Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dairy Twirl, Lebanon, NH

Many years ago, there was an oil company in Lebanon, NH called Pete & Rogers.  At some point, circa 1975, it was turned into an ice cream stand.  I'm pretty sure the ice cream stand was called Dairy Twirl from the start, yet, the locals all still called it Pete & Rogers.  I remember this being very confusing when I was a kid.  "Who wants to go to Pete & Rogers?", folks would say, and then we'd wind up at Dairy Twirl.  I don't think I ever questioned it, as I was getting ice cream, but, now that I think about it, it is pretty confusing.  I think it has changed owners a few times over the years, but, not much has changed.

Anyway.  Dairy Twirl is the ice cream stand in town.  Technically, there is one more option, located at the mini-golf course in the adjacent town, and of course places like McDonald's do serve ice cream, but, really, Dairy Twirl is the place to get ice cream.  No question.
Menu: ice cream, shakes, sundaes.
Dairy Twirl is a quintessential east coast ice cream stand, open only seasonally, generally memorial day through labor day.  They offer ... ice cream.  Nothing else really.  No token hot dogs or anything like that on the menu.  Just ice cream.  It is not house made, it is not artisanal.  It is just ice cream.  But it is good ice cream, and they do a few things to set themselves apart from most other ice cream stands.

They do have hard ice cream, in many flavors, but, it is the soft serve that we go for.  (Side note: why anyone would ever get a hard ice cream at an ice cream shop that doesn't make their own boggles my mind.  It is the exact same product you can get in a grocery store.  And in a grocery store, you get a full half gallon for nearly the price of a single cone.  Why, why, why?  Its like throwing money away.)

Anyway, I digress.  Dairy Twirl actually has an extensive menu of hard ice cream, all made by Hershey.  I've tried a few when others have gotten it, and, yup, standard hard ice cream.  They also have a couple hard frozen yogurts and I think a sorbet or a few non-dairy options.

But again, I go there for the soft serve.  Dairy Twirl has 6 flavors at a time, including 4 standard flavors (vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and black raspberry) and 2 that change weekly.  Most other soft serve establishments only offer 4 flavors at a time, so, bonus points to Dairy Twirl for offering 6.
Lilac Soft Serve: Black Raspberry and Vanilla.  Half-Small.
The soft serve base is Hood.  They use the 10% milkfat base, not the 5% seen at other shops around town.  You might think you want the healthier version, but I assure you, that milkfat really makes a difference.  Dairy Twirl soft serve is by far the creamiest around.

Like most shops you can get any two that are on the same machine swirled, but, unlike most shops, they also offer layered versions with any flavors from any machine.  In fact, they even suggest these on the menu, like, the "Lilac" pictured here, a layered version with vanilla and black raspberry, or a mocha with chocolate and coffee, or the "Thin Mint" with chocolate and mint.

So, if you want vanilla and chocolate, but not swirled together, you could get them layered one on top of the other too.  I love this, as it allows me to pick multiple flavors that don't necessarily mix together perfectly in a swirl.  Oh, and they don't just layer them once.  In the smallest size, if you pick two flavors, you get two layers of each.  If you get the next size up (which is actually the small), you get 6 layers!  Oh, and you can pick more than two flavors.  Even for the smallest size ice cream, you can pick up to three flavors.  I know making cones like this is more work, but, I absolutely love that they do it.

Another reason I love Dairy Twirl is that they are always happy to let you sample a flavor or two.  I know which of the standard flavors I like, but, it is always good to try one of the weekly specials before ordering.

In addition to standard cups, cones, and waffle cones, you can also get a shake, float, sundae, or "razzle", which is just soft serve blended with toppings.

Sizes range from half-small to pints and quarts.  Do not be fooled by the sizes.  A "half-small" is still considerably larger than most mediums in the rest of the world.  It is certainly not a child sized, but, no "baby" cone is available here.  For years, the "half-small" was not listed on the menu, although everyone knew you could order it.  Now they actually list it.  Soft serve is cheaper than hard serve, which I really appreciate, as it is cheaper for them to make, store, etc, but most places charge the same.

And, that is it.  (Ok, they sell bottles of water and frozen dipped bananas too).  When I was younger, they also had slush puppies, and made a creation that was soft serve added to a slush puppy, like a float, but with slush puppy instead of soda, and a soft serve swirl instead of a scoop of ice cream.  I forget what they called these, but I loved them, and that was my standard order back in the day.  Blue raspberry slush puppy with vanilla soft serve.  So amazing.  Sadly, they no longer offer these, but, the soft serve is great enough that I don't mind.

Dairy Twirl is an institution in town for good reason, and I hope it continues to thrive so I can always get in a few cones while I'm home in the summer.  But, warning, yes, you will wait in a line, and yes you will be eating your non-artisanal ice cream while standing in a parking lot.  And, if you are like me, you'll love it.
"Great Nighttime Place"
The sign out front was changed several years ago, and always makes me laugh.  "Great Nighttime Place" it boasts ... open until 9pm!  Ahh, small towns.  Gotta love them.
Ordering Window.
Dairy Twirl is an ice cream stand.  It is not a restaurant.  You order at a window.  There is no where to go inside.  No bathroom.  The window is adjacent to a parking lot.  They did add a few picnic tables a while back, but they are down on the other end of the parking lot.

As you can see, no frills here.  You don't go for the ambiance.  You go for the ice cream.

It is always busy.  I laugh when we drive by on a cold day, or a rainy day, and see the crowds.  But, you know what?  We join them.  On a recent visit, I really wanted "one last Dairy Twirl", so, even though it was cold and raining, my family went, and we just ate our ice cream in the car.
Back Seating.
There are some picnic tables off near the back of the parking lot.  Some people do congregate there, but others just go sit in their cars to eat the ice cream, or stand around the steps out front.

Some Creations

I've had more ice cream cones from Dairy Twirl than I can possibly count, and I certainly haven't taken notes or photos every time.  The following is just a collection of ones I happen to have.

Summary though: get dip or sprinkles, get more than one flavor, and certainly don't get bigger than a half-small.  The ice cream is always perfectly creamy, never icy, and exactly what I want.
Mint with Chocolate Sprinkles, Half-Small.  $2.25.
Mint is one of my absolute favorite flavors they offer.  Like all of the ice cream, it is very creamy.  The mint flavor itself is, well, minty.  It is fairly strong, and a bit refreshing.

My mom always combines the mint with chocolate ice cream, the signature "Thin Mint", but this is one where for me, simple is better.  I just want the mint.

Mint is the flavor that challenges my general approach to ice cream at Dairy Twirl.  While I normally want to combine multiple flavors in my cone, mint is the only flavor where I'll actually settle on just one, as I like it that much.  I also forgo dip and go for sprinkles, chocolate.

The combination of creamy mint and chocolate sprinkles is perfect for me, sorta like mint chocolate chip.  And Dairy Twirl coats the cone perfectly in sprinkles.

Mint, with chocolate sprinkles, is a very solid choice, and I'm always thrilled when they have mint on rotation.

Like all half-smalls, this was $1.75 for the ice cream, $0.50 for the sprinkles.
Mint and Vanilla with Chocolate Sprinkles, Half-Small.  $2.25.
On my next visit, I decided to mix vanilla with the mint, just to try something a bit different.  This gave me 4 layers, 2 vanilla, 2 mint.

It was fine this way, and it was kinda nice to have something besides just mint, but, the vanilla didn't actually add anything to the experience.

Note: The folks working at Dairy Twirl generally make perfect cones every time, layering the different flavors like experts, and dipping them perfectly in dip or sprinkles.  I think this is the only time I've ever seen a not perfect job (and really, it wasn't that bad).
Red, White, & Blue! (Forth of July Special), Half-Small. $1.75.
On the 4th of July, my mom went for the special "Red, White, & Blue", with strawberry at the base, vanilla in the middle, and blueberry on top.

I have to admit, it looked great, and everyone in line was very interested in what she had.

I asked to sample the blueberry and strawberry before deciding on my flavors though, and I'm glad I did.

The strawberry, while vibrant, didn't have very good strawberry flavor, it tasted a bit fake.

The blueberry, also quite vibrant, tasted more like blueberries, but it still wasn't awesome.  Better than strawberry, but not high on my list.

My mom agreed once she tried her cone, but, enjoyed it regardless.
Blueberry, Vanilla, Black Raspberry, Coconut Dip, Half-Small.
On the same 4th of July visit, I learned that I could pick not one, not two, but THREE flavors for my half-small.  It made decision making so much easier.

My choices were vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and black raspberry as always, plus the strawberry and blueberry my mom had.  Since I don't really like chocolate or coffee, and I didn't like the strawberry, I decided not to put any more thought into it, and just go for the other three.

I did care about the order in the cone though, because I wanted to try a new dip, and opted for coconut.  I decided the black raspberry would go best with it, so I wanted that on top, since it would come in most contact with the dip.

All flavors were about as I expected.  The ice cream was super creamy and melted perfectly in the 80 degree weather.  Just as fast as I could eat, but not too fast (well, it was way too fast when the shell was still on, which of course turned into a sticky mess).  The black raspberry wasn't as flavorful as I'd like, but it was still good.  The blueberry had good flavor, but, again, just not one I was super excited about.  The vanilla was solid vanilla.  No earth shattering choices, but, all fine.

The coconut dip looked great, loaded up with shredded coconut.  However, it didn't have that much coconut flavor in the dip itself, it was just kinda sweet and waxy.

I still enjoyed this cone, but, it wasn't one of my favorites.
Black Raspberry, Chocolate, Vanilla with Peanut Butter Dip, Half-Small.
On my next visit, I wasn't excited by any of the flavors - strawberry and blueberry were still the extra flavors.  I sampled the coffee flavor, and found it fairly flavorless.  So, I went for the other three classics, although I wasn't particularly excited about any of them either.

I decided to make my ice cream more interesting by adding peanut butter dip, and, asked for the chocolate and vanilla on top as they'd best compliment the peanut butter.  But, since chocolate and vanilla are kinda boring, I put black raspberry on the bottom as well.

All flavors were creamy and melted nicely.  The peanut butter dip was ok, not as intensely peanut buttery as I remembered from the past, but, still some extra flavor.

As always, I didn't really like the chocolate ice cream, but, it went decently with the peanut butter.  I did make the mistake of putting the chocolate in the middle though, and it did not combine nicely with the black raspberry.  The black raspberry was my favorite of the flavors.

Overall, this was fine, but, not a particularly great combination.
Lemon, Vanilla, Mint. Chocolate Sprinkles.  Half-Small.
On this visit, the special flavors were lemon and mint.  Of course, I tried both before committing to my selections, even though I knew I loved mint, and I knew I never like lemon desserts.

Best move ever.  The lemon ice cream turned out to be absolutely amazing.  It was sweet, a bit tangy, creamy as always, and just really, really good.  I was shocked, and didn't know what to do.  I loved it.  But I also love the mint.  And I didn't think mint and lemon would work very well together.

So, what's a girl to do?  Get them both, and add a separator.

I put the lemon on the bottom, since I knew that is the flavor I'd get the most of, and, well, I liked it the best.  I loved it.  I added vanilla next, just as a separator.  It felt like a waste, and I was tempted to say, "a very small portion of vanilla", but, I decided not to be even more complicated.  The vanilla was fine, but just vanilla.  It did its job separating my two real choices.  On top went the mint.  It was minty, creamy, and great as always.

I added chocolate sprinkles, as I wanted something to compliment the mint, and I just wasn't feeling chocolate dip that day.  The chocolate sprinkles were perfect with the mint, and helped add a bit of flair to the otherwise boring vanilla.

Overall, a total success, and I was very happy with this combination (although sad to get vanilla).  However, I did better the next day ...
Mint, Black Raspberry, Lemon.  Blue Raspberry Dip.  Half-Small.
The next day, my family went out to a big lunch at 4 Aces Diner.  We were all stuffed.  It was also cold and raining.  And my last day in town.  I didn't care that it wasn't "ice cream weather" and that I didn't need more food.  I wanted more lemon and more mint ice cream.  I couldn't leave without getting them again.

I was perfectly satisfied with my previous creation of lemon on bottom, vanilla divider, mint on top, with chocolate sprinkles, but, I wanted to get even crazier.  Rather than vanilla divider, I decided to try black raspberry.  Black raspberry is a flavor I enjoy on its own, and I thought that lemon and black raspberry would go well together, and mint and black raspberry might not be awful.  I knew they wouldn't be the best match, but, I really wanted something other than vanilla.

And then ... I added the crazy blue raspberry dip.  I had wanted to try it for years, but couldn't come up with a flavor combination it made sense with.  But lemon and blue raspberry sounded great and black raspberry and blue raspberry sounded fine. Mint and blue raspberry, well, no, but I'd put the mint in the bottom and it wouldn't touch the blue raspberry much.

This was an excellent design.  The mint on the bottom meant that I had basically a plain mint cone at the end, satisfying on its own, creamy, and always a favorite.  The black raspberry and lemon were wonderful together, both complimenting each other well, and both just as good as always.  They also started my eating journey on a fruity note, before diving into the mint to finish.  It was a nice progression.

And the crazy dip?  It looked awesome (and got me a LOT of stares as I walked away with it), and, it was awesome.  Like my old favorite Slush Puppy flavor.  It was perfect with the lemon and good with the black raspberry.

I'd totally get this again, and it was an absolute favorite.  I also now wonder what other flavors would go well with that blue raspberry dip ...
Black Raspberry and Vanilla, Peanut Butter Dip, Half-Small.  $2.25.
Sometimes, even I'm not a pro at making ice cream choices.

This was one of those times.  I blame the cold weather (the reason I was eating this in the car).

I knew I liked the black raspberry soft serve the best.  I also knew I liked the peanut butter dip.  So I combined them.  I did put vanilla on top, so it would come most in contact with the peanut butter dip, but, I still had a fair amount of black raspberry and peanut butter combining, which, just didn't work great (it does sound a bit like a peanut butter and jelly, but, alas, no).

Note to self: don't mix black raspberry and peanut butter dip!
Black Raspberry, Vanilla, Orange Pineapple.  Rainbow Sprinkles.  Half-Small.  $2.25.
Dairy Twirl makes names for all of the layered creations, such as "Barney" for pistachio and black raspberry, "Pancake" for maple and blueberry, etc.  Two of my mom's favorites are the "Lilac" with black raspberry and vanilla, and "Creamsicle" with orange pineapple and vanilla.  I decided to combine them both, with the vanilla serving as the layer between.

This was a nice combination.  The black raspberry and vanilla went well together, the orange pineapple and vanilla went well together, and I'm not sure the black raspberry and orange would have been nice together, so having them separated was good.  All the flavors were creamy and melted perfectly.

I added rainbow sprinkles because it was very hot out and I was worried about it being too hot for dip, and I still wanted something, and they were fine.

Overall, a decent choice, and a good one for a time when the flavors available weren't my favorite.

Black Raspberry/Vanilla/Orange Pineapple, Chocolate Sprinkles, Chocolate Peanut Coated Specialty Waffle Cone, Half-Small. $3.75.
The next day I returned, and, alas, the flavors were the same.  I tried the coffee flavor (fine, but not for me), and decided to just get the same cone as the previous day.  But I couldn't really get the *same* cone, right?

I wanted to add dip, but it was 90 degrees, and I knew that was a recipe for disaster, as the ice cream would melt too fast and I'd turn into an ice cream covered mess, and my mom would threaten to wash me down with a hose (yes, some things never change).

I swapped my rainbow sprinkles for chocolate, since chocolate sprinkles go better with black raspberry, which I was putting on top.  And then ... I swapped out my standard cake cone for a specialty waffle cone, dipped in chocolate, and coated with peanuts.

Why did I go for this cone?  While, they were on display right in the window, and looked appealing.  I also had the choice of just chocolate dipped, or with chocolate or rainbow sprinkles, but nuts were the most unique.  I also picked this cone because, well, I actually hate cake cones.  They generally taste stale to me, I hate how they get soggy, and it always feels like eating styrofoam.  But I prefer my soft serve in a cone, as I like the experience of licking it.  Which means I always hit a point of profound disappointment when I hit the cone, not for the reasons that most people get sad because their ice cream has run out, but rather, because I know that I have to deal with either eating the cone I hate, sacrificing some ice cream, or somehow digging it out.  I figured if the waffle cone was good, then I could solve this problem.

Of course, the waffle cone was HUGE.  Even though I still ordered a half-small, you couldn't really put a half-small in this cone, it would look ridiculous.  My mother ordered a regular small dish, and there was certainly less in her dish than in my cone.  The volume of this thing was ridiculous.  We concluded that it was at least the same amount of ice cream as a medium.  My mom had finished her entire small before I even finished the top layer of mine.  It took effort, but, I finished it.  I felt extremely accomplished, and, uh, had quite the stomach ache.

So how was it?  The cone itself was better than the cake cone, but still just a Joy brand standard waffle cone, not homemade.  The chocolate coating was fine, the peanuts added a bit of crunch, but, there was really nothing special about it.

The bigger problem is that it was hard to eat.  I want a cone for the licking purposes, and this wasn't lickable in the same way.  So, I failed to achieve the most important part of eating a soft serve cone for me: licking around it, as it melts, in the sun.

It also didn't allow me to experience the mixed layers.  I could only reach the black raspberry at first, and then the vanilla, and then the orange pineapple.  I like the mix of orange pineapple and vanilla, a la creamsicle, but it wasn't possible to ever get to both in the way it is in a regular cone.  Same with the black raspberry and vanilla.

So ... not something I'd do again, certainly.  Cone was eh, form factor wasn't right for me, and it was too much ice cream.  But I'm glad my curiosity was satisfied.  (Oh, and the ice cream itself was great, just like the day before, perfectly creamy!)

$1.75 for half-serve + $0.50 for sprinkles + $1.50 for specialty waffle cone.

Toppings

The toppings list is extensive, with all sorts of chocolate candy (M&Ms, Snickers, peanut butter cups, kit kat, etc), gummy candy (gummy bears, gummy worms, etc), fruit (pineapple, strawberry, etc), sauces (fudge, caramel, butter scotch, peanut butter, marshmallow), and of course whipped cream, cherries, and nuts. I've actually never seen anyone get any of these.

The toppings people do get?  Sprinkles of course, and both rainbow and chocolate are offered.  And ... dips.  Dairy Twirl also stands out in this area, offering not just chocolate and cherry dip like most places, but also peanut butter, coconut, and blue raspberry!  Sprinkles and dips are both $0.50 to add on, and totally worth it.

I tend to go for the dips, because they are more novel and rare, but, they do require care and caution when eating on a hot day.  Soft serve melts quickly, and when you can't get to it to lick it because of the dip shell, it can cause quite the runny mess very quickly.  On hot days, or when I'm particularly wanting sprinkles, I'll go for sprinkles instead.  I very, very rarely opt for no sprinkles or dip, as they genuinely add to the experience for me.
"Creamsicle": Orange Pineapple and Vanilla, Coconut Dip, Half-Small.  $2.25.
Dips:

  • Coconut: The coconut dip actually has shredded coconut in it.  The shell itself didn't have much coconut flavor though, most like a kinda waxy sweet white chocolate.  It was fine, but, I wouldn't get it again. [ Previous notes: not very flavorful, although it did have visible chunks of toasted coconut. ]
  • Peanut Butter:  Clearly not actually peanut butter, but, I did really like the flavor, and it went well with vanilla. [ Previous notes: I really like the peanut butter! It goes great with chocolate ice cream. ]
  • Blue Raspberry: Stunning color!  Sweet, and actually does taste a bit like blue raspberry.  Amazing combination with lemon or black raspberry ice cream.
The chocolate and rainbow sprinkles are standard sprinkles, no more, no less.  Great for adding some texture and fun, but, yes, just sprinkles.

Soft Serve Flavor Notes

  • Black Raspberry: Creamy, decent raspberry flavor [ kinda standard, creamy, but not much flavor. ] [ Creamy, but meh, flavor not awesome ] [ Don't really like the black raspberry soft serve] [ A bit too raspberry for me? ] [ Creamy good, nice raspberry flavor ]
  • Blueberry; about teh same as black raspberry, creamy, but not tons flavor [ Creamy ,ok blueberry flavor but not awesome ]
  • Chocolate: Creamy, decent but I never like chocolate. [ This is fine, but, it is chocolate soft serve, which I just don't usually like.  Ok to mix with mint, but, really, I'd rather not have it. ]
  • Coffee: Very sweet, not much coffee flavor, do not like [ Creamy and smooth, but, not much coffee flavor ] [ Good coffee flavor, but a bit icy ] [ Creamy, mild coffee flavor, just not my thing. ]
  • Lemon: Amazing!  I don't like lemon in desserts usually, so I don't even know why I tried this, but, I loved it.  Slightly tart, sweet, and great lemon flavor.  I really loved this, and it paired nicely with both vanilla and black raspberry.
  • Mango: Didn't taste too fake, decent.
  • Mint: quite refreshing, great with chocolate sprinkles [Good mint flavor, very creamy] [ Very good ] [ One of my absolute favorites.  Really strong mint flavor.  Fine on its own, or mixed with vanilla ]
  • Orange Pineapple: I didn't really taste the pineapple in this, but the flavor was sweet citrus, and it goes well with vanilla a la creamsicle. [ When you have this alone, without vanilla, you can almost taste the fruity pineapple, but it is a much stronger orange flavor ... which is fine actually. ]
  • Peach: Very creamy, very good peach flavor.  A favorite.
  • Pistachio: I didn't like this.  My mom says it is too sweet, which wasn't my problem exactly.  It was too ... pistachio flavored?
  • Strawberry: Tasted a bit too fake.
  • Vanilla; creamy, not much flavor, meh [ Very good vanilla creamy decent flavor ] [ Creamy, solid, good. ] [ Creamy, solid, classic, good. ]
Strawberry Shake. $4.75.
On one visit, my mom picked up a strawberry shake for someone else.  I may have snuck a sip.

The shake was, well, a shake.  Strawberry ice cream and milk, blended.  No topping was offered.  It was served in a thick styrofoam cup with a large boba style straw.  It took considerably longer to prepare than a cone, and was priced fairly high ($4.75 for hard ice cream based, $3.75 for soft).  I guess if you wanted a shake this is a fine option, but I'm not sure why one would opt for this given the other options.
Dairy Twirl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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