Sunday evenings are the busiest times at most small-town ice cream stands. The relaxed, joyous atmosphere makes them the perfect place to go to extend the weekend on a warm summer night. The cars may change, and even the music blasting from many car windows, but everything else is pretty much the way it was last year and many years before that: You're greeted by a cacophony of revving engines, kids laughing, and loud music. There's always a line, everything on the menu board looks tempting, and you want this lazy night and the ice cream in front of you to last forever.
In this region, the town dairy bar is a community fixture, the place where your parents went on dates, or where you go to celebrate everything. It sometimes feels like the whole town is out to get a cone, cup, frappe, or soda, making the stands some of the only places where waiting in line is actually enjoyable. Owners say business has never been better, with nostalgia and farm-fresh quality driving sales. "People look for these tried-and-true historical things they can share with family," says Mark Parrish, owner of Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar in Sharon "We have multiple generations coming back for the experience."
These are some of the best ice cream stands around, worth the drive and the lines.
18 North Road, Bedford, 781-275-6501,www.bedfordfarmsicecream.com
Begun in 1880 as a dairy with home milk delivery, Bedford Farms started serving ice cream in the 1940s, according to owner Dave Venuti, whose family acquired the place in 1984. He prides himself on rarely experimenting with new flavors and never taking old favorites off the menu. Most of them, like the decadent Coffee Oreo or tasty Almond Joy, are made in-house (frozen yogurt is made off site). Portions are generous, but if you're feeling especially daring, get the banana boat, with three scoops of ice cream, a banana, three toppings, and homemade whipped cream. In addition to the Bedford dairy bar, Bedford Farms operates an ice cream parlor in Concord and will open another in Burlington by summer's end. Venuti stresses that tradition keeps his customers returning, and he honors that by not changing much. "Bedford Farms doesn't belong to us," he says, "It belongs to the community."
1652 High St., Westwood, 781-762-9860, www.bubblingbrook.net
Although the ownership has changed twice since
CRESCENT RIDGE DAIRY BAR
355 Bay Road, Sharon, 781-784-2740, www.crescentridge.com
National publications consistently rank Crescent Ridge among America's best ice cream joints, and that's led to some very busy days. Owner Mark Parrish says that on a good Sunday, the18-person crew will serve 3,000 customers. Parrish's grandparents acquired the dairy in 1932, and the ice cream came in 1966. It is made by New England Ice Cream of Taunton, using Crescent recipes. Parrish tries new flavors, like the popular Black Bear, raspberry ice cream with chocolate-covered truffles and chocolate chips. Another is Moose Tracks, vanilla with peanut butter cups and fudge pieces, especially mouthwatering when spun into a thick frappe. For a special treat, the chocolate-chip cookie sundae, made with locally baked cookies, is fantastic. You can enjoy the ice cream on a bench overlooking Crescent Ridge's pasture, where cows are grazing, but the best experience is sitting in the bed of a pickup, so bring your own or enlist a friend.
789 East St., Mansfield, 508-337-6473, www.flintfarmstand.com
A Mansfield institution, Flint Farm, a vegetable grower, has been operating for almost 150 years, and introduced ice cream in 2001. On a busy night, expect a line winding through the parking lot as employees work feverishly to keep ice cream flowing out of four windows. "Everyone knows someone in the line," says ice cream manager Lindsay Dixon. "It's a social event." Dixon claims that on a good day, the small shop will sell around 1,000 ice creams. Flint Farm serves Richardson's Ice Cream from Middleton. Purple Berry Chip, black raspberry frozen yogurt with black and white-chocolate chips, Coffee Oreo, and Cookie Dough are among the popular flavors. Peanut Butter Oreo is another delicious treat. You can enjoy your ice cream in oversized Adirondack chairs on Flint Farm's covered porch. That's where Ed Gooltz, a Sharon resident and Flint Farm regular, is chowing down. "I discovered this place five years ago and I don't tell anyone about it," he says. "I try to keep the lines short."
GARY'S ICE CREAM
131 Gorham St., Chelmsford, 978-458-0100, www.garysicecream.com
Gary Frascarelli, born in 1952, has a mission: to provide customers with the same menu and atmosphere he experienced as a child. Gary's Ice Cream in Chelmsford does just that. In fact, Frascarelli, who opened the spot in 1973, refused to offer sprinkles for 30 years because he thought they "hid bad ice cream." Almost everything (not the whipped cream) is made in-house. The ice cream is churned, tempered, and frozen in rooms off the kitchen. Fruit toppings and coffee and fountain syrups are also made here. Even the hot fudge — almost never homemade — begins as cocoa, cream, and butter, and lemonade and lime rickeys are made with freshly squeezed citrus. "No one does everything from scratch anymore, but it's my name on the product and I want to do it right," Frascarelli says. Offerings change as fruits become available locally, so you may find fresh strawberry in June, wild Maine blueberry ice cream in August. Thick and creamy cake batter has great texture and flavor. These offerings are best enjoyed in a warm waffle cone, which, you guessed it, is made from scratch in the kitchen.
Other great places to get ice cream:
Alvin Rondeau's Dairy Bar
1300 Ware St., Palmer, 413-283-5281
Benson's Home Made Ice Cream
181 Washington St., Boxford, 978-352-2911, www.bensonsicecream.com
Black Cow Ice Cream
1397 Main St., Millis, 508-376-4884, www.blackcowicecream.com
Cedar Hill Dairy Joy
331 North Ave., Weston, 781-894-2600, www.dairyjoy.net
Dairy Barn of Randolph
892 North Main St., Randolph, 781-986-4456, www.dairybarnofrandolph.com
Erikson's Ice Cream
12 Great Road, Maynard, 978-897-7622, www.eriksonsicecream.com
Great Brook Farm Ice Cream
247 North Road, Carlisle, 978-371-7083
400 Littleton Road, Westford, 978-486-3891, www.kimballfarm.com, additional locations in Lancaster, Carlisle, and Jaffrey, N.H.
Johnson's Restaurant and Dairy Bar
164 Boston Road, Groton, 978-448-6840, www.johnsonsrestaurantanddairybar.com
Peaceful Meadows Ice Cream
60 Bedford St., Whitman, 781-447-3889, additional locations in Middleborough and Plymouth, www.peacefulmeadows.com
Pizzi Farm Market, Deli & Ice Cream Shoppe
549 Lincoln St., Waltham, 781-891-1032, www.pizzifarm.com
Richardson's Ice Cream
156 So. Main St., Middleton, 978-774-5450, 50 Walker's Brook Drive (Jordan's Furniture), Reading, 781-944-9121,www.richardsonsicecream.com
Soc's Ice Cream
67 Lynn Fells Parkway, Saugus, 781-233-0009
41 Kendall Ave., Sherborn,508-655-5022, www.sunshinefarmma.com
Jon Mael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org