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Schenectady’s Solid Soft Serve

August 29, 2018

When scheduling the Tour de Soft Serve 4.0 for the end of August, I thought there might be a chill in the air. Another concern was that while the event would certainly be educational for those who attended the tour, any learnings would fall on deaf ears. Right now people are getting excited for apple picking and pumpkin spiced lattes. I’ve seen displays for Halloween.

But here we are. Late August and it feels like we’re in the peak of summer. It’s time to eat outdoors, in the shade, and treat yourself to some soft serve once the sun finally sets. At least now that’s a little bit earlier than before. It’s late summer’s ultimate tell.

So how did this all break down? Last Saturday, eleven brave souls set out for Schenectady. There they sampled five different soft serve places, looking for the very best. And while there was one which stood above the rest, all of these establishments had something to love.

The official score sheets from the Tour de Soft Serve have been unchanged since the beginning. All tasters are asked to evaluate on a five point scale the vanilla flavor, the chocolate flavor, the texture, toppings (if any), the value of the serving, and their overall impression of the experience.

On the last Tour de Soft Serve I went for nuts, as I find their crunch to be a delightful and necessary contrast to the monotonous texture of soft serve. For the record, I don’t generally care for soft serve. Even kid sized portions can be a challenge to get through. Rainbow sprinkles was the most popular topping of evaluators. Many went without toppings at all. Eric T. opted for the chocolate dip at each of the five stops.

Our day began at Dairy Circus where the creepy old clown—which survived the fire a couple years ago—seems to have been replaced with the slightly less creepy Bruce. Since ice cream could be ordered either outside by the gas station or inside in the lovely and spacious dining room, we went for creature comfort.

This started off a bit rocky, because Dairy Circus does not have a kids sized soft serve. The smallest they serve is a small. And with nuts, that weighed in at almost nine ounces. Sure, it only cost $3.02. But nine ounces is a lot to swallow on stop one of a five soft serve tour.

On the flavor side, we were off to a solid start. Chocolate tasted like chocolate. Vanilla tasted like vanilla. That’s not always the case with soft serve. While the soft serve had an enjoyable density, there was a distinct difference between the texture of the chocolate and the vanilla. Burnt My Fingers suggested the chocolate was more “pudding like” and that hit the nail on the head.

Toppings were a bit of a mixed bag. The nuts were fantastic! Chopped peanuts added not just crunch, but some much welcomed saltiness! Rainbow sprinkles on the other hand were found to be “chalky” and should be avoided. The chocolate dip was fine, but it wasn’t Eric’s favorite.

Before leaving Scotia, we had to stop at Jumpin’ Jacks.

Jumpin’ Jacks does have a kids’ size. But even that was close to five ounces with nuts added into the mix. At only $2.50 it was the least expensive soft serve of the day, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

This place actually had some very mixed reports. My hypothesis is that given the throughput of Jumpin’ Jack’s, they are using two different machines, and each produces a slightly different end product.

Detractors found the vanilla to be just sweet with only a slight artificial tinge of vanilla flavor, and an unpleasant gumminess to the airy texture. Some found the chocolate flavor to be overwhelming, but I loved its assertiveness. In fact, the Jumpin’ Jacks chocolate was one of my favorite flavors from the outing. That said, the nuts left something to be desired, because pieces of peanut skin made the texture and flavor less than ideal.

While most people agreed this soft serve swirl had more air whipped into it than most, which contributed to its quicker melting time, Jon in Albany’s family ordered a cup of plain vanilla that had an entirely different texture that was “stiffer” and “harder to scoop”.

Overall this was Eric T’s favorite stop for ice cream, and the favorite setting in which to eat ice cream for k8talois. But it was time to move on.

Anybody ever hear of Poppy’s?

Do you know what I love about this place? All of the seating it provides in the shade of a giant awning out front. What I didn’t love were the nuts. Which were rancid, and left a bad taste in my mouth. Mental note, skip the nuts at Poppy’s.

The kids’ swirl at Poppy’s came to almost 5.5 ounces and cost $2.70 with nuts. Maybe I should have asked for another cup, but I’ve learned in judging that you have to evaluate the item you are served. What a pity. Fortunately, there were a lot of other tasters who ordered different toppings. Like Eric T. who found this to be his favorite chocolate dip of the day.

Poppy’s was praised for its thick texture. Not everyone was in love with the flavors, but Burnt My Fingers found this vanilla to hit all the right notes. Based on those two things, the fellow who thought all soft serve was the same declared this to be his favorite spot of the day.

He also thought the rest of us were nuts for feeling differently. lilithny put it best when she described the vanilla and chocolate flavors at Poppy’s as akin to those frozen cups of ice milk served at school functions. It was a good description which really took me back, and that’s exactly how this tasted to me as well.

Next stop, Curry Freeze. And no, they still don’t have any desi masala flavors. One day, this shop on Curry Road will decide to surprise and delight me with an anise, cardamom, and rosewater ice cream. Dare to dream.

Five ounces seems to be about the standard weight for a kids’ cup with nuts. Here it was just $2.55, which was a solid value. Especially so since the soft serve was quite good.

Actually, Curry Freeze had it all going on. A chocolate that was redolent of rich chocolate milk. An equally strong vanilla that was up at the top of the scale for many tasters. This soft serve hit the big juicy middle of density. Personally, I prefer soft serve a bit denser, and a tad less sweet. Still, for Jon in Albany and his whole family, this was as close to the ideal soft serve experience they found all day.

The chopped nuts were fine, and seemed suspiciously similar to the ones at Jumpin’ Jacks. It would be nice if the place had more seating. Even at an off time in the afternoon, seating was sparse.

Finally, it was off to the Grandstand. And no, we didn’t go in the batting cages. But if I wasn’t so old and concerned about throwing out my back, I might have given it a go.

A kids’ cup with nuts came in just below five ounces and cost a whopping $2.91 making it the most expensive of the kids’ cups for the day. In a way that’s not surprising, because it seems as if newer soft serve places simply charge higher prices.

The nuts were good. Maybe not quite Dairy Circus good, but a close second. They were missing that wonderful saltiness, however big clean chunks of nuts go a long way in my book.

Unfortunately, the flavors just weren’t there. One evaluator went so far as to say there was “no differentiation between flavors.” Granted, the chocolate was brown, and the vanilla as white. But presumably she meant besides that.

This soft serve did have that denser texture I prefer. But not everybody feels the same way. Interesting.

In the end, it was very close. Every shop was in at least somebody’s top two. Jon in Albany and his family once again voted in a block. You might find them down at Curry Freeze at some point down the line. Burnt My Fingers discovered a love of Poppy’s. Eric T. threw his weight—and chocolate dipped soft serve—behind Jumpin’ Jack’s.

But the rest of us were united behind Dairy Circus, which pulls out the victory by a nose. Congratulations to this rebuilt Scotia institution.

For me, it was close between Dairy Circus and Curry Freeze. But at the end of the day, after eating five different soft serve potions, I still could have gone for one more bite of the Dairy Circus vanilla with chopped nuts.

Thanks to all of the participants for coming out and spending a Saturday afternoon eating soft serve with me. It was a ton of fun, and I know everybody learned something. Jon in Albany learned he didn’t actually like soft serve all that much. Me? I already knew that. And now I know that not everyone appreciates a thick, super dense soft serve. Fascinating.

If this sounds like fun to you, stay tuned because for the next Fussy Little Tour we’re going donut picking. Yes, the Tour de Cider Donuts returns… and you are invited. All the details will be posted just as soon as we find a date and go through nominations. However, opposed to mass marketers, we at the FLB do not rush into fall.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Aaron Major permalink
    August 29, 2018 12:20 pm

    We just found Curry Freeze this year, and the discovery was not for want of traditional soft-serve in a cup or cone, but their amazing ice cram cakes (which I still think are great despite the fact that I don’t prefer actual cake taking up valuable ice cream real estate).

  2. Eric T permalink
    August 30, 2018 11:10 am

    It was great fun. But I don’t think I could eat another swirl as long as I live! I think the chocolatey chocolate at Jumping Jacks is what won me over.

  3. September 3, 2018 12:12 pm

    I am so sad to have missed this, but next year we have to do Troy/Latham.
    Also, you would be dismayed to find something in many soft serve places now called “Only 8”. Suppodesly low cal, it is almost entirely made of water with a bit of “dairy product”. Total artificial and yet I love it for its light fluff almost whipped cream like texture.

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