Mixing It Up

There are two ice cream establishments in my neighborhood. At one, you can get an ice cream on a stick for just over a dollar. You eat it sitting in the parking lot with a warm spring breeze blowing through your hair. It has 210 calories, making it a reasonable-ish dessert. The teens who work there are nice enough, but since you order through glass, there isn’t much interaction.

At the other establishment, the smallest serving of ice cream is double the size of a Dilly Bar, and nearly three times the price. It has twice the calories, without the mix-ins that the chain is famous for. You eat it inside the always-crowded store, on tables that feel vaguely sticky. The young people working there are “high energy” and have been known to sing—my least favorite habit for a server.

Judging by the size of the crowds at each establishment, it would seem that my preference for Dairy Queen over Cold Stone Creamery is a minority opinion.

That’s why I was thrilled to read Justin Peters’s takedown of Cold Stone Creamery in Salon.

In “What Happened to Plain Old Vanilla?” Peters explores the history of mix-in ice cream chains, starting with the grand old man of mix-ins, Boston’s Steve Herrell (“the first person to grind up Heath Bars, Reese’s cups, Oreos, and other name-brand confections and mix them into ice cream”).

But Peters is definitely not a fan of adding cookies, candy, and cake to his ice cream, calling his visits to mix-in ice cream stores over the past years “increasingly penitential.”

Whereas a visit to Ben and Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs leaves me wanting more, a visit to Cold Stone leaves me wanting a salad and a shower.

Peters gets right to the heart of the matter. When mix-ins are your stock in trade, your ice cream has to play second fiddle. Or worse:

For starters, the ice cream itself has a vomit-inducing heft, gloppy and voluminous, like lard coated in Cool Whip. ... For the mix-ins to be effective, the base in which they’re smooshed can’t be too distinctive, can’t hit any notes other than an anonymous and stultifying drone: Rich and empty, nauseatingly sweet and vaguely artificial, it’s the Paris Hilton of ice cream.

Paris Hilton is sweet?