Pulling into the Ice Cream Factory and Cafe's gravel parking lot under a broiler of a July sun, it's tough to imagine wanting anything but one of their 24 flavors of soft-serve frozen custard. And with that name, who would have guessed the Brandywine establishment sold anything else?
But something unexpected happened when owners Dave and Cheryl Watts were preparing to open nearly two years ago.
Prince George's County officials told the husband and wife team that if they wanted a restaurant license they would have to sell more than just ice cream -- hence the addition of "cafe" to the name and crab cake platter ($12.95), rockfish and chips ($7.95), Caribbean beef patties ($1.95), and pulled pork barbecue sandwiches ($4.95 or $7.95 for the jumbo) to the menu.
Located just off Branch Avenue, the circa-1867 former general store was a run-down building that Dave Watts drove past nearly every day.
"It looked like a lost cause," Cheryl said, but both of them -- Dave was retired and Cheryl was out of work -- saw its potential.
Why soft-serve custard? "Right across the street is a country store with hand-dipped ice cream cones," Cheryl said. "We went out of our way not to compete." Plus, Cheryl likes the way customers can create their own combinations of blackberry, peach, pistachio, apple pie and other flavors in swirls of smooth, rich custard. There are 90 possible flavor combinations. Cones are $1.75 and $2.15 (low-fat is available at the same price), and there are also shakes ($3.25 to $3.95), smoothies ($3.89) and sundaes ($3.50).
What attracts Doretha High and her sister Corliss, both of Camp Springs, are the steamed shrimp ($8.50) and the banana splits ($5.25). Sitting at one of the four tables in the narrow, brightly colored cafe (three more tables are outside), Doretha said she discovered the place a month ago. This is her fifth trip since. And she orders her own banana split each time: "They are too good to share," she says.
The Ice Cream Factory and Cafe, 13700 Old Brandywine Rd., Brandywine. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 301-782-3444.
-- Matt McMillen
Matt McMillen last wrote for Food about Rock Creek Catering Co. in Wheaton.