In Ann Arbor, Mich., where I grew up before coming to the sweltering East, you knew it was Memorial Day when the shutters came off the local Dairy Queen and it reopened.
Of course, this was no guarantee that the snow had melted. At times, we got ice cream cones while we were swathed in down parkas and huddling in the car with the heater running. Here, of course, the climate presents no such challenges. In fact in the past week or so, the challenge has been to keep ice cream from dripping all over your clothes.
Nor is there a real season for ice cream in the Washington area. In Prince George's County, where we recently set out to find the yummiest kind, ice cream vendors are open year-round; a few operate seasonally, starting in early spring.
The Prince George's Extra recently took a taste tour of the county's ice cream stands and offers this nonscientific assessment as we looked for the creme de la cream.
The University of Maryland Dairy: Newly redecorated in the style of a 1950s ice cream parlor, the dairy has by far the richest ice cream in Prince George's County. It's classified as "premium," which means it contains 14 percent butterfat; federal regulations require that ice cream contain 10 percent butterfat. The University of Maryland began making ice cream in 1924 as part of its dairy-manufacturing curriculum. Today, plant manager Lisa Smith, with student help during the school year, produces 25,000 gallons of ice cream a year. The dairy serves more than 20 flavors, including July's flavor of the month, peach, which is incredibly creamy, with hunks of fresh peaches. But staffers say vanilla is still the most popular. Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., year-round. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., May through October. Route 1, College Park. 301-405-1415.
Something Special: Established seven years ago, Laurel's Something Special is an interesting blend of coffeehouse, diner, ice cream parlor and live entertainment venue. The ice cream is Hershey's (eight flavors), and the topping offerings include the kind of Italian syrups more often found in espresso drinks. The coffee milkshake--coffee ice cream with coffee, no milk--combines the best of sugar and caffeine and makes a great pick-me-up on a hot summer day. With live entertainment on the weekends from May through October, Something Special is also a great place for a nighttime ice cream fix. Open year-round. Summer hours are Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Closed Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Live entertainment Friday and Saturday, 8 to 11 p.m., through September. 504 Main St., Laurel. 301-497-2324.
Franklin's General Store and Delicatessen: The front part of this Hyattsville emporium is a gift shop that includes spicy barbecue sauce and perfumed bath oils. Patrons pass shelves stocked with chocolate body paint and Legos to get to the delicatessen in the back. Franklin's serves eight flavors of Hershey's ice cream, and the malts are thick--made with real malt, ice cream and milk. But it's the atmosphere that makes stopping by so wonderful. Open year-round. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 5121 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville. 301-927-2740.
J-Mart: This sandwich and ice cream joint comes with its own miniature golf course. J-Mart, a Bowie fixture for 36 years, serves soft-serve ice cream, milkshakes, malts and sundaes, as well as many non-ice cream choices. It's a great place to bring the children for an ice cream treat and an afternoon on the links. Open year-round. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. 14207 Annapolis Rd., Bowie. 301-262-0088.
Hovermale's Tastes Best: This Fort Washington institution has been proving that it does just that since 1954. Hovermale's specialties include its upside-down banana split, which comes loaded with whipped cream that towers over the top of the cup, and the hot fudge sundae was without a doubt the best I ever had. There are shakes, malts, floats and ice cream cakes as well. Pints or quarts are available to take home. There's plenty of parking but no customer seating. Open year-round. Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays. 911 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington. 301-248-2710.
Brown's Tasty Creme: Brown's has been serving up ice cream year-round in District Heights for the last seven years. The lemon custard draws patrons from miles around, and one bite will explain why: It's thick, lemony and refreshing. All of Brown's soft-serve ice creams are made on site, and there is a table and chairs out front. Ice cream is also available to take home by the pint or quart. Open year-round. Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight. 6300 Marlboro Pike, District Heights. 301-736-4735.
B&J Carry Out: Around at least 50 years, B&J in Accokeek is a wonderful carryout that operates an ice cream stand from April to November. The ice cream is rich (almost as rich as the dairy's) and made on the premises. In addition to cones, B&J's offers milkshakes, floats, malts, sundaes and banana splits. The root beer floats are especially delicious--filled with ice cream and fizzy root beer. Pints and quarts are available to take home. Ice cream stand open April through November, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 15805 Livingston Rd., Accokeek. 301-292-5631.
(Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., based in Burlington, Vt., was poised to announce this week that it plans to open at least one ice cream store, and possibly several others, in Prince George's County. At a news conference yesterday, company co-founder Jerry Greenfield was to unveil a plan to identify potential minority entrepreneurs in the county who could open up franchise ice cream stores.)
Send us your favorites. The Prince George's Extra will print reader submissions about the state of ice cream in the county. Write to Creme of the Cream, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; fax to 301-952-1397; or e-mail to email@example.com. Include your home address and a daytime phone number.
CAPTION: At Hovermale's Tastes Best, there's plenty of parking but no customer seating, which doesn't seem to pose a problem for those who flock to it for upside-down banana splits and hot fudge sundaes.
CAPTION: At the University of Maryland Dairy, the ice cream has more butterfat than required by federal regulations. The dairy bar offers 20 flavors.
CAPTION: Corey Adams, 6, takes in a vanilla cone at Hovermale's Tastes Best in Fort Washington. The 45-year-old stand on Livingston Road is open year-round for treats on the spot and take-home pints and quarts.
CAPTION: Above, a neon sign beckons to the U-Md. Dairy. Below, Joe Sartori eats a large twist at Hovermale's. At right, Alexis Williams enjoys a cool one at Brown's Tasty Creme.