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Western Pennsylvania has several options to satisfy your ice cream cravings

By Pittsburgh The Tribune-Review
Sunday, July 4, 2010
 

As summer's heat continues to rise, there's still one sure way to cool down — ice cream.

Luckily, our area is blessed with several first-rate ice cream emporiums, most of which make their own frozen concoctions.

The sweet treats range from traditional ice cream to custard and gelato. And the flavors are just about anything you can imagine. While some of the establishments are open year-round, summer is the best time to take the full tour of Western Pennsylvania's ice cream purveyors.

Brr-Kees, Oakmont

Many parents probably have to distract their kids if they're driving by Brr-Kees Ice Cream in Oakmont. Its delectable varieties of homemade ice cream and gelato have probably provoked more than one youth uprising inside the mini-van.

The family-owned business also makes its own yogurt and waffle cones. They added gelato to their menu this year; last month's flavors included peach and orange pineapple. Owner Brian Gray says the Italian-style ice cream has half the fat of its American counterpart. It's served a bit warmer, which means it will impart more flavor than relatively colder ice cream, which can numb the tongue.

For traditionalists, they stock nearly 30 flavors of homemade ice cream, including cookie dough. Cones are $2.70 to $4.65. Homemade ice cream has a creamier texture because there's less air in the mix, Gray says. Quench your thirst with a Brr-Kees Frappy, a frozen coffee drink, in caramel latte and mocha flavors.

Their outdoor seating area includes about half a dozen picnic tables and a small deck with bench seating. Gray says they're not strict about their closing hours.

Brr-Kees Ice Cream, 539 Allegheny Ave. Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; noon to 11 p.m. Fridays to Sundays, March 20 to Dec. 24. Details: 412-828-4666 or brr-kees.com .

— William Loeffler

JoeZeppi's, Shaler

JoeZeppi's Frozen Treats sits modestly along Mt. Royal Boulevard in Shaler, but what's behind those concrete block walls make it stand out.

At any one time, a customer has a choice of 11 homemade ice creams at the small stand. But that is only part of the offering. Joe Varvaro, who owns JoeZeppi's with his wife, Janet, says he produces twenty-five to 30 flavors but has to rotate the selection because that is all the room he has in his coolers.

It makes his stand a place to stop. So does the location, right along a busy roadway and in a neighborhood that makes it handy for walk-in cone-heads.

But the quality of the ice cream makes it really stand out. From the simple chocolate and vanilla to flavors such as strawberry cheesecake, JoeZeppi's provides a good treat.

"And the chocolate peanut butter really goes over well," Varvaro says.

Baby cones are $1, regular size $2.45 and quarts are $6.50.

JoeZeppi's, 915 Mt. Royal Blvd., Shaler. Hours: 2 to 9:30 p.m. daily April to mid-October. Details: 412-486-8066 .

— Bob Karlovits

Hank's Frozen Custard, New Brighton

Hank's Frozen Custard in New Brighton opened 67 years ago. A lot of things have changed since then, but the cones, milkshakes and sundaes at Hank's taste the same as they did in 1943.

"We use the same flavors, the same mix, the same products bought from the same places," says Jeff Kohlmann, who has owned the Beaver County landmark for eight years.

Hank's frozen custard, made on the premises, is unique from any of the chains. Kohlmann says the custard is frozen before it's served "so it's not as silky soft and more like an ice cream-based product." Cone/cup prices range from $2.09 to $4.09.

No matter the process, the proof is in the continuing patronage of successive generations. On a recent Monday evening — hardly the busiest day of the week — there was a steady stream of customers ordering the various treats offered. Hank's also serves Mexican food, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and other fare, but it's the frozen custard — black raspberry is the most popular flavor after chocolate and vanilla — that brings people back.

"We hear all the time from people who say they came to Hank's when they were dating," Kohlmann says. "It's something the people cling to. They came here when they were growing up and they keep coming back."

Hank's Frozen Custard, 2210 3rd Ave., New Brighton. Hours: 11 a.m to 11 p.m. (10 p.m. during the school year) daily. Details: 724-847-4265, hankscustard.tripod.com .

— Rege Behe

Sarris, Canonsburg

The late Frank Sarris was the king of sweet. After starting his own candy company in his basement, he decided to make things even sweeter when he opened up an ice cream parlor. One step into the store and you will see the red and brass booths and shimmering crystal chandeliers. Sarris wanted to create the atmosphere of the old-time soda fountains.

In the beginning, the ice-cream-making recipe was written by hand, says Sarris' son, Bill, who now heads the company. There are 29 flavors (a few that are seasonal) including vanilla, strawberry, deep dish apple pie, caramel cashew, Irish cream and, of course, chocolate. Cones start at $3.50.

There are 15 sundae toppings, all homemade daily, such as hot fudge, crushed cherry, peanut butter and dark hardcap, and extras such as whipped cream, toasted coconut, chocolate jimmies and pecans. Sundaes start at $4.95.

"Everybody loves ice cream," Bill Sarris says. "It is a family thing. We see lots of families come in here around holidays, we see people from out of town who stop in. Ice cream makes you happy. When you break up with your boyfriend you go for ice cream. Baseball and softball teams come in after victories and sometimes losses because ice cream is for celebrating."

Sarris Candies & Ice Cream Parlour, 511 Adams Ave., Canonsburg. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 724-745-4042 or www.sarriscandies.com .

— Joanne Klimovich Harrop

Kerber's Dairy, North Huntingdon

Kerber's Dairy is an ice cream experience. The large building, which contains a milk processing facility, a convenience store, a deli and the ice cream counter, sits on a scenic hill overlooking rolling green fields.The property has, lots of tables, a playground and, during the warmer months, a fenced in area with goats, lambs and a llama that you can pet and feed.

But it's what's inside that really counts. Tom Kerber Jr. says they offer around 45 to 50 flavors at a time and make up to 125 flavors over the course of the year -- from the traditional to the more unusual, such as Green Dragon, lime ice cream with vanilla cake crunchies. Some flavors are offered seasonally, such as egg nog in the winter and deep dish apple pie and pumpkin in the fall -- when they also host a Pumpkin Festival.

The ice cream comes in generous servings ($1.41 to $3.77). There also are milkshakes and floats ($2.59 to $3.30), sundaes ($2.35 to $3.77) and flurries ($2.75).

The dairy gets the milk they sell from local farms. They take the cream made during processing to make their ice cream, using the same formula as the Penn State Creamery, Kerber says. His grandfather started the business 70 years ago with a horse and cattle farm, then Tom Kerber Sr. added the retail store on Guffy Road 50 years ago. They also have a retail store along Route 30 in North Huntingdon.

Kerber's Dairy, 1856 Guffy Road, North Huntingdon. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily. Winter hours may vary depending on the weather.

— Susan Jones

Dave & Andy's, Oakland

The real entrance to Dave & Andy's Homemade Ice Cream isn't the door on Atwood Street in Oakland — it's when you first encounter the smell of homemade waffle cones somewhere down the street.

The shop is small, there's no parking (it's in Oakland), and there's usually a line of college kids stretching out the door — but ambience is for amateurs. The homemade waffle cones are without equal. The flavors are outstanding, ever-changing and frequently surprising — Lychee fruit• July, in particular, is known as the one month of the year that peach ice cream is available. Cones are $2.50 to $3.70 for cake or sugar; $3.50 to $4.60 for waffle.

The old standbys — birthday cake, chocolate chip cookie dough — are hard to pass up. Then there's the malted ice creams, which are made with an extract from Church Brew Works beer. There's also plenty of frozen yogurt varieties and toppings, which you won't really need.

As a special prize, there's an M&M at the bottom of each cone, which also keeps ice cream from dripping through the bottom

But make sure you find somewhere to concentrate on your cone. They're always so ridiculously overloaded with ice cream, that you need discipline and strategy to keep it from melting and running down your arm.

Dave & Andy's Homemade Ice Cream, 207 Atwood St., Oakland. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Details: 412-681-9906.

— Mike Machosky

Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery, Shadyside

Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery was begun by a doctor and his wife in Kittanning, specializing in the gelato they had enjoyed so much on vacations to Italy. Several years ago, they moved the retail operations to Shadyside, into a small space above the restaurant Girasole.

This frozen Italian dessert is superficially similar to ice cream, but has a lower fat content and is frozen in a different method — making it seem smoother and denser than regular ice cream, with more emphasis on the unusual, distinctive flavorings than the cream. Mercurio's features a vast variety of constantly rotating flavors for 62 cents an ounce, usually including Caramel Green Apple, Coconut Mango, Tiramisu, Caramel Pecan Cheesecake, Chocolate Cashew, Dulce de Leche and Spumoni.

Sure, there are no guarantees that Mercurio's will whisk your taste buds back to languid evenings whiled away on the Piazza Navona in Rome. But isn't it worth a shot?

Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery, 733 Copeland St., Shadyside. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays; 1 to 9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.

— Mike Machosky

Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor, Strip District

The decor is old fashioned. So is the service.

Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor in the Strip District looks almost exactly the same as it did when owner Ray Klavon's grandparents opened their drug store and soda fountain in 1923.

The pharmacy is gone. But they're still concocting sundaes ($4.25 for two scoops to $16 for the eight scoop Super Bowl Sundae) and sodas ($3.75) and scooping up ice cream cones ($2.11 to $3.11) behind the store's original 16-foot marble counter.

The store retains its original Art-Deco details.

On a recent visit the ladies doing the scooping and serving were happy to handle custom orders. Want your Pecan Ball ($4.75) served with wild cherry sauce instead of hot fudge• You've got it. Can't decide between the two sauces• They'll drizzle alternate flavors down each of the two sides, no extra charge.

There's even a choice of whipped cream flavors — vanilla, chocolate, amaretto or strawberry.

With 15 flavors of Hershey's ice cream to choose from, plus decisions about nuts, syrups and toppings, the possibilities are endless -- and endlessly delicious.

Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor, 2801 Penn Ave., Strip District. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays and noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Hours are reduced in the winter. Details: 412-434-0451 or www.klavonsicecream.com .

— Alice T. Carter

Del's Frozen Custard, Natrona Heights

For some people in the Natrona Heights area, there are only two seasons. One is winter; the other is the months Del's Frozen Custard stand is open.

Owner/manager Dennis Czarnowski of Tarentum feels like he is a link in a chain of a very tasty tradition started by his late mother, Della Czarnowski of Natrona Heights, for whom Del's was a labor of love from 1974 until her death in 1998.

"We try to go out of our way and make everything a wonderful and unique experience, not just a nice experience, for customers." Czarnowski says.

That includes making it a standard practice to give youth teams a can of whip cream, to do whatever they want with it, when they stop in after games. "They have so much fun chasing each other around with it," Czarnowski says. "Sometimes coaches will tell me, 'No whipped cream.' "

The star of Del's show is found in its name: Custard!

"Custard is sort of like the filet mignon of the dairy industry, it's borderline gourmet. When you taste custard you're usually immediately converted," Czarnowski says. "I could double my prices in Shadyside."

Del's cones are $2 to $3. Del's famous black raspberry wins the prize for most popular cone. The flavor, along with chocolate and vanilla, is available daily, supplemented by the "flavor of the week," such as blueberry, pistachio and banana.

Del's also offers ice cream, as well as milk shakes, yogurt and an assortment of sugar free and nondairy products. Del's added 30 new items this year to the menu, including smoothies and parfaits.

Del's Frozen Custard, 5001 Freeport Road, Natrona Heights. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily April 1-Sept. 30. Details: 724-226-1152.

— Rex Rutkoski

Custard's First Stand, Kilbuck

Custard's First Stand hunkers down in a wooded glade along Camp Horne Road in Kilbuck, a leafy belt of greenery between interstate 279 and Ohio River Boulevard. When it opens for the season April 1, residents know that summer can't be far away. While Custard's sells hoagies, pizza, burgers and their popular foot-long hot dogs, it's the ice cream that draws the adults and the youth soccer or little league teams. Their outdoor area seats 25. On a warm summer night, with crickets singing and fireflies flashing, the place has a peaceful, almost nostalgic atmosphere.

A big seller are the glaciers, a mixture of candy and ice cream. They come in at least 15 flavors and range in price from $3.40 for a small to $4.40 for a large. Ice cream cones are $2.60 to $3.25.

"It comes in a drinking glass. We put soft serve ice cream and we put the candy in and we blend it together in our machine," says Kirk McConnell, a manager. "It's thicker than a milkshake shake but it's not really hard ice cream either." Custard's also feature 16 flavors of Hershey's hand-packed ice cream. For those in the mood for soft serve ice cream, try their popular orange creme flavor. They also have specialty sundaes, smoothies, slushes and snow cones.

Custard's First Stand, 315 Camp Horne Road. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Details: 412-766-3101.

— William Loeffler

Glen's Custard, Springdale

Lower Allegheny Valley residents have enjoyed Glen's Custard's treats for more than 60 years, most of them along Pittsburgh Street in Springdale. Using fresh ingredients, the frozen custard has lured many well-intended dieters astray with a variety of flavors of milkshakes, sundaes, homemade custard cakes, pies and specialty treats.

The most ordered cone• A medium chocolate at $2. Cones range from $1.50 small to $2.25 for a large. The most expensive item on the menu is $4.50.

Glen "Fuzzy" Wilson handed down the custard recipe he created to his son, Glenn "Bus" Wilson. The tradition carried on to his son Glenn "Rob" Wilson and most recently to Rob's son, Elias Wilson.

Rob's wife Vicki says Glen's has thrived because the store is in a very family-oriented area where many customers are known on a first-name basis. Former residents returning to the area always stop at Glen's.

The shop is open from mid-March and now extends its season through Thanksgiving, when customers flock to the stand for a fall favorite -- creamy pumpkin pie custard.

Glen's opened its doors for business in August 1948 in the Cheswick Shopping Center. In 1959, the business moved to the Springdale location. Glen's used to have a back window behind the shop where sandwiches and snacks could be ordered, but the back window now serves as the counter for the mini-golf course that was built on a lot behind the shop in 2001. A second location will open in mid-July along Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell.

Glen's, 400 Pittsburgh St., Springdale. Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. 724-274-5516.

— Rebecca Killian

Sugar & Spice, Baldwin

Sugar & Spice Ice Cream Parlour in Baldwin looks like it could be an e-Bay warehouse, with all kinds of old-fashioned, whimsical Americana items -- including Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse memorabilia -- decorating the interior, and illuminated, plastic ice cream cones sitting in the windows. Customers can enjoy homemade ice cream in numerous flavors at the quaint, retro-style soda fountain, ice cream and candy store on Route 51.

"It's really cool," says Jeanine Smolarek, 57, of Mt. Lebanon. "It brings back a lot of memories."

The menu includes everything from hard ice cream ($2.34 to $3.27) — with new flavors constantly rotating — to soft-serve ice cream, sundaes, ice cream sodas, ice cream cakes, smoothies and more.

Co-owner Keith Heenan makes the ice cream every day. The store offers about 20 flavors daily, and about 25 per day in the summertime.

The store is open year-round, and gets many ice cream devotees in the dead of winter.

Sugar & Spice Ice Cream Parlour, 5200 Clairton Blvd., Baldwin, is open noon-9 p.m. daily. Details: 412-882-7326.

— Kellie B. Gormly

Penn State Berkey Creamery, State College

There's nothing better than an ice cream cone from the Penn State Berkey Creamery after a football victory — home or away.

"Statistics have shown that when the Nittany Lions win either here or on the road, sales of Peachy Paterno go through the roof," says creamery manager Tom Palchak of the flavor named after the team's iconic coach Joe Paterno. "After a loss, not so much."

Each year, the Creamery hand-dips about 750,000 cones and bowls of ice cream in this the largest university creamery in the nation. Palchak says people will pay close to $90 to ship two half gallons of one of the more than 100 flavors of ice cream, no-sugar added ice cream, sherbets and frozen yogurts.

"Anytime you can take the milk from the cow and turn it into a dairy product within a matter of hours you can't duplicate that freshness in any other process," says Palchak, who admits his favorite is butter pecan. "We have the cows right here so that means our products are as fresh as you can get."

Flavors include peanut butter marshmallow, alumni swirl (vanilla with Swiss mocha chips and blueberry swirl), death by chocolate, strawberry cheesecake and wicked caramel sundae. Cones are $2.75. Milk shakes are $3.50 and floats are $3.50.

The creamery moved to a new location in 2006 that is much larger than the original 1961 store.

The Penn State Berkey Creamery, 110 Food Science Building, Penn State University campus. Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Details: 814-865-7535 or http://creamery.psu.edu .

— Joanne Klimovich Harrop

Bruster's, various locations

Pennsylvania cows make all the milk used to produce all the ice cream sold at more than 230 Bruster's parlors in approximately 20 states.

Titusville Dairy Products Co. in Crawford County manufactures the basic ice cream mix.

Bruce Reed of Beaver County started the Bruster's chain in 1989 by opening an ice cream shop adjacent to Jerry's Curb Service — his parents' diner — in Bridgewater. He's the "Bruce" in the chain's name.

"We make all the ice cream at the stores," says Kim Piper, vice president of marketing. Each Bruster's store offers approximately 40 flavors selected from recipes for approximately 140 flavors. One of the newest flavors is Graham Central Station.

The Bruster's chain includes 18 Western Pennsylvania locations. Each franchise sets its own prices.

Details: www.brusters.com .

— Deborah Deasy

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