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Saturday’s Soft Serve Standings

April 12, 2011

This past Saturday was glorious. The sun was shining, and it was most definitely a beautiful spring day. At noon, still smelling sweetly of smoke from the pits at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, I arrived at On the Farm in Latham without my jacket. I had a stack of scoresheets, a digital scale, and an overwhelming desire to eat some ice cream.

It was an auspicious beginning for the first annual Tour de Soft Serve.

There were a few no shows, but all in all ten intrepid eaters went forth to sample the wares at five of the most beloved seasonal soft serve stands in Albany County (plus one just over the river in Clifton Park): On the Farm, Guptil’s, Country Drive In, Kurver Kreme and Jim’s Tastee Freez.

This slate was highly influenced by reader nominations as well as the geographic footprint of these stands. All in all this tour was completed in less than four hours. But all of the work was worthwhile. Because while some may insist all soft serve tastes the same, I and the rest of the eaters from the tour can assure you it does not.

There was one establishment that rose significantly above all the others, whose soft serve was superior in almost every measure.

But before I tell you which one it was, you should understand how these soft serve institutions were evaluated.

All participants were instructed to order chocolate and vanilla twist. Each person could choose his or her delivery device, be it cup or cone, but it had to remain consistent throughout the tour. The same was true of toppings, although everyone but Danika opted to have their soft serve naked. Danika went for the gusto with hot fudge.

The rest of the judges evaluated on a five-point scale the vanilla, the chocolate, the texture, the value, and the overall experience of their soft serves.

I took all these numbers and ran them through the computer. I averaged the scores and converted the averages to 100-point scales just to make the differences pop a bit more. But really the scores are almost immaterial since eight of the ten judges agreed the best soft serve of the day was On the Farm.

On the Farm was praised for its “nice firm texture” and its density. This was not wimpy mush soft serve, this was a frozen confection to be reckoned with. Its “vanilla was fantastic” and another commented that the, “vanilla tastes like vanilla.” I personally really liked the clear cocoa notes in the chocolate.

And while one might expect vanilla to taste like vanilla and chocolate to taste like chocolate across the board, you would be woefully surprised.

Enter Guptil’s. It was hard to come after a strong contender. In comparison Guptil’s wasn’t as dense or as flavorful as On the Farm. It seemed sweeter to me, and a few other tasters noted a strong and unpleasant artificial aftertaste. With a slight increase in price and a decrease in quality, Guptil’s also was perceived to be the worst value of the bunch.

Country Drive In was a real head-scratcher. The place itself is amazing. It looks like a small carnival in the middle of a residential neighborhood. This effect is achieved through giant umbrellas suspended from tent poles and the mouth watering smells of charred meat and fried foods.

While Country Drive In was Jen’s favorite, it was both widely panned for the “marshmallow fluff” texture of its vanilla and widely praised for having the best tasting chocolate on the tour. Interestingly enough, the chocolate was not plagued with the same over-whipped texture of the vanilla. Although in the spirit of full disclosure, Jen actually liked the “fluffy” texture and it was one of the things that made this place her favorite.

Speaking of favorites, the local favorite was next: Kurver Kreme. It’s easy to see why people flock there in droves. Despite not being thrilled with the soft serve itself the place tied for the top in the value category. One taster wrote, “Kurver Kreme was the worst – lacked flavor all around – just tasted ‘sweet’.” And he wasn’t alone. Others mentioned, “Fluffy nothingness” and “vanilla tastes like nothing” whereas I speculated that if blindfolded I might not be able to tell the difference between their vanilla and chocolate.

Still, it should be noted that Danika found their hot fudge to be the best of the tour. And I appreciated that their kids cup was actually a respectably small size (100g including Styrofoam cup and plastic spoon for $1.25).

The tour concluded at Jim’s Tastee Freez, and one might imagine that with jaded, fatigued palates and stomachs about to split open with ice cream that there would be nothing to love. However this was @DC2ALB’s favorite stop of the day and others praised the soft serve’s texture and density. While DC2ALB found the flavors to be a bit more muted, she felt that they went well together, and that in addition to the stand’s great value put it over the top for her. Those who were eating ice cream by the cone noted the Tastee Freez cone itself had a cinnamon flavor that was not entirely unpleasant.

When all of the numbers are crunched, Jim’s Tastee Freez is the clear runner-up.

I am thrilled to have discovered On the Farm, where I most certainly will return specifically for their ice cream. Should I ever find myself up in Clifton Park, you can bet I’ll try to swing a side trip to the Country Drive In. And I’ve got to get back to Tastee Freez at least once this summer to try a chocolate soft serve in one of their cinnamon spiked cones.

I am also thrilled to never have to return to Kurver Kreme. I know it’s an institution, but I can’t eat your childhood memories. So I’m going elsewhere.

Thanks to those of you who came out in support of this effort. I had a great time, and I hope you did too. And if you missed this outing, don’t fret. A new one is surely just a few months away.

In the meantime, don’t forget to vote in the 2011 Times Union’s Best of the Capital Region Reader’s Choice poll. I’m respectfully requesting that you consider voting for the full slate of businesses on the FUSSYlittleBALLOT in an attempt to make the results reflect what’s truly best in the region. There are only 11 more days to make your voice heard. Please, do it today, and then tell your friends. Thank you.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 9:45 am

    Latham finally wins something!

    The best part of On the Farm is their featured flavored twist. Usually X and Vanilla. I’ve seen X be strawberry, raspberry, banana, orange, etc. There was one week in 2009 where the featured twist was coconut and chocolate, and, man, was it amazing. Needless to say, I was there 3 times that week.

    Being that I only live 2 minutes away, I expect to get a phone call/text/tweet to know when you’re going.

    • April 12, 2011 11:56 am

      Agreed! I did mention that as we walked up to the window. One thing that ranks On the Farm higher for me is their variety of flavors beyond the standard vanilla/chocolate twist. I really like their coffee soft serve.

      • April 12, 2011 12:03 pm

        How could I forget about coffee!??!?! So good!

  2. April 12, 2011 12:04 pm

    We hit Jumpin’ Jack’s last night and figured we’d try their ice cream, too — our verdict was that it was like Country Drive-In’s in vanilla flavor and in consistency (which did seem consistent between flavors), but the chocolate flavor was more muted. Eh. Not worth the trip.

    • Phairhead permalink
      April 12, 2011 12:35 pm

      Jumpin’ Jack’s is a burger joint, that’s what they’re known for…not soft serve

  3. llcwine permalink
    April 12, 2011 2:12 pm

    On the Farm must have improved since last year…will be tough to resist on my way home!

  4. April 12, 2011 11:48 pm

    Isn’t the real difference between all these places simply the amount of air mixed into the chemical-laden mix? From my understanding, that’s what’s responsible for the correlation between flavor/creaminess. A creamier soft serve will necessarily have less flavor and dense soft serve will have more flavor. I wouldn’t be surprised if all these places use the same soft serve mix, with the only difference being mix to air ratio.

    • April 13, 2011 12:39 am

      First, I abhor the use of the word creaminess in describing something that is inherently creamy, because dense soft serve is equally creamy, just a bit more firm. But the answer to your question is no. At least if we can trust the owner of On the Farm (which I do). He explained to us that the difference in what they did versus most of the local competition was that On the Farm uses a “fresh mix.”

      This is differentiated from a shelf stable mix. The fresh mix has a maximum shelf life of ten days, whereas the shelf stable mix can last for months. If you’ve ever tasted the difference between fresh milk and Parmalat, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to understand why one of these things would produce superior tasting soft serve.

      I am sure the scenario you have described also plays a role too, however there are also other factors at play.

  5. Jay permalink
    April 13, 2011 6:06 am

    You should have went to Snoman’s Ice Cream on 5th ave in Troy they have hands down the best ice cream in the capital district, much better than On the Farm and every other place you visited.

    • Michael permalink
      April 14, 2011 6:39 pm

      No way i have tasted ice cream from both and they don’t hold a candle to On The Farm

    • April 15, 2011 11:52 am

      But the taste test was for soft serve. My understanding is that Snoman is known for its unique hard ice cream flavors, which is why it was not selected for the Tour.

  6. Olivia permalink
    April 14, 2011 1:05 pm

    where can addresses be found for each of these places? I know where Tastee Freez is and Kurver but am a loss for the others. :(

    • April 14, 2011 8:37 pm

      On the Farm is on Route 2, a little ways east of the Circle.

      Country Drive-In is on Vischer Ferry Road, not far off of Exit 8 to the east.

      Guptil’s is on Route 9, north of Latham proper and south of the river.

    • Nick permalink
      April 17, 2011 11:15 am

      273 Troy Schenectady Rd Latham, Just 1/2 mile east of the Latham Circle on the left On The Farm

  7. chris permalink
    April 14, 2011 1:33 pm

    I agree with Jay, the Snowman in north Troy is the best and should have been included in the tour. It is hard to have a fair competition when the champion isn’t even in the fight.

    • April 14, 2011 6:59 pm

      @chris & @Jay: Snowman was on my original short list. When I conducted some pre-tour recon and made the pilgrimage to North Troy (aka Lansingburgh) I spoke with a man who seemed to be the proprietor. It was clear that this place is special. But what makes it special are their home made hard ice creams and frozen yogurts. When I asked about soft serve, the man behind the counter shrugged and told me that they just use the Crowley mix.

      There are only so many places one can visit in an afternoon. I made a tough judgment call to leave Snowman out of this one. so it could be featured in a subsequent hard ice-cream tour.

      But if you are curious to see how the two stack up, it’s an easy trip across the river to On The Farm. However the only way you’ll know for sure is if you eat them back-to-back. Please let me know if you would like me to email you an official FUSSYlittleBLOG Tour de Soft Serve Scoresheet.

      • Nick permalink
        April 17, 2011 11:18 am

        On The Farm uses a fresh mix that only has a ten day shelf life . Were most others have a 2 to 3 month shelf life!


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