It’s Ice Cream in the Rain, Just Ice Cream in the Rain

IMG_2645Some businesses that have been around for a long time keep things going by doing it all the same way, but sometimes, you have to keep reinventing yourself. It looks like Ballard’s in Concord has had to do that, but they’re still a charming place to take your kids or kid at heart.

I had never been to Ballard’s, but they used to have a retail store (Ballard’s Novelty & Party) that carried all sorts of things, including costumes and dancewear for the Concord, NH area. Although it closed in 2010, due at least in part I’m sure to the advent of the internet and big box stores, Ballard’s Ice Cream is still a charming throwback to another era – perhaps 1983, when they began selling ice cream.

My friend Sheree and I probably picked one of the worst days for ice cream – it wasn’t just cold, but it was raining, hard, and the playground equipment and outdoor area that would normally seem charming sure seemed depressing and empty in the rain! But we had a job to do (also, lots of catching up to do), so we weren’t going to let a thing like a downpour deter us.

IMG_2643.JPGI should also be upfront and say that we chose this location because it was new to me & convenient for our purposes. I knew that it wasn’t homemade ice cream (they said it comes from a few local vendors) and I also knew it was premium ice cream, not super premium, which isn’t something I try to be a snob about but which does tend to make for an ice cream I’m not as gung-ho about, as my blog entries will attest. But honestly, what sold me on Ballard’s was the sheer number of flavors on their website. There were tons of them that sounded delicious, and I couldn’t want to see what they had available during our visit.

I had my eye on Frosted Cupcake, described as “premium vanilla cupcake flavored ice cream loaded with a chocolate frosting swirl and chunks of tasty yellow cake”. Any time I can get a cross between cake and ice cream I am ridiculously excited about it, and this really sounded awesome. Of course they were out. 😦 (Being the detective sleuth that I am, I tried googling the flavor to know where it came from – looks like Hershey’s to me.)

But I came prepared with two other flavors, which they were willing to cram into a small cup for me even at the insanely cheap price of $2.75! (Their regular is $4.25, which means you can either go a little smaller than average and save big or go a little bigger and pay more, but it’s reasonable either way.)

Here’s my report on what I did get!

IMG_2651.JPGMidnight Caramel River – This was really tasty, and actually tasted almost exactly like a Hoodsie cup! “Creamy golden vanilla and dark chocolate ice cream flooded with a thick caramel swirl.” (Looks like Hershey’s too!)

Caramel Cheesecake Cookie Monster – The caramel in this is tasty, but it’s definitely not high quality – like a kids treat. The base is sort of cookies and creamy…I didn’t like the chocolate chunks, unfortunately, they were very chalky, and the cheesecake in this was only okay. “Caramel ice cream loaded with delicious cookies and cream cheesecake chunks and a chocolate wafer cookie.” (Also a possible Hershey’s match.)

I would absolutely recommend Ballard’s for kids. There is a train to play on, plenty of seating, affordable ice cream and they have tons of “real food” options as well, including sandwiches, fried food and even tacos. So it would be a fun night out with your family and you can support a local business. Following Ballard’s Facebook page has shown me how much they support their fellow businesses (even their own competition in Concord) and they absolutely deserve your support.

And although it wasn’t my favorite ice cream adventure (the weather didn’t help), I learned that I am very drawn to Hershey’s flavors – and the company was fantastic, which is the most important thing!

Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful week!

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A Throwback To An Earlier Era

Unless you’re new to this blog, you know that I really prefer homemade ice cream, frozen yogurt and the like over store bought or chain options. It’s fresher, it’s tastier, and I know I’m supporting a business that is as local as it gets.

But winters are pretty quiet on the ice cream front in New Hampshire. And since, in an unusual turn of events, I have been to Friendly’s TWICE this year, I feel compelled to write about it, even if I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I went there.

For those who aren’t local/aren’t old enough to remember Friendly’s, here are some highlights about what makes Friendly’s unique.

  1. Tons of kids. Tons of kids! This is basically kid-central. They offer special deals on certain days for families, plus they have an awesome kid menu that includes lots of kids-only sundae options that are way cuter than the adult options. This is not the place to come for a quiet, or a fancy, dinner, but it’s a great choice for a group of kids or teenagers that needs their non-alcoholic food and ice cream fix. It was a very popular stop when my family wanted to go out to dinner growing up. Inexpensive & something for everyone, as long as everyone is happy with old-fashioned American food. Like chicken fingers and ice cream.
  2. The decor…in the past, it felt pretty dated. Red and white, the colors of the logo, are a part of the theming, and it kind of felt like a glorified cafeteria, or maybe a super-kid-friendly diner. Usually it had an ice cream counter as well as tables and booths. The decor (and how easy it was to clean it all) made it feel a little too kid-friendly to me in years past…you always felt a little dirty and silly, like going to IHOP. But, I’m happy to report that the Friendly’s locations of today (at least the two I’ve been to in Concord) are embracing their history. The walls are lined with black and white photos and articles emphasizing that Friendly’s has been a part of the New England dining landscape, for meals and ice cream, since the early twentieth century – 1935 in Springfield, MA to be exact. As a result, it seems to be more of a fun retro vibe rather than feeling like a fancy fast food place. I really like it!
  3. Did I mention it’s inexpensive? Their website describes the feel as “informal” and I think that’s apt. This is the place for a burger, a “Supermelt” and a sundae.
  4. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve always wished you could get breakfast all day (you definitely cannot) but there’s lots to choose from here. And they are currently running a “half off breakfast” deal Monday – Friday, which is pretty awesome!
  5. The ice cream, of course! Now, they sell it in grocery stores, at least in New England, and as a general rule, Friendly’s ice cream isn’t super exciting. But they have some very tasty frozen yogurt – Vienna Mocha Swirl is one of my absolute favorites currently unless I’m springing for Gifford’s – and most importantly if you’re dining at Friendly’s, they have super fun shakes and sundaes. The one thing I cannot recommend, unfortunately, is a Friend-Z. It’s like a blizzard (DQ) or a flurry (McDonald’s). But in my experience growing up, they are NEVER well-mixed. Ever. It’s about 20% toppings, and then 80% vanilla for the rest of it. A definite skip. Just go find a Dairy Queen.

So, I’m sure you’re anxiously awaiting the results of my trip(s) to Friendly’s. I went with my family in January and I got a tasty fried chicken salad – you know the kind, with honey mustard dressing? Not very healthy but delightful. And I got their medium size sundae, should have gone smaller, but it’s hard to mess up Oreo ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. My dining companions were happy too.

When Ross and I went two weekends back – I sent him a list of six cheap places, and Friendly’s was the one calling his name – we had a similarly pleasant experience. I had a tuna roll, mostly because it came with fries – the tuna was a little too dry (and there was way too much!) but the roll was tasty, and Ross had a very nice honey BBQ chicken salad which was of course not the healthiest choice but very fun.

I had a coIMG_1004upon due to St. Patrick’s Day week, and there were a few desserts I could save half price on. Since the Monster O’Mash sundae had a face – and since it’s a kid sundae, but the waitress told me I could order it anyway – that was the obvious choice for me. They also have Pop Tart ice cream sundaes – really! – so Ross ordered one of those. (It turned out the coupon wasn’t good yet, but they made an exception for me, which was very nice! Fill out those surveys and help those nice people out.) IMG_1009 (1)

My sundae was mint Oreo ice cream, with Reese’s ears, m & m eyes, a cherry nose and hot fudge hair. Since I don’t normally eat candy it was kind of overwhelming and fun. The mint always hits the spot. It was very small – which was a good call because Ross’ super-cheap ($1.99 normally/) ice cream sandwich was huge – it is actually 2 Pop Tarts, not one. He went with the chocolate frosted pop tart, which comes with chocolate ice cream. I’m not a huge Pop Tart fan. It was a great vehicle for holding ice cream and since it wasn’t overly sweet, it was kind of a nice compliment, but not my favorite thing. Hard to mess up chocolate ice cream though! Ross was really enjoying the flashback to his childhood.IMG_5754

Our Friendly’s dining experience was as nice as we could have asked for. I definitely recommend an ice cream stop in a pinch, and the food is always satisfactory enough if it isn’t something I’d crave. I don’t think I’ll be returning for dinner any time soon. Maybe in another five or ten years. But hey, you never know. Sometimes, especially when you’re on the highway driving, you just want a taste of your childhood…

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Second Time’s the…

I was so excited for this blog entry to be the victorious redemption for Granite State Candy Shoppe. Ross, my husband, and I were heading into Concord to grab a cheap dinner, and we settled on Mexican (well, something like it – Dos Amigos) and ice cream from Granite State Candy Shoppe. As it was after 5 p.m., I knew we had to get there fast (it was Saturday), but we had enough time to park (not easy in Concord on a Saturday night) and head to ice cream. We figured the dinner could come afterwards. Ice cream before dinner is never a problem in our house.

When we walked in, I looked toward the ice cream case and saw it covered in decorations. The wall still had all their ice cream prices, but there was no flavor list….I had a bad feeling about this. I saw that there was a freezer full of ice cream pints behind me.

“Do you only have pints available for sale right now?” I asked, calmly. “Yes,” someone cheerfully responded, “Unfortunately we don’t sell enough to scoop ice cream during the winter. Sometime after Easter we’ll start scooping again.”

Ugh. Ross would have settled for splitting a pint, but they were expensive. If I pay $6 or the like for a pint, I want to make sure I like the flavor and the experience, and they didn’t even have chairs that we could sit in…and frankly, the last time I had Granite State Candy Shoppe’s ice cream, it wasn’t my favorite, so I wasn’t taking any chances today.

So we left, empty-handed. We ended up having some phenomenal Mexican food at Hermanos Cocina Mexicana instead – and then we picked up some frozen yogurt at Market Basket for the road, which thankfully ended up being quite good (it was Kemp’s).

So unfortunately, I haven’t had some phenomenal frozen yogurt or ice cream in recent memory, but the abnormally warm weather we’ve had recently tells me that soon enough the ice cream stands will be opening and I can enjoy one of my favorite summer traditions…and spring…and fall…you get the idea.

Have you had some amazing ice cream recently? Where is first on your list to tell you it’s spring, or summer? Lots of people have been sharing some “best ice cream” lists and I’m getting really excited to try them all in my travels!

Thanks so much for stopping by. Happy eating!

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Too Close for Comfort in Concord

I had a little incident the other night. Last weekend, to be precise. On Saturday, I had plans to see my husband’s band perform at True Brew Barista in Concord, which is not only a great place for coffee or tea but also a place to hear live, original music (and there’s a bar, too). I had some errands to run before the show, and I knew that since I had been good and packed my dinner, I wanted to reward my frugality with ice cream. Because that’s how we treat ourselves here in the world of Jamie…

In any case, the errands ran a bit longer than I would have liked, so my ice cream options were somewhat limited. Since I was heading to Concord, I thought I might stop at Arnie’s again and try a new flavor…but then I remembered there was a homemade ice cream option right in downtown Concord, where I was headed! A little voice told me, “well, you’re a risk taker then, because who knows if they’ll be open at 6:30 on a Saturday night…”but I chose to ignore the voice and take the risk, because I knew my blog readers would appreciate a report on Granite State Candy Shoppe if they could get one.

IMG_9876When I pulled into a parking space across the street from the store, I noticed it looked pretty dark. I knew this didn’t bode well – but I decided I’d get out and take a look, just in case. Upon further investigation, I saw they had indeed closed at 6 p.m. on a Saturday – and it was now about 6:23 p.m. If it wasn’t so cold, I would have taken some time to really stew on the fact that downtown Concord doesn’t have a homemade ice cream place open on a Saturday night- and in fact, their website says they’re open until 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, which means their Saturday close time is even sillier. But given the cold and the fact that I was on a mission, I decided I would put off my stewing and quickly walk the span of downtown to see if there was a suitable dessert option available. Eating store-bought ice cream or frozen yogurt from the Co-op or a convenience store wouldn’t cut it given my Raynaud’s syndrome (it makes me lose circulation extremely quickly in my hands and feet) and the cold temperature. So that meant it would be a sit down inside option or a sad Jamie tonight.

I didn’t have high hopes. I passed a couple of places that were closed that might have been promising. I also passed Dos Amigos, which I knew would be in my budget but probably didn’t have any exciting dessert options, although they do have some tasty tacos and burritos. And then, up ahead, I had a fantastic surprise – Orange Leaf! IMG_9880Now, don’t get me wrong. I have had Orange Leaf before and I was not wowed at all…but when you’re craving some good ice cream or frozen yogurt, some healthy predictable soft frozen yogurt is honestly not a bad alternative. I loved TCBY as a kid (basically my travel frozen yogurt, as I’d only get it in airports and train stations) and though Orange Leaf isn’t the same, we’re in the ballpark. This is an instance where I’d gladly take a somewhat less tasty product for a lower calorie option with some probiotics. So without a moments hesitation – well, except for a few moments to try to get a decent picture of the sign without street light reflections, and then a few more moments to focus my energy on photographing the entrance – I stepped inside, feeling I was “at home” and in a great place to kill some time before the show.

IMG_9889So, why do I not normally get excited about a chain like Orange Leaf? If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s not just because it’s a chain, although that’s a contributing factor. More importantly, a place like Orange Leaf is just using one base and then mixing in standard flavors, normally sent to them from the same company every other frozen yogurt place is using. The flavors aren’t that rich or that fresh and the uniformity is annoying, and my money ends up supporting an experience that, frankly, I hate. Some of you might enjoy paying (usually too much money) for a giant bowl of frozen yogurt that you can fill yourself, cover in toppings and then pay a mystery price for by the ounce. Personally, I greatly prefer to order, for example, a small cup of chocolate chip cookie dough – I know the price up front, I have some control over the portion size without relying on my eye to not sentence me to gaining two pounds, and I don’t have to walk to the counter in fear that when they weigh it, I will have spent $5 or even $10 on what will inevitably be sub-par frozen yogurt. I also hate how the only ice cream cups available in these places are always HUGE – why not acknowledge that maybe a kid or a small adult can’t finish, or doesn’t want to finish, three or four cups of yogurt? So, if you wondered what biased me against Orange Leaf, that would be my answer.

But when a girl is hungry and craving ice cream or frozen yogurt, everything tastes better and standards get relaxed. That’s just the way of the world. Plus, it was warm inside, with free wifi, and they had this adorable window seat with one chair (at least at the time) apparently just for me. And they seemed really IMG_9895friendly. So all of that really helped to make for a nice frozen yogurt experience in downtown Concord.

So the question remains – how was the frozen yogurt? It was as I expected. Some flavors were pretty good, and some not so much. I tend to try a whole bunch of things when given the opportunity, so I did. Keep in mind that they were ALL low fat, so they clearly won’t stack up well against a premium or super premium ice cream. And despite giving myself many flavors, I managed to only pay $3.44, which I honestly thought would be impossible! So their prices are reasonable and actually comparable to what I’d pay somewhere else, like Arnie’s.

Cheesecake & Reese’s Peanut Butter – I tried them as a swirl. The cheesecake is really delicious. I’d get a whole cup of it for sure, and it would be great with mix-ins like strawberries. The peanut butter isn’t bad, but it’s not as chocolatey as a Reese’s and not memorable at all.

Cookie Cake and York Peppermint Patty – I also swirled these. The cookie flavor tastes like bad cookie dough in cookie dough ice cream. Meh. Tastes low fat. The peppermint flavor is nice – but I would have liked it WAY better solo.

Brownie Batter – Glad I saved it for last (aka bottom corner of the cup). It has a nice deep chocolate flavor that reminded me of a good chocolate ice cream when it’s a bit melty. You won’t miss the fat here. Very tasty.

Salted Caramel – The saltiness is a bit too much, but I love that it has actual caramel strips in it. If it had higher quality, sweeter caramel, it would improve it, but it’s quite tasty.

So, if you’re ever facing a desperate craving in downtown Concord, I do recommend Orange Leaf, particularly if you stick to the flavors I outlined. Of course if you’re into mix-ins, the base probably doesn’t matter half as much to you as it does to me. Thanks for stopping by! And I’d love to hear your own chain yogurt experiences for comparison/commiseration.

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Catching Carnies at Arnie’s

The best place to catch carnies (that’s a slang term for carnival workers) is probably at a carnival, but NH isn’t known for its winter carnivals. So instead, I headed to Arnie’s Place.IMG_9528

Actually, I didn’t really need a carnie, although it would have made for a good story. I just wanted a clever rhyme in my title today. But I DID visit Arnie’s Place in Concord, NH for their opening weekend, and I am happy to report that it was as awesome as I remembered.

I have to confess that for someone who grew up in NH, I am very late to the Arnie’s bandwagon. I had heard good things about them previously, but last season was my first time visiting. It’s a place that lives up to the local hype. Delicious homemade ice cream, including hard ice cream, frozen yogurt and soft serve in chocolate, vanilla and maple. And that doesn’t even get into their BBQ and other real food, which I have enjoyed although I am definitely not an expert on their other foods. I visited twice last year, enjoying their delicious maple soft serve (probably in the same ballpark as the creemee I enjoyed last week) as well as some hard ice cream and yogurt.

When I heard that Arnie’s was opening for the season (in February, no less!) I knew I should visit and contribute a few dollars toward the homemade ice cream in February cause. So Ross, my husband, and I stopped by on Sunday.

Ross reminded me that the worst thing about Arnie’s is definitely the location. It’s on Loudon Rd. a busy commercial street that isn’t particularly clean or welcoming. But its adorable exterior would be perfectly suited to a small town location or a beach setting. So when I visit, I like to imagine it’s in a nicer spot. Mind over matter, I guess? At least the parking is plentiful!

Arnie’s has both indoor and outdoor ordering and seating, at least in season, and they keep a fridge stocked with ice cream cakes and treats in a corner. I will of course focus my attention on their ice cream-related products since that’s what this blog is about.

IMG_9540Their menu is extensive, and in addition to a regular list of flavors, sundaes and other treats (including an extensive list of shakes), they have a flurry of the week. Their flurry this week sounded fantastic to me- but I am really not a fan of nuts in ice cream, so I decided to skip the awesomeness: maple soft serve with pecans, shortbread cookies and a chocolate dip!

Thanks to a recent blog by my friend Theresa, I was reminded that chocolate chili chunk is one of their signature flavors…and since I had never had that flavor, that seemed like an obvious choice. Ross got a kiddie – one good size scoop. I was afraid that the chili kick might get too intense over time, so I used it as an excuse to get two flavors – I settled on peppermint stick after trying the white chocolate, which was a little too subtle for my taste and purpose.

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Ross and I were really impressed with the chocolate chili chunk. The chocolate base is super smooth and a classic chocolate flavor, with good size bites of chocolate chunks. But after you get the rich creamy chocolate flavor, the aftertaste is a large dose of chili. It’s awesome! Sweet and smooth followed by the chili kick. It’s amazing to me that it happens with every bite too. The chocolate base clears the chili, and then the chili is back with a vengeance. So good.

And if you aren’t convinced, I can confirm that peppermint stick is a PERFECT compliment to the chocolate chili chunk. This is an excellent peppermint base – it’s the most real peppermint flavor I have ever tasted! Minty coolness alternating with the chili is awesome, and we all know that chocolate and peppermint is a good combo. One of the best choices I made this month. 🙂

So, even if you won’t find any carnies at Arnie’s, I highly recommend a visit, whether you’re in the mood for maple soft serve, hard ice cream, a flurry or something else entirely. If you’re local, it’s probably worth buying a t-shirt too – you get 1/2 off a cone or dish whenever you wear it there, and with the way I eat ice cream, that would pay for itself easily in a summer! Support this delicious homemade ice cream place and the fact that they open so early in the season.

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