Ice Cream Odyssey Pt. 2

The frosty fun continues!
September 24, 2008

In part one of this Frozen Fun Odyssey we explored the chilly treats to be found in the supermarket freezer section of retro-supermarkets and judging by the reponse it brough back a lot of great memories.

We also explored those icy treasures brought to us by the Frosty Freedom Fighter known as the Ice Cream man. Now we'll move on to those establishments that filled their very walls with Ice Cream and invited you in to join the fun.

Begging for Popsicles on grocery store trips and scoring an Otter Pop off your friends will only get you so far in the ice cream game. (And, yes, I do have a thing for pics of crying kids, it makes me laugh hysterically, hee-hee-hee-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho!)

Sometimes to taste that sweet treat that you have to hit your parents where it counts, in their pocketbooks. For this type of mission I could always talk my Mom into pulling together 2 quarters to purchase an ice cream cone at the local drug store, Thrifty Jr.

While "Mum" (as I liked to call her) was haggling with the store manager to knock 10 cents off a broken pencil (she actually would do stuff like that-oh, the embarrassment!) I would wander off to the ice cream freezer and finally to the ice cream counter to begin my decision making process.

Will it be Sloth's favorite, Rocky Road? Or maybe a little Tin Roof Sundae? I don't know why I bothered to look at the other options, since I always chose Rainbow Sherbet. My thought process was why order a single flavor when you can get 3 in one?

The thing that fascinated me the most about Thrifty's ice cream counter was their ice cream scoop. As hard as I tried I could not find a photo of the original device online but I will describe it for you and you can combine the pictures below in your minds. Basically it was like a caulking gun, but with a circular shaft akin to a hair dryer that always sat in a class of murky water until it was time to scoop.

It wasn't even a scoop per se, it was more of a post digging motion as the attendant just stuck the device in the middle of the ice cream barrel, pulled the trigger and a perfect cylinder of ice cream would be placed on the cone. Apparently they have a similar device now, but it looks even more like a woman's beauty product than before. Check it out.

Most Thrifty Stores got turned into Rite Aids by the time I got into Junior High and it just wasn't the same atmosphere, eventually they took out the ice cream altogether-SCOUNDRELS!

I believe there are still a few Thrifty Jr's surviving out their somewhere, but for me the memory will have to do.

The frozen treat fad I miss the most however came in the form of Frozen Yogurt. Another case of it still being around, but not in the abundance it once was. My family never went to the ice cream giants like Baskin-Robbins, we were slaves to the Frozen Yogurt dictators of the day. The McDonalds of the Frogurt world was Golden Spoon, but my favorite mom and pop shop was called Polar Bear's.

Polar Bears Frozen yogurt was awesome because they had this whole Artic theme going where everything was bright white and looked like it had snow on it.

In keeping with the theme the A/C was also cranked up to freezing temperatures, so you felt like a polar explorer discovering this delicacy for the first time. They even had a giant ceramic Polar Bear to guard the place, that in retrospect looked a lot like the Coca-Cola Polar Bears from the commercials of later years.

The main draw of these types of dessert shops was that you got to choose your own toppings, which for a kid is what it's all about. My go-to was chocolate with gummy bears. I loved to let the gummy bears freeze from the coldness of the yogurt so that they almost became like Jujubees.

Speaking of those dental damaging sweets, this seems like an opportune time send a shout out to everyone's favorite Redheaded Avatar RetroJunker: "Yo, jujubeemee, wazzzzuuuuuuuupppppp?" Now back to the Frogurt.

In time the fad faded away, probably when people figured out the "Healthy" factor was pretty much non-existent once you put chocolate chips, M&M's or sprinkles on it. Maybe it was that Seinfeld episode where they went to get testing done by a lab to prove it was Fat Free that put doubt in people's minds.

Some may say, what about Pinkberry? That's frozen yogurt, right? That's what they want you to think! One bitter flavor of white sludge topped with only a few choices of fresh fruit it not frozen yogurt. So if someone tells you, "Pinkberry is the same as frozen yogurt" You must answer, in the immortal words of Lex Luthor: WRONG!

You're supposed to have variety in the flavors and the toppings, not one of each. What are we, robots? I predict that Pinkberry will go the way of the Boba drinks, very soon. But I digress.

Family outings are usually a good time stock up on ice cream related goodies as well. My family liked to spend Saturday nights at a little boardwalk called the Balboa Island Fun Zone in Newport Beach, CA. If you weren't on the cheap and cheesy Scary Dark Ride or the ferris wheel, you were most likely munching on a Balboa Bar.

Thick and rectangular, this monster actually managed to one-up the famed Eskimo Pie from Part 1 of this odyssey. Just by shear size it won the contest, but then there were the sprinkles or nuts to put it over the top. You really had to hold it with two hands because the thing was so heavy, you were actually burning calories while you ate!

But in the end, there can be only one. The king of all Ice Cream delights is a simple man, who prefers to be called Mister. Appearing at the mostly defunct Swensen's Ice Cream Parlors, I present to you, Ladies and Gentleman: Mr. San Francisco!

Okay, so your Mom probably made this for you when you were a kid for a birthday party or something, an idea she got out of an issue of Good Housekeeping, but to me he's majestic. Just look at all the elements in play: an upside down cone, ice cream, gumballs, licorice, a cherry, whipped cream-it's all there and ready for your spoon! Swensen's was basically like the West Coast version of Friendly's or Farrell's Ice Cream for you East Coast folks.

When they shut down the Swensen's Ice Cream Parlor in Costa Mesa 15 years ago, I was was bummed, a piece of my childhood was gone. When they opened a mini-mall version at the Tustin Market Place 10 years later I thought my prayers had been answered. Upon walking in I was mortified to find that Mr. San Francisco was nowhere on the menu. The 16 year old behind the counter didn't know what I was talking about, so I had to give him a tutorial on how it was prepared.

Eventually they found the Master Recipe Book that showed that I was not crazy and I enjoyed what I would call a Mr. San Jose, since it was not quite perfect enough to be a Mr. San Francisco. Eventually that location closed, too and I thought I would never enjoy the sweetness of the true Mr. SanFran again.

There is a happy ending to the story, however. Eventually I moved to Arizona having left all my hopes for finding another Swensens in the dust. One day, while on a trip to the local mall to my surprise, wedged between Sizzler and ROSS was a fully functioning Swensen's Ice Cream Parlor, ya-hoooooo!

I was so excited that I even celebrated my 25th birthday at their "classy" establishment and Mr. San Francisco was there to wish me many happy days.
Well, that brings this tasty odyssey to a close. I hope it brought the memories of your favorite ice cream treats and frozen, frosty goodness.

And for good measure, here's one more pic of a crying kid (hee-hee-ho-ho-hahahahahahahahahahaha!)
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