YOU CAN'T SNOW A BALTIMOREAN about snowballs.
You can't just grind some ice, splash it with syrup, and top it with gooey stuff -- not if you want the customers to keep coming back.
Judging by more than 100 calls that came in when we asked readers for the name of their favorite snowball stand, the snows of summer have to be made as meticulously as a James Bond martini.
First, and most important, the ice should be shaved, not crushed. And for some of you, there's even some specifics about how to shave.
"Hawaiian-shaved ice is finer ice," said Donna Boecker, an aficionado of the snowballs at the Original Hawaiian Island on Liberty Road. "It packs down better, it's easier to eat and the flavor surrounds every little morsel of ice."
Some of you prefer hard ice cream in your snowballs, others like it soft. In either case, you are very particular about the order of the layers of ice, ice cream and marshmallow.
The syrups must be top quality, too. You praised the stands with home-made syrups and those that used genuine Hershey's chocolate. You described the taste of old-fashioned egg-custard, and said your kids went for a green concoction called Ninja Turtle.
You like plenty of flavors to choose from -- and whichever you pick, you want a lot of it. Your ice should be piled, your toppings heaped, your juice running over. You want value for your money, whether you're getting a 40-cent junior or a $2 whopper.
And you want warm service with your cold comforts.
Joanne Rukowicz told us about Wolf's Finest Chocolates on Philadelphia road, where the owners are "terrific," the chocolate snowballs "the best you ever tasted," and the other merchandise includes homemade candy and crafts.
Marti Knight had high praise for Opie's in Catonsville: "They're very accommodating," she said. "They'll put a small snowball into the next-sized cup, so the kids don't dump it all over the car."
At the Original Hawaiian Island stand on Liberty road in Holbrook, Ron Goldman said the owner "treats the customers just like family," and Tony Giordano talked about "the friendly bunch" who serve up the snow at Ooy Gooy (pronounced ooey-gooey) Hawaiian -- also called Oogy's -- on Liberty Road in Sykesville.
We also heard about the big deck at Tastee Zone, another Catonsville snowball seller, where customers can hang out; and the parking lot at Mighty Fine, in Carney, where you can stand around on a summer evening and listen to Orioles broadcasts.
Snowball lovers are loyal to their stands. "I've been going to Mighty Fine for 25 years, since I was a little kid," Tom Hinchliffe told us.
And Carol Askin said she's been buying from the stand at the corner of Woodstock road and Route 99 in Howard County "since my daughter was a baby, and she's 11 now."
What are your ideas on keeping cool? Using a touch-tone phone, call 783-1800 (or 268-7736 from Anne Arundel County.) Once the system answers your call, enter code 4400. This is a local call from the Baltimore area. If you don't have a touch-tone phone, send your recommendation to: "Hot Enough," Features Dept., Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.
We took 100 calls from readers responding to our request for advice on where to get a great snowball. Sad to say, some of the callers clearly were ringers, folks with the same last name, same phone number and virtually the same comments about a particular stand. The fact that so many people cared so much is a tribute, of course, but it did mess up our tally.
So we're not saying the snowball stands listed below are necessarily the top five in town. We're just saying they have a lot of people who love them:
Chilly Willy, 6400 Eastern Avenue: Virtues include home-made flavorings, home-made marshmallow topping and fresh squeezed lemonade.
Ooy Gooy Hawaiian Snowballs, 21 Liberty Road, Sykesville: The two college kids who run this stand earned high marks for the amount of juice they put into a snowball, their friendly, efficient service and their good conversation.
Opie's, on Edmondson Avenue in Catonsville: It's got nice ice, delicious flavors and good service.
Trailer on Greenside Drive in Cockeysville (between Fox Chevrolet and the library): It's run by nice people who provide a lot of different flavorings.
Original Hawaiian Island: There are two locations on Liberty Road -- one on the Basics parking lot and the other north of Lyons Mill Road. The latter site -- with hot dogs and a choice between hard and soft ice cream -- had more fans.