It's starting to get hot out, summer is almost here, and I can hear the ice cream trucks jingling through my neighborhood every night. Now I love soft-serve as much as any kid, but sometimes Mr. Softee just isn't enough. For the times when real ice cream is necessary—a good, old-fashioned sundae, or a great new flavor—I decided to seek out places across Queens that specialize in icy, creamy, cold confections.
Jahn's, established in 1897, was at one time a very popular ice cream parlor chain with locations in Queens, The Bronx, Long Island, New Jersey, and even Florida. There is now only one left, in Jackson Heights, and it is more of a diner than an ice cream shop. But I decided to start my ice cream quest there, for old times' sake. I sat down and ordered a hot fudge sundae ($5.40). It had two scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, and a maraschino cherry. The ice cream was not homemade, the fudge was not hot, the whipped cream came from a spray can, and the cherry was water-y. I was not expecting much, I had read of the decline of Jahn's, so was fully prepared, but I have to say it was not terrible. The chocolate sauce was not actually fudge, it was U-Bet, a unique and very nostalgic flavor, so I enjoyed it for that. And even a mediocre ice cream sundae is still an ice cream sundae. But I probably would have been better off ordering an egg cream.
81-04 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens (map) (718) 651-0700
Eddie's Sweet Shop
Eddie's Sweet Shop in Forest Hills is the opposite of Jahn's; they still do everything the old-fashioned way. From the ice cream to the sauces to the whipped cream, they make it all there. It first opened in 1909, and doesn't look like it's changed much—they even have the original cash register. The hot fudge sundae came in a fluted metal cup, filled to overflowing with the fudge, two scoops of ice cream, a mound of whipped cream, and a single cherry. The hot fudge was first spooned into the bottom of the frozen metal cup, where it then hardened, and the scoops were topped again with the sauce, making it possible to have a little chocolate with each spoonful of ice cream. The cream was whipped so thickly that it was closer to butter than cream, and not overly-sweet. It really was an experience. The sundae cost $5.50. Not too much for a trip back in time.
105-29 Metropolitan Ave, Forest Hills, Queens (map) (718) 520-8514
Timmy O's Frozen Custard
This small shop in Corona has been open for about a year and a half, and is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Timmy himself served up the hot fudge sundae here, chatting all the while, and giving out samples of all of the flavors available that day. There is always vanilla, made with Madagascar vanilla, and chocolate, with Belgian cocoa powder, but the other flavors vary.
I tasted strawberry cheesecake and orange pineapple along with the chocolate and vanilla. All were incredibly smooth, very creamy, and dense. The difference between custard and ice cream, as Timmy told it, is that custard has more eggs, less cream, and is churned slowly, so there is less air added and the ice crystals formed are tinier.
The hot fudge sundae here, $5.00, was made with three (!) scoops of custard, topped with fudge (not made in house), whipped cream (from a can), sprinkles, and cherries. I got a scoop of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, Neapolitan style. It was absolutely the creamiest, smoothest, and the best textured of all of the frozen treats I've tried this week. But it is also a different product and process, made in small batches, with natural ingredients.
49-07 104th Street, Corona, Queens (map) (516) 242-1843
Max & Mina's Ice Cream
Max and Mina's is not an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, it's a place where the owners, two brothers, have been exploring and experimenting with flavors since the shop opened in 1997. They are probably most known and written up for their lox ice cream, which they did not have at the time of my visit. I did taste horseradish, hot, cupcake, Merlot, and caramel oreo. The horseradish did not taste much like horseradish at all, the cupcake was sweet with bits of cupcake crumbs in the ice cream, the merlot was wine-y, but the "hot" was my favorite. Sweet cream with a spicy Tabasco finish. A single scoop costs $2.95, and they will let you have two flavors in a single. A double costs $5.70. If you happen to be in the neighborhood for falafel or other kosher treats, it is definitely worth a try.
71-26 Main Street, Kew Gardens, Queens (map) (718) 793-8629
The Little Sweet Shoppe
I took the bus all the way out to Middle Village without knowing much about this place except that it had the words "sweet" and "shoppe" in the name, and hoped for the best. The Little Sweet Shoppe is definitely little, and it specializes in Italian ices, cream ices, some old-fashioned ice cream concoctions, and lots of retro candy. The tiny shop was filled with kids when I walked in, mostly ordering milk shakes.
I tasted a few different flavors of the cream ices, which are lighter, smoother, and milkier than regular ice cream, then decided to get a fountain standard, an ice cream soda, for $4.25. As I waited for my root beer float, I was in awe of the candy collection: candy buttons on paper, candy cigarettes, Necco wafers, Mary Janes, Clove Gum, and so much more, it was overwhelming. I had no idea that places like this still existed. I took my float to go, and sipped it on the street. It was made just right, two scoops of vanilla ice cream, melting into the root beer, satisfying and sweet.
74-01D Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village, Queens (map) (718) 326-3889
It is amazing to see that there are still some old-fashioned sweet shops out there, and that there are people who are trying to take ice cream to the next level of flavor, or trying to perfect classics with great ingredients. Ice cream is pure fun, and makes people happy. This round-up was all about American classics—I haven't even begun to dive into iced treats from around the globe. Where do you find your favorite sundae or scoop?