Loose Ends: Soft-serve days

Dolly Viscardi

Fast food memories — we all have them. Even if your family cookbook is filled with made-from-scratch concoctions, most everyone has one place that they frequent for such treats. The closure of Clark’s restaurant has everyone recalling their favorite items on the menu: soft-serve ice cream, onion rings, fried zucchini, cherry-limeade.
A twist of chocolate and vanilla in a sugar cone was the classic summer treat at my hometown soft-serve establishment, Dairyland. The little sweet crunchy things sprinkled on top were called jimmies, but did not resemble the hard sugary sprinkles sold today. This was in the time before McDonald’s or Dairy Queen served such things year-round, so the summer opening day was celebrated for miles ‘round. The day the owners chose to reopen found lines ringing the tiny parking lot with some cars idling on the side of the highway waiting until the line became shorter.
Many high school reunion conversations continue to include Dairyland remembrances of curly fries, chocolate and vanilla soft-serve cones and foot-long hotdogs with relish and onions. Last time I visited, the establishment was shut down, but only for the season. It has had a number of owners since the original proprietors had to sell. There was only one other drive-up serving soft custard, but it never became as popular as Dairyland. It was called Tasty Treats, but the soft-serve offerings were grainy and mushy.
They did offer a super-sized cone that was a real deal, but none of my friends went over to the other side (of the highway). It may have been cheaper, but it didn’t taste the same. A certain creaminess and consistency of the ice cream was missing, so most of us stayed loyal to Dairyland.
Reading a posting on the Herald Times website last week, I was struck by the familiar list. My fast-food establishment was known for the exact same recipes, but the one remembrance which was most familiar was the patron who remembered “the friendly faces.” I know that my fast-food memories include more than a few friendly faces behind the counters because of all the free fast food they could eat. I think most of the friendly faces of Clark’s were due to their genuine interest in the lives of their customers. Where will Meeker folks get their smiles and soft-serve ice cream fix now?