Thursday was the first day of summer and you know what that means?
I am way behind in my ice cream intake.
I know it’s been only a few days, but by now they should be sick of seeing me at Blue Ribbon in West Pittston. I have to get on the stick.
Fortunately, living here gives me plenty of options. In fact, I’ve been thinking, if Old Forge is the “pizza capital of the world,” Greater Pittston may be becoming the “ice cream capital.”
It starts, of course, with Blue Ribbon, or more precisely Blue Ribbon Farm Dairy Ice Cream Parlor. Blue Ribbon goes back some 70 years which means it’s been around all my life. I do not remember a world without Blue Ribbon ice cream in it.
And my memories are of more than just the ice cream. I hesitate to give away the age of co-owner Annie Sorick, although she shouldn’t mind because she’s looked the same since she was a teen, but my photographer buddy Kenny Feeney and I once sought her out for a feature photo during National Ice Cream Month. I’m not sure but that could have been in 1984 because that is when President Ronald Reagan gave the month of July its designation. Annie was Annie Lombardo then, just a kid. Her family founded the business. We perched her on a stool at Blue Ribbon holding an ice cream cone. The photo was perfect.
Blue Ribbon also makes me think of my friend Michael Clark. Michael has lived in Washington, D.C. most of his adult life, but when his parents, proud residents of the Junction section of Pittston, were alive he’d come home every weekend. On many occasions, my wife and I would be having dinner with Michael and he’d look at his watch and say, “I have to run. Blue Ribbon closes at 10.” He always wanted to bring his dad a milkshake.
Not any milkshake. A Blue Ribbon milkshake.
Many of us who make, or have made Greater Pittston our home have Blue Ribbon favorites and Blue Ribbon stories. I was chatting with Annie’s husband Ken Sorick a few years ago and he told me he had just fulfilled an unusual request. A woman asked if there was a way to ship a half-gallon of his cherry vanilla ice cream to New England. She wanted to surprise her husband on his birthday. Ken figured out a way. The trick, he said, was dry ice.
I can’t walk into Blue Ribbon without thinking of my late Uncle Eddie and his sister, my late Aunt Dorothy. One of my duties as they grew older was to take Aunt Dorothy to her monthly hair appointment in West Pittston. Uncle Eddie always came along for the ride because as soon as we dropped off Aunt Dorothy, we headed straight to Blue Ribbon. It could be the coldest day of winter but it didn’t matter. July may be its official month, but ice cream knows no season. Uncle Eddie always ordered a pineapple sundae. We’d get a chocolate shake to go for Aunt Dorothy.
My own Blue Ribbon favorites keep evolving. For years it was a hot fudge sundae with toasted coconut ice cream. I called it the ice cream equivalent of a Mounds candy bar. Of late, however, I’ve been ordering a CMP (chocolate, marshmallow, peanut) sundae with peanut butter yogurt. If I’m just grabbing a cone to go, though, it is usually the aforementioned cherry vanilla. That’s a classic.
My wife is a fan of something Blue Ribbon calls their “skinny shake.” It’s amazing how the word “skinny” counteracts all the guilt of a guilty pleasure.
As much as I love Blue Ribbon and the entire Sorick family, I have a lot of room in heart for love, which means the old-fashioned ice cream parlor Ballyhoo, on Luzerne Avenue in West Pittston, has also taken up residence.
Ballyhoo is only about six years old, but to go there is to go decades back in time. Owners Valerie (whom I taught at LCCC) and her husband Bob Schultz have gone out of their way to create an experience that lends itself to the late 1800s building in which they are located. From the penny candy counter to the classic white hats and aprons to the hand-crafted wooden booths, Ballyhoo is out of place in 2018. And that’s a good thing.
Valerie says she’d like people to come to Ballyhoo for a trip back in time as well as for an ice cream soda or a banana split. They’ve recently added a side room featuring wooden booths and a stone counter that once graced a saloon in Montana. They discovered it all online and drove to New Orleans to pick it up. In that room, be sure to look up. The original tin ceiling is breathtaking.
Decor aside, Valerie and Bob take their ice cream seriously. Ballyhoo is one of the few places you can find traditional New York egg cream. It’s kind of an ice cream soda, but so much more. Valerie recently suggested I try her “Broadway” version of egg cream. Sensational.
Do these two ice cream parlors alone make Greater Pittston the “ice cream capitol of the world”? I believe they could, but they don’t have to carry the ball by themselves. Carter’s, a soft ice cream drive-in on Wyoming Avenue, has been around for decades, and Ben & George’s in Pittston Twp. may be somewhat of a secret but not to its loyal fans. Then there’s Twisterz in Dupont, with its inviting picnic tables with brightly colored umbrellas, and Sprinkles & Shakes, on River Road in Plains, which may not quite qualify as Greater Pittston but its owner Bart Weidlich surely does.
And finally, into this ice cream wonderland enters the world famous Penn State Creamery ice cream now being served at Callahan’s on Main Street, Pittston. The Creamery on the Penn State campus goes back to 1865. And now it’s here.
Although there’s a lot of summer left, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. I believe I’m up to the task. If all goes well, expect yet another “I need to go on a diet” column come September.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.