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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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June 2, 2008 12:16 PM

You call it soft serve. I call it custard.

Posted by Nancy Leson


Talk about "Old Hunger" (as I'm wont to do): When I was a kid, my sisters and brother and I used to beg our parents to take us out for what we called "custard" (and folks around here call "soft serve"). Our favorite custard stand was next to a toy store called Kiddie City, in Northeast Philadelphia. When I was old enough to pay for my own ice cream and living in Cape May, N.J., I regularly made a pilgrimage to a joint called Drydock, where I'd get a cone for myself and a cup for my Golden Retriever. But for the life of me I can't seem to get my hands on any quality soft-serve ice cream:

Which is a sin because as much as I love, say, gelato, it doesn't satisfy my Old Hunger the way a cake cone filled with custard always does. Though I'll have to admit, a scoop of Procopio lavender gelato, with a free "Lenny Scoop" of rose gelato from Royal Grinders in Fremont, served here last night by owner Jay Suh, was a New Hunger sweet thrill for Old Me:



There's plenty of soft serve for sale in these parts, but none of it (not even the stuff I tried recently at Danny's Wonderfreeze in the Market, which I used to like a lot) tastes remotely like the custard I adored as a kid. That was made with actual dairy products and tasted like real chocolate, or real vanilla, or both if you got the twisty kind. I always ordered vanilla, with jimmies (you call them sprinkles). On Saturday, my son and I we were tooling around the Edmonds Waterfront Festival (something I swear I'll never do again, no matter how hard he begs -- remind me that I said that, OK?) and when he asked for soft serve I relented. A chip off the old block, he ordered a vanilla cone. With hope in my heart, I asked for a taste. It was the worst soft serve I've ever eaten.

Some of the best I've tasted on the this coast is at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C. at the Beacon Drive-In. But that's pretty far to go for custard. I hear there's a franchise in Vancouver, WA called Sheridan's that makes custard the right way. And for the last year or so I've been in contact with a fellow named Tom Strand, who's been trying to get me to drive South to Bonney Lake to try Old School Frozen Custard:



This morning I heard from him again via email. And this time he told me he's thinking of opening a second custard stand in (yes!) Seattle. So I called him for details, and he said while the Seattle store may be as much as a year in the offing (they're still scouting for the right location), he's convinced that if I got in the car and drove to Bonney Lake -- only 40 minutes from downtown Seattle -- I'd taste the kind of custard that would take me back to that custard-shack next to Kiddie City, and to a hot August day in Cape May, where my dog, Adam, would be happily licking the bottom of his cup while I enjoyed a double scoop of vanilla. Which, said Tom, would cost far less than what I'd pay for gelato (see above) or for fancy ice cream at other new places like Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream in Wallingford (which everyone's been talking about, and which he tried last week). He says I can count on going nuts over a single cone of vanilla:



Which costs $1.90. That's much less than I paid for that nasty "vanilla" cone at the Waterfront Festival on Saturday. What's more, in addition to umpteen other custard toppings, Old School has jimmies.

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