contact with the artful curves.
At the risk of destroying the romance of this delicacy, soft ice cream comes to the places that serve it in waxed-paper half-gallon jugs that look just like milk cartons or enormous, flopping plastic bladders that hold two gallons or more. The dairies that supply it to the North Country offer just vanilla or chocolate, and the stands can customize plain vanilla with black raspberry syrup, maple extract and other flavorings added into a batch. The thick liquid (about the consistency of latex paint) is poured into a boxy air- or water-cooled machine that churns in air as the liquid freezes toward a semi-solid state. Soft ice cream with bits of ice has been over-churned; the goal is a balance of silky mouth feel and honest taste.
Making a proper twist requires concentration, confidence, good hand-eye coordination and the ability to count from two to eight. Two turns is a baby cone and seven or more would be a very generous serving, likely to lean alarmingly with the first lick.
On Route 86 up the road from Saranac Lake is the venerable Donnelly’s, a small white building next to a big white dairy barn. The cows left a long time ago and where the delicious ice cream is sourced is a closely held secret. There are only two flavors on tap each day, and one is always vanilla. Most Mondays the featured flavor is “nut surprise.” Don’t expect any frills like caramel sauce or sliced bananas—this is strictly soft ice cream.
In Speculator on Route 30 the King of the Frosties dishes out hard and soft ice cream plus burgers, fries and even stir-fried vegetables.
Across the street from Enchanted Forest amusement park and Calypso’s Cove, Pied Piper has been an Old Forge institution for decades. Order your ice cream from the street-side window and food (like pulled pork sandwiches and hot dogs) from the side counter.
A brightly painted giant Adirondack chair and a striped tent catch your eye at Skyline on Route 30 in Tupper Lake. If you want to make a full meal at this classic roadside attraction, you can start with broasted chicken and poutine and finish with a thick, creamy malt.
Near Arrowhead Park and smack in the midst of bustling downtown Inlet, Northern Lights has something above and beyond in the world of summer ice cream—homemade gelato. Sure, you can get a twist or dipped cone but the chocolate, pistachio or peach gelato are divine.
Though the debate is far from over, Ticonderoga’s Wind-Chill Factory bills its own as the Adirondacks’ finest soft ice cream. It’s virtually impossible to compare tastes and textures from all the summer stands; I’d say the best soft ice cream is the cone you’re slurping right now. For fancy treats, the hot fudge sundae with chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups is terrific. You can get Michigans, burgers, wraps and tacos here too.
Strolling Main Street on a summer evening you can catch music at Mid’s Park or head to the Mirror Lake beach after a detour to Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery. It’s old-school ice-cream-parlor cute inside, with maple creme soft serve on tap most days.
On another Main Street that’s stroll-worthy you’ll find Essex Ice Cream Cafe, where you can get a side of free Wi-Fi with your cone.
Mini-golf and soft ice cream go hand in glove, and in Lake Luzerne, Bon’s Ice Cream offers wheelchair-accessible miniature golf plus everything you’d want at a roadside stand. Thanks to a special attachment to the standard machine Bon’s advertises 21 flavors of soft ice cream. Coffee? Sure. Banana? You bet. Brilliant blue edges on a snowy vanilla backdrop? Absolutely.
Wilmington has Whitebrook Dairy Bar on Route 86. In Keeseville, it’s Mac’s. The new kid on the frozen dessert block is The Pine Cone, across from Tail o’ the Pup, Ray Brook. If you have a favorite place for soft ice cream inside the Blue Line, share it on Adirondack Life’s Facebook page.
Tags: Adirondack Park, Adirondacks, Bon's Ice Cream, Donnelly's, Emma's Lake Placid Creamery, Essex Ice Cream Cafe, King of the Frosties, Mac's, Northern Lights gelato, Pied Piper, Skyline Ice Cream, soft ice cream, The Pine Cone, Whitebrook Dairy Bar, Wind Chill Factory