Food & dining

The top local ice cream stands

Above: soft-serve ice cream cone dipped in chocolate at Bubbling Brook in Westwood. Left: hot-fudge sundae at Gary’s Ice Cream in Chelmsford.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Soft-serve ice cream cone dipped in chocolate at Bubbling Brook in Westwood.

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.

BEDFORD FARMS

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18 North Road, Bedford, 781-275-6501,www.bedfordfarmsicecream.com

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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.”

BUBBLING BROOK

1652 High St., Westwood, 781-762-9860, www.bubblingbrook.net

Although the ownership has changed twice since 1951, when it was established, Bubbling Brook in Westwood has not. Nestled among farmland, the eatery boasts a sprawling lawn with picnictables in the back and a large parking lot out front. On busy days the lot overflows and cars line the road. The place also houses a restaurant, where New England favorites like fried clams and meat loaf are on the menu. Bubbling Brook serves Puritan Ice Cream of Roslindale, but the soft-serve is made in-house, which gives the Cortas family, who acquired the business in 2003, flexibility to try intriguing flavors. Coffee and peanut butter soft-serve are big sellers, and the mocha cappuccino (vanilla, coffee, and fudge) or twist (coffee and chocolate) are powerhouse cones; the twist rotates with other specials. For those with bigger appetites, the Brook Buster sundae, with three scoops, three toppings, a brownie, and a banana, should do the trick. The Cortases like to see customers returning each year. “It’s a great feeling when you see someone and they tell you it’s their meeting place and it brings them joy,” says co-owner Marie Cortas. “You want them to bring their kids and grandchildren, because that’s our future.”

CRESCENT RIDGE DAIRY BAR

355 Bay Road, Sharon, 781-784-2740, www.crescentridge.com

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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.

FLINT FARM

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.”

/Jim Davis/ globe staff
Hot-fudge sundae at Gary’s Ice Cream in Chelmsford.

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

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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

Kimball Farm

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

Sunshine Farm

41 Kendall Ave., Sherborn,508-655-5022, www.sunshinefarmma.com

Jon Mael can be reached at jmael2014@gmail.com