Cabot’s sparks joy.
How many restaurants can you truly say that about, across the board? Maybe it’s because the Newton institution isn’t so much a restaurant as an ice-cream parlor with benefits. (After all, it is called Cabot’s Ice Cream & Restaurant, not the other way around.) It serves tuna melts, burgers, turkey dinners, and all-day breakfasts, but these are the cherry on top of the main event. You come here for old-school sundaes; frappes and ice cream sodas; mountainous banana splits served in silver dishes, scoops and fruit toppings capped in frills of whipped cream. You come here to contemplate ordering desserts with names like the Dentist Disaster, Sultan’s Delight, Matinee Idol Parfait, Nosh-A-Rye (FOR SHERBET LOVERS), then wind up getting the same thing you always get. For me, that’s a hot-fudge sundae with peppermint-stick ice cream.
On June 15, Cabot’s celebrates its 50th anniversary with an old-fashioned ice-cream social from noon to 4 p.m. There will be a barbershop quartet, a juggling magician, and plenty of ice cream. The Newton police and fire departments will be there. Cabot’s will be taking donations upon entry for some of the organizations they’ve worked with over the years — Newton Athletes Unlimited, the John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club, the Second Step. The event is open to the public. “We would love to see some past scoopers stop by,” says the invitation.
This is where the children of Newton have come for decades to mark birthdays, recitals, and graduations. This is where they’ve gotten their first jobs. This is where, now grown, they bring their own children. A friend of mine has been a customer since before she was born; her mother used to come for ginger ice cream after prenatal exams. (On a recent visit, I text her: “What’s your Cabot’s order?” “Peppermint stick with hot fudge and whipped cream,” she replies. As if I didn’t already know we were soul mates.)
“One of the most rewarding things is to see people come in with children who used to come in as children themselves,” says Joseph S. Prestejohn, who runs the business with sister Susan Lipsky. Their parents, Joseph E. and Catherine M. Prestejohn, opened Cabot’s in 1969, after the restaurant they’d been working at for a decade, the Boulevard in Brighton, was destroyed by a fire. He passed away in 1987, she in 2012. Over the years, little has changed.
“We are definitely a landmark for a lot of people and a fixture in the community,” Prestejohn says. “They walk in and everything’s the same as it has been for years. That’s an important part of it to a lot of people. So many things change so quickly in this world all the time.”
Here are the black-checked linoleum floors, the red booths and chairs, the dangling red-and-white glass lamps. Here is the ice-cream counter, where kids perch on stools, eating sundaes and drinking malteds made and served by the young people who work here. On a recent night, a bunch of teenagers come in dressed to the nines, Cabot’s the after-party for some school event. The tables host parents with babies, high school students, senior citizens. Belgian waffle sundaes and Patriot Parfaits turn us all into kids again anyway.
“It’s a throwback to childhood memories,” Prestejohn says. “Or for some people, they’ve never seen an old-fashioned ice-cream shop before. They’re not in existence anymore.”
Sadly, they are not. My own grandfather was able to put himself through medical school working as a soda jerk: Can you imagine? In my tiny college town, there was the low-slung, green-signed Cunningham Drug, where at the counter we would order vanilla malteds and Green Rivers, Coke floats and Dusty Miller sundaes, and listen to the farmers talk over bottomless 5 cent cups of Butter-nut Coffee. It’s closed now, of course.
I wish the soda fountains of yore were still with us. There are so few public places where everyone feels at home together. I do not think it would do us harm to gather again over Black Cows and lime phosphates, a little bit of innocent fizz.
I’m just glad to have Cabot’s, where my son gets a chocolate cone and my husband a strawberry shake (“frappe,” the kid behind the counter corrects me gently when I order one to go) and I contemplate the vast roster of options, then order the same thing I always order, as I already knew I would.
743 Washington St., Newtonville, 617-964-9200, www.cabots.com