In Kauai, it was on the Kuhio Highway, just three blocks from our hotel. In Bloomington, it was a couple miles away from the university. We hit it on the way into town, and then again when we left, twelve hours later. In Wooster, Ohio, it was near the Rubbermaid Factory, and in Portland, Maine it was across Casco Bay on Cottage Road.
Some people seek out swanky bars when they visit a new city. Others look for local cuisine, or celebrity houses, or the world’s tallest toothpick statue. I’m what you might call a frozen yogurt connoisseur.
Now, not just any frozen yogurt, mind you. In a pinch, sure, I’ll take a scoop of chocolate-peanut butter or heath bar crunch. But give me a chocolate/vanilla swirl soft-serve in a cake cone, and I’ll be yours forever.
I never developed a taste for ice cream – it’s too creamy, I tell my friends to looks ranging from quizzical to horrified. Give me live cultures any day. In the mid-80’s, hard yogurt was the norm. There was the Kemp’s vanilla fudge in my grocer’s freezer that tended to sit for weeks or months after it made its way into our cart, and the pretzel cones filled with peach bassets from Bredenbeck’s Bakery in the next town over. But something about it wasn’t quite right.
Then I discovered soft-serve. It was at Hilary’s Ice Cream Shop, in the Elkins Park Square. They didn’t install the machines until after we moved to the area, so when my parents took us there the night they told us we were moving, I had to settle for hard vanilla yogurt with pretzels on top. It didn’t do much to cure the leaving-Mt.-Airy blues.
Of course, even with the advent of soft-serve, you still have to be selective. Let’s face it, some twists are just better than others. There’s the corner ice cream shop near my parents’ old house, where the vanilla is too flecked. It dominates the chocolate, and always ends up sagging to the left. The Haagen-Dazs on Waikiki Beach tastes like chalk and in the student center at University of Wisconsin, it’s so creamy, you might as well be eating ice cream.
It’s rare that you find that ideal cone, the precise blend of chocolate and vanilla, perfectly shaped with just the right consistency. Dairyland in Manayunk comes close. That’s the one with the crooked cone on the sign that used to be down the street from the straight-coned shop, until they switched places with Rita’s Water Ice and now reside on Main Street. But even after years in business, they’re still working on their sizing. Sometimes they flub the yogurt-to-cone ratio, and you’re left unsatisfied. TCBY is great for road trips, because it’s the same everywhere you go. And occasionally, even they surprise you. Take the store in Southington, Connecticut. They have chocolate waffle cones.
My dad and I have spent years searching for the perfect cone. Whether it’s a college visit to Boston, a swim meet in Lancaster, a family vacation to Hawaii, or a dash through the Atlanta airport, a trip isn’t complete without at least one cold, sweet, black and white delight. It didn’t start as a mission, or even a conscious effort. One morning, we just woke up and realized that it was our destiny. We would find the perfect cake cone of chocolate/vanilla soft-serve frozen yogurt, or die trying.