Photo by Via Facebook
President Obama with an ice cream cone in Bar Harbor, Maine last year
With the dog days of summer officially stalled over Washington (as well as the rest of the country for a change), relaxing in the shade with a cold drink seems the only practical way to persevere. Unless you are an ice cream fanatic like me. I grew up in New England, which despite its arctic clime boasts the highest per capita ice cream consumption of any region in the country. It always seemed to me that the warmer, southern states would claim that mantle, but perhaps because there are so many dairy farms in the northern states (as well as optimal freezer storage I suppose), varied uses for dairy products had to be exploited and with ice cream, they hit it big. Around Boston, there are a great number of well established ice cream shops and most locals have a strong opinion about what kind is the best whether it's homemade, soft-serve or "gourmet" from the likes of Ben & Jerry's (Est. Burlington, VT 1978), Friendly's (Est. Springfield, MA 1935), Steve's (Est. Somerville, MA 1973), Brigham's (Est. 1914) or the eloquently named Mad Martha's on the Vineyard (where my husband first introduced my vegan toddler nephew to dairy, but that's another story). You can get ice cream virtually wherever you go and most grocery stores devote a mind-bogglingly varied section to frozen euphoria. I'm partial to rich, New England style ice cream and think it tastes better there than just about anywhere else.
As a child I thought nothing could compare to a chocolate ice cream cone with chocolate "jimmies" (sprinkles), but my tastes grew more sophisticated over the years and when I moved south to North Carolina (many years ago), I was disgruntled and non-plussed by the paucity of ice cream shops (basically just Dairy Queen which sadly doesn't fit my bill) and the grocery stores which offered a grim display of freezer-burned store brands and the occasional meager selection of Edy's, which was then considered "gourmet". A move "north" to D.C. did little to remedy the "Great Ice Cream Drought." Fast forward to present day when I am now able to choose from a variety of frozen treats without straying too far from my beaten path, especially after you factor in the relatively recent introduction (and popularity) of frozen yogurt.
So here, in honor of National Ice Cream Month (designated by Ronald Reagan in 1984), are some of my top Polar picks. First up, due to proximity and favoritism is Thomas Sweets (Wisconsin and P St.) which offers the unique pleasure of outdoor seating. Until recently I didn't even notice they also offer frozen yogurts and sorbets because who could ever get past the tantalizing (and sometimes puzzling) list of ice cream flavors (cake batter, bubble gum, chocolate chocolate almond) , not to mention stir-ins, homemade whipped cream and fudge. When a friend recently suggested we meet at "the yogurt shop" I was at a loss as to what she was even referring to. "Iceberry?" I queried, "That's down on M Street! The one on Wisconsin isn't open yet." I was thinking of Pinkberry, but I think I can be excused for confusing those two. Yes, Pinkberrry is here and Sweetgreen, and Iceberry will soon open, too, enlarging our choices for "fro-yo". On M Street there is Hagan-Dazs as well as the venerable Ben & Jerry's ( I overheard a woman calling it "Tom & Jerry's"-obviously a tourist!), but the newest contender, Serendipity, with its gigantic Frozen Hot Chocolates, gargantuan banana splits and root beer floats most reminds me of the old-fashioned ice cream parlors which used to be so popular in the Boston and NYC areas. Its location at the crossroads of Georgetown and wide open-air windows make it a people-watching tourist magnet, but residents will find plenty to shiver over, too.
I am also a big fan of Dolcezza (Wisconsin and Q St.) which serves gelatos that are creamy and delectable and offer unexpected and exotic flavors such as Avocado Honey Orange (and like many of the shops, they will allow you to taste before buying). Dolcezza is another wonderful vantage point for sitiing al fresco and they serve one of my favorite treats: Affagato- a scoop of ice cream and espresso. Perfect combination of sugar and caffeine for a hot day that has sucked the life out of me.
With all these choices (and many more) I was delighted to see a sandwich board parked on the sidewalk of P Street recently offering, thrillingly, fudgesicles (!), my all-time favorite childhood frozen treat, updated by the gourmet chocolatier Fleurir.
I can still remember the tinkling music of the ice cream man's truck every summer afternoon that sent all of us kids running to our parents for change before chasing the truck down the street. While we don't have one roaming the streets of Georgetown, the Good Humor truck can be hired for parties and functions and when I last encountered oneI was once again able to experience the lost pleasure of intently looking over the brightly colored pictures of frozen treats (Cherry Bomb, Hoodsie, Push-up, Nutty Buddy, Rocket Pop anyone?) and choosing one that brought me way back. There are few summer pleasures that compare to feverishly licking ice cream on a stick the better to prevent it running down your face and arms (unless it's the "brain freeze" that accompanies it).
My advice is don't let the heat deter you: ice cream snobs, fro-yo devotees and sticky-chinned kids unite! There exists an option for every palate as even President Obama can attest.
(P.S. He likes TS, too!)