Neighborhood Ice Cream Shops in the Washington Area
Friday, July 3, 2009
Neighborhood ice cream joints are becoming one of Washington's endangered species, thanks to growing numbers of fro-yo shops, the lure of less-pricey premium ice creams from the supermarket and big chains offering complicated flavor combinations made on the spot. But on a hot summer evening, no newfangled treat beats a visit to the local creamery for some chitchat with the server and a cool cone that lasts the walk home. Though they're not always easy to find, the area still has a handful of one-of-a-kind gems treasured by neighbors and offering all-natural house-made ice cream. Here are some highlights.
The line is daunting. It snakes through the store past a case of baked goods, past handwritten signs listing the treat of the day, all the way back to the bathrooms. But be prepared: It moves quickly, and you'd better know what you want by the time you get to the front.
Luckily, there are only three flavors to choose from. This is the Dairy Godmother of Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood, a frozen-custard place among locally owned coffee shops and lots of young families. "I thought the area needed a place where you can just run into people," said owner Liz Davis in explaining why she started the business in 2001. Today, the shop is usually full of chatting neighbors enjoying the dense, creamy custard, a frozen dessert that has more egg yolks and less air than regular ice cream. The options on hand are always chocolate and vanilla, plus a daily flavor that might be coconut cream, raspberry chocolate chip or Snickerdoodle Dandy (available only on the Fourth of July).
One of the area's longest-running ice cream shops sits in a strip mall at a busy intersection near Seven Corners. The Frozen Dairy Bar occupies roughly the same spot where it was built in 1950, not too long after the state bought the surrounding farmland from the Eiken family to build Route 50.
Back then, it was a free-standing ice cream shack with art deco details that attracted hordes of high-schoolers and neighborhood kids. "We have people who met waiting in line, married and are now in their 60s," says manager Michael Natoli. In the time since, the shop went through three owners, the building was demolished, and the business finally returned to the Eiken family in a new home built on the old site.
It's still selling high-quality custard, churning out chocolate, vanilla and zebra flavors daily, as well as a flavor of the day that might be peanut butter fudge swirl, Black Forest cake or lime in the coconut. And with a nod to the neighborhood's large Asian population, the shop occasionally offers flavors such as taro root and green tea.
Max's Best Homemade Ice Cream
2416 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-3111.
If there's a stereotypical image of a neighborhood ice cream joint, it might resemble Max's in Glover Park. The long, narrow store is papered with photos of kids and famous Washingtonians eating ice cream, signs for flavors are hand-drawn, and husband-and-wife owners Max and Marsha Keshani -- the only employees -- know almost everyone who comes in.
And then there's the ice cream itself. Offering almost 30 options daily, the couple rotate through 200 different flavors that include old favorites (English walnut and peppermint stick), upstarts (cookies and cream, cookie dough) and a wide swath of fruit, coffee and chocolate varieties (lemon, peach, mochachino, coffee chip). Asked if he's a perfectionist, Max replies, "Of course," and it shows: The flavors are fresh and strong, the taste is rich and the whipped cream atop a sundae is house-made.