Saturday’s Soft Serve Standings
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.
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.