Thursday, October 19, 2017

King Kone

I have a serious love of soft serve ice cream - the real stuff, the kind you find at little New England roadside ice cream stands, the places that are only open in the summer.  I have my favorite spot in my home town (Dairy Twirl!), and although I've tried all the others around there, I don't often find myself seeking out new ice cream places around town during the limited time I'm on the east coast in the summer.  Dairy Twirl is good and reliable, and most places don't really match the quality.

But on my recent trip home, I wanted to find a place for my mom and I to stop for ice cream on our way to Boston, when she returned me to the airport.  I did a bunch of research, looking for somewhere right off the highway.  That was an easy requirement, but, I also wanted somewhere that would be awesome.  And I found it.

King Kone, in Merrimack, NH.
King Kone!
King Kone was everything I wanted it to be.

Easy to take a slight detour to from the highway, adorable, and, well, delicious.  My mother, who is even more of an ice cream aficionado than I am, said it was the best soft serve she's ever had.  After several visits, I completely agree.

The ice cream is creamier, smoother, and more flavorful than any other ice cream shop I have visited.  It is also sweeter, and I think I'd prefer the sweetness toned down a bit, but, it is still the best I've ever had.

Setting

King Kone is located on the side of the road, right off the highway (Route 3), down the street a bit further from a handful of fast food establishments.  It has been there longer, more than 40 years.
Old-School Signage.
Everything about King Kone is old-school, starting with the sign, complete with a ice cream cone man wearing a crown, aka, the King Kone?

They take cash only, by the way.
Parking and Side View.
King Kone has some parking, but on our visit (3:30pm on a warm Friday afternoon) the lot was entirely full.
Front Window, Seating.
King Kone is a classic ice cream stand, with no interior space, just a window, with signs out front, and some picnic tables.

And yes, it is shaped a bit like a castle, you know, for the king.
Picnic Tables.
The space out front has a single set of picnic tables, and a little space to mill around, but not much else.  Many people seemed to take their ice cream back to their cars, but I'm always such a disaster with sprinkles falling off and ice cream running down my arms, that going inside a car is risky business.  Luckily, we grabbed a spot at the table.

The neighboring properties all have signs asking you to respect their space, and in particular, not come sit on their grass.  I feel bad for the neighbors, but, yeah, King Kone doesn't have much space.

Food

King Kone features soft serve using a unique base from Oakhurst Dairy from Portland, Maine, rather than Hood or any of the larger scale bases used by most other ice cream shops in New England.  They use all natural extracts and emulsions to craft the flavors rather than just syrups.  They care, a lot, about the quality of the ice cream, and it shows.
Menu.
King Kone does have a little bit of food in addition to ice cream offerings: hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs, tacos, and chili.  I didn't see anyone ordering them though.

Ice cream is obviously the focus, soft serve only.  No hard serve, no frozen yogurt, no dairy free options, etc.  Just soft serve ice cream.

Ice cream is available as a cone or dish, in "standard" sizes (kiddie, small, medium, large) with a small assortment of toppings: rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, "crunch coat", and three types of dip (chocolate, cherry, peanut butter).  Sundaes are also available, with a few liquid toppings (hot fudge, strawberry, butterscotch, pineapple), as are "Razzles", soft serve with mix-ins blended in, and basic ice cream sodas and frappes.
Flavors for the Week.
King Kone offers 5 flavors at a time.  They have 3 soft serve machines, each of which holds two flavors.  One always contains classic vanilla and chocolate, available as a twist.  The other 4 slots are filled with 3 flavors of the week, plus another vanilla or chocolate slot for a twist with one of the weekly specials.

If you ask for a sample, you are given a very generous sample, on a sundae spoon.

Visit #1: May 2017

On my first visit, our options were:
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Twist (Vanilla/Chocolate) 
  • Peach
  • Peaches & Cream (Peach and Vanilla Twist)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Banana
  • Peanut Butter & Banana Twist
Peanut Butter & Vanilla, with Crunch Coat, Kiddie. $2.85.
I love peanut butter soft serve, so I certainly had my eye on it the moment I read the flavors of the week.  But, the "Peaches and Cream" mix also sounded good.  So I asked to sample both the peach and peanut butter.  Both were good, but I knew they wouldn't combine well.  The peanut butter had the edge, so I went with it.

However, I didn't want *just* peanut butter, but it was on the same machine as banana, so my options were peanut butter, or peanut butter and banana twist.  I asked if I could have vanilla and peanut butter, and I was told no.  I specified that I didn't want them twisted, and suggested just one on top of the other.  It is always interesting to me to see how different places handle multiple flavors, the response is really different everywhere.  Some places won't do it for the smallest sizes, but will for others.  Others, like J.P. Licks let you pick two and they do a single layer of each, and others, like my favorite Dairy Twirl in my hometown, allow you to pick even three (yes, in the smallest size!) or if you pick two, they layer them twice.  Here, the person taking my order was amenable to trying to do two flavors, so I asked for vanilla on the bottom, peanut butter on top, which she did with no problem.

Both flavors were incredibly creamy, rich, smooth, ice cream.  They melted perfectly in the hot weather.  No ice crystals, just, absolutely perfect texture.

The vanilla was very, very good.  It wasn't a boring vanilla, it had some real flavor to it, but, it was sweeter than most.  The peanut butter had nice flavor, you could taste the peanut butter, but, it wasn't the most intense I've had, and it too was a bit sweeter than average.  My mom also commented that her flavors (chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, in a dish), seemed to have more sugar than usual.

I had no idea what "Crunch Coat" was, but the image on the sign showed something crunchy, so I was very excited to try a new cone-friendly topping.  I love having sprinkles on my cones because I like having something on the cone, but, sprinkles aren't exactly delicious on their own.  Crunch Coat also includes rainbow sprinkles, for a pop of color too!

I'm still not entirely sure what Crunch Coat is ... it seemed to be candied peanuts, mixed with the sprinkles?  But the nuts were coated in something more than just regular candied nut coating.  It was really crunchy, flavorful, and very sweet.  The chunks are bigger than sprinkles, so the eating experience is even more fun than just regular sprinkles.  On a hot day though it was a bit hard to deal with, I think the weight of the crunch made it slip down faster than sprinkles, so I had to lick very fast.  It was also really a bit too sweet, at least, it was when combined with the sweet ice cream.  Still, I really liked it.  (Side note: I didn't grow up in Dairy Queen world, but, apparently, this is something they serve too?)

The rainbow sprinkles were good, and, like other reviewers had said, they aren't the same generic brand most places have.  Better colors, a bit crunchier, less waxy, less like plastic.

The cone was a standard Joy cone, full size.  Many places use smaller cones for kiddie cones / baby cones / x-small, but here, it was a regular full size cone, containing far more ice cream than I am accustomed.  It was not stale, but obviously just a standard Joy cake cone, which I never actually want (I like to lick ice cream from a cone, but I never actually like the cones).  Luckily, I had a spoon left from my tasting that I was able to use to extract the plentiful ice cream from the cone.

I went with the kiddie cone, and it was a fairly large cone.  Not a monster or anything, but certainly not what you'd want to give a 5 year old, particularly because of the usage of a regular cone as the base, rather than a special smaller one.  I wasn't actually particularly hungry when we arrived, so it was a bit more than I wanted, but on a normal day, I think the quantity would be just right.

Overall, this was a success.  I was glad to have two flavors of ice cream when I got a bit sick of one, and I'd happily get either again.  I liked both my coatings, and I'd get them again too - the crunch coat because I really liked the experience of eating it, the sprinkles because I love sprinkles.

A kiddie cone is $2.85, with each topping $0.35.  I liked that they charge differently for toppings on different sizes, aka, for a medium ($4.50), each topping is $0.50 instead.  It makes sense to charge based on consumption, it just isn't something I've seen before.

Visit #2: July 2017

I was back in New Hampshire several weeks later, and, I planned my transit back to Boston to include a stop at King Kone.  My mom did not object.

Our flavors this time were:
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Twist (Vanilla & Chocolate Twist)
  • Lemon
  • Cake Batter
  • Lemon Lush (Lemon and Cake Batter Twist)
  • Mint
  • Mint Chocolate (twist)
As before, the flavors all sounded great, so I tried a few, and then made my decision.  As before, all were good, and I would have been happy with any.  The flavors were all good, the texture perfect.
Vanilla & Mint, with Crunch Coat, Kiddie. $2.85.
I liked the lemon.  I liked the cake batter.  But the mint was my favorite of the weekly specials.  Not content to pick just one flavor, and not wanting chocolate (the swirl option), I decided to ask for vanilla too (I didn't think mint and lemon or cake batter would mix very well, and, well, they make a seriously good vanilla).

Last time I asked for two flavors, my server had never done it in a cone, but was more than willing to try it.  This time I was told no.  I could do it in a cup, as a side by side.  But not a cone.  I pressed, saying I had it that way once before.  I still got a no.  Two different servers got involved, and each told me no.  I probably looked like I was going to cry or something, because, they finally agreed.  I asked for mint on the bottom and vanilla on top since I wanted the crunch coat again and thought it would go best with the vanilla, but, she made it backwards.  At least I got my two flavors though?

The mint was, uh, minty?  A really nice mint flavor, refreshing, creamy, perfect.  It didn't go great with the peanuty crunch coat though, and would have been better with chocolate sprinkles or chocolate dip probably.  Or in the bottom of my cone, as I intended.

The vanilla was again fantastic.  A simple flavor, but so well done.  So creamy.  Seriously, most creamy soft serve I've ever had.  It melts perfectly too.  I loved it, particularly with the crunch coat.

I'm sold on crunch coat.  I think it adds a great texture, sweetness, and fun.
Vanilla / Chocolate Swirl, with Peanut Butter Dip, Kiddie.  $2.85.
A companion went for classic vanilla chocolate swirl, but ... he added my favorite type of dip: peanut butter.

I demanded a try.  If King Kone's ice cream quality, and sprinkle quality, was much higher than everywhere else, I hoped that their dip too would blow my mind and exceed expectations.

The dip was good, but, it was like most other dip I've had.  No better, no worse.

One thing we did notice is that dipped cones were taller and thinner, with more of a peak, whereas coated cones were shorter and wider, with no tip.  I wonder if this was intentional, or, just coincidence based on my other two.

Other Flavors:
  • Cake Batter:  This was a great flavor, it tasted like good cake, not fake.  But it was very sweet, too sweet for me at the time.  Perhaps swirled with another flavor it would be less intense?
  • Chocolate:  I'm not one for chocolate ice cream in general, but when Ojan couldn't finish his cone, I tried it.  It was ... well, chocolate ice cream.  Not for me, but I loved how creamy it was, like all the others.
  • Lemon:  As I've said many times, I don't like lemon desserts, so you wouldn't even expect me to give this one a second glance.  But, I loved the lemon at Dairy Twirl, so, I wanted to give King Kone a try.  It was very good.  Lovely lemon flavor, slightly tart, but still fairly sweet.  Creamy and perfect texture like the others.
  • Peach: Great texture like the other flavors, sweet, creamy, a bit fruity.  I liked it, but I opted for other flavors instead that I liked even more.
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