The Real Scoop

Old-fashioned ice-cream parlors are melting away, but a few places in the area can still deliver chilled thrills.

July 11, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

It began one hot summer evening with a craving for pralines 'n' cream, that food of the gods Baskin-Robbins produces under the guise of caramel-streaked and pecan-studded ice cream. The only problem: My local Baskin-Robbins had closed. This in spite of the fact that, according to the International Ice Cream Association, Americans are buying full-fat ice cream in record numbers.

It would have been easy enough to find another Baskin-Robbins, but I realized that our neighborhood franchise had been the '90s version of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a place where if you hung out while you ate your cone you'd probably see someone you knew. It was really the ice cream parlor experience from my childhood I was craving, not a particular flavor. A bright, fun place that sold not one thing that could possibly be construed as Good for You or anything less than pure indulgence.

The problem is that traditional ice cream parlors are a dying breed. More and more prepackaged ice cream is sold in supermarkets, and that has helped kill them off. And maybe they were too sweetly innocent to survive as a hangout for today's teens. What we have now, for the most part, are specialty ice cream franchises like Baskin-Robbins or places like Friendly's that have good ice cream but are really restaurants.

Still, there are a few ice cream parlors left. I started off looking for shops where the ice cream is homemade and good. Ice cream and ice cream concoctions had to be pretty much their only business, which left out places like Baugher's in Westminster and Windy Valley in Lutherville. And I wanted a bit of nostalgia and enough style to encourage customers to linger there.

I found one.

But by bending the rules a little (I didn't compromise on the good ice cream part), I came up with the following list, where No. 7 is fine and No. 1 is nirvana in the ice cream parlor universe.

1) Moxley's Ice Cream Parlor, 25 Allegheny Ave., Towson; 410-825-2544

Moxley's is not only the area's finest ice cream parlor, it must be the only ice cream parlor in the world named after a dog.

There's not a lot of nostalgia here -- unless you remember great homemade ice cream. Moxley's has '90s style (pale blue walls with writing on them, mirrors and marble-topped tables) and hot music (Ricky Martin). But what has the customers lining out the door is the homemade ice cream. How do flavors like cantaloupe, ghost white chip, coconut, banana, eggnog and coffee chocolate chip sound?

Moxley's basics are fine, too. As owner Tom Washburn says, "Half of it is coming up with new flavors, and half of it is just doing the strawberry right."

Unfortunately, one of the new flavors he's come up with is jalapeno, mostly to prove this is truly made-on-the-premises ice cream. "No chain will ever carry jalapeno," he jokes. (He threatens to make Old Bay ice cream next.)

Try Moxley's mint chocolate chip milkshake next time you're stressed out. It's a great tranquilizer. And note those chocolate chips -- they taste better than a gourmet chocolate bar.

2) Something Sweet, The Avenue at White Marsh. 410-933-1800

You have to love someone who worked in life insurance for 12 years and then quit to open an ice cream parlor. That someone is Amy Shimp, owner of Something Sweet. True, she's hedged her bets a bit by selling lots of old-fashioned candy as well as ice cream; but her place is still an ice cream lover's delight. Try the Manor Mania sundae made with a warm brownie, your choice of Lee's ice cream flavors and, of course, hot fudge and whipped cream.

The clean, bright space is decorated with soda fountain furniture, lots of pink and a bit of cheerful neon.

3) Uncle Wiggly's, 6911 York Road. 410-377-3373

The owner is Robert Wigglesworth; hence the name. Without much to work with, he's created a very nice place to eat ice cream. The shop is painted peach, lavender and yellow, with Edy's brown and white stripes a frequent motif. Outside is a pretty little area with tables and fairy lights in the trees.

This is the only ice cream parlor I know of that serves Edy's, an admirable brand. It comes in almost every conceivable flavor here, from cappuccino crunch to pumpkin pie. Have your choice in one of the gourmet cones. Covered in jimmies and chocolate and the like, they're a specialty of Uncle Wiggly's.

The bad news: There's no chocolate ripple. You'll have to settle for malt ball 'n' fudge, which would be better with just vanilla ice cream and fudge swirls and no malt balls.

4) Storm Bros. Ice Cream Factory, 130 Dock St., Annapolis. 410-263-3376

On this beautiful afternoon in June it seems as if everyone in Annapolis is eating ice cream. There's a Ben & Jerry's up Main Street and Aromi d'Italia nearby sells wonderful gelato, but I choose Storm Bros. because it feels like an ice cream parlor and prices are excellent ($1.45 for a cone, $2.90 for a sundae or milkshake).

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