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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Ice Cream But Were Too Fat to Ask

Serendipity's menu is an exercise in serendipity: "the art of finding the unusual or the pleasantly unexpected by chance or sagacity." Jaded boutique hounds perk up over pickled juice, red spice soup, the hangover omelet and Aunt Buba's sand tarts. But Serendipity is a fantasy recreation of an ice cream parlor with carved turn-of-the-century wood filigree and stained glass. It would be a crime not to serve ice cream. So Serendipity does, at 75 cents a dish . . . $2.25 for hot fudge or caramel sundaes, $3 for a grandly gross banana split, slightly buried in heavy whipped cream. Devotees tout the frozen hot chocolate, $1.50 . . . a tub of slushy chocolate topped with chocolate-flecked cream. Four straws. Seven days a week, 1a.m. Portable potables, too.

The crown jewel of San Francisco has a listless imitation at 121 East 59th Street. Blum's is suffering a strange case of transplant shock: it is pink all over, with a chronic case of chill. Still, the ice cream is good—burnt almond especially. The shakes are tall and creamy at $1.20, and there are some fancy candy sundae frills, $1.75 up. The butterfat is willing but the soul is lacking and forlorn.

How long had it been since a Thomforde patron ordered the lover's delight? The waitress had no idea how to make it . . . but she ad-libbed brilliantly: a splash of rum raisin, then peach, banana, whipped cream, crushed nuts. Obviously, Thomforde aficionados like their homemade ice cream straight, or with a blanket of hot fudge. I found everything a bit too sweet. The Begum Kaufman disagreed: "When I go, I want to go all the way." The Thomfordes have been indulging Harlem's sweet tooth at the magnificent carved mahogany soda counter with its turn-of-the-century frosted glass since 1903. Broadway flip, banana split, pineapple temptation, 75 cents; frostee chocolate, 55 cents. Carry-out pint, 55 cents. Ice cream cakes, $3.50 and up. Lenox and 125th Street.

Papa Jahn opened his first soda parlor in the Bronx in 1897. Elsie, Frank and Howard brought the family tradition to Jamaica, Richmond Hill and Flushing. Today there are seventeen Jahn's Ice Cream Emporiums, eight family-owned, the rest franchised, and a few of the old-fashioned virtues are sorely tarnished. There is nothing wrong with a light commercial ice cream 12 to 14 per cent butterfat, 80 per cent overrun. But spare us that mock-cream bomb, "Whipt-Rite," lined up along the counter 24 canisters deep, like an army of mercenaries. The Richmond Hill Jahn's was once a grand beauty. Now the scarred, dark stained paneling is half hidden behind rosewood Formica, and the magnificent gaslights, chandeliers and soda parlor advertising memorabilia are flanked with hanging baskets of artificial flowers and American flags. The menu is big on wisecracks, not too specific: the thing . . . "we dare you to open it" . . . no-sher's nightmare, $1.50 . . . "Burp!!!" Our waitress, a bored, stone-faced little beauty, very skinny (obviously loathes ice cream and people who eat it), wasn't much help either. If you are hopelessly compulsive-obsessive, you can invent your own butterfat pacifier. Sodas are 60 cents. "Teeny tummy ticklers," 70 and 75 cents. "Large tummy ticklers," up to $2.95. The kitchen sink serves four to six, $7.50.

Mr. Waffles is a bit forlorn and tacky but the menu is promising: intoxicating peach brandy royal sundae, $1.25; strawberry blond and Gibson girl, $1; seventeen sodas, including Hoboken and sarsaparilla; parfaits, including coconut Hawaiian and tin roof with salted Spanish peanuts. The $1 black cherry parfait comes in a thin metal cylinder: two tiny scoops of ice cream, some blobs of aerated cream, and sweet, sweet lovely black cherry sauce. 27 West Eighth Street.

The Acropolis on the corner of First Avenue at 68th Street is a plain, dowdy luncheonette that makes its own ice cream in ten flavors, 14 per cent butterfat, from a dairy ice cream mix. The prices are realistic: 45 cents in a dish; sodas and shakes, 50 cents; sundaes, 70 cents. The pint is 80 cents.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

Find more vintage articles by Gael Greene at


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