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The Inside Scoop 

Cool treats for hot summer days

School's out, the thermometer rises, and lines are longer at area ice cream parlors. Who doesn't crave the creamy cold sweetness of ice cream on a summer's day?

Exactly where the first ice cream was made is debatable. Some believe a sherbet made from ice, buffalo milk, flour, and camphor was created by Chinese Emperor Tang (AD 618-697). Records show the recipe for ice cream came to the US before the Revolution. In 1843, American Nancy Johnson invented the hand cranked ice cream freezer, a concept similar to a butter churn, but packed with ice and salt around the outside. In 1851, Jacob Fussell founded the first ice cream factory in Baltimore.

The ice cream cone is thought to have originated at the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Legend has it that an ice cream merchant ran out of bowls, bought some wafer-like pastries from a neighboring vendor, rolled his product into these cornucopias, and thus invented the ice cream cone.

Literally hundreds of recipes for ice cream mixes exist, ranging from plain vanilla to parfait. Charlotte has a number of ice cream outlets and notably many of the city's better restaurants are producing their own ice cream. But to determine where to get the best scoop, I simplified matters by choosing six ice cream shops. Not too many arms were twisted to get some kids to volunteer to taste test six ice cream cones. In order to have some consistency for our informal taste test, we ordered chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, except at Dairy Queen where our choice was vanilla.

Our favorite for overall creamy taste was Ben & Jerry's. According to their website, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is their Number Two selling flavor. That's thoroughly understandable given the superlative quality of the Vermont cream, chocolate chips, and the cookie dough batter, which makes this ice cream a standout. While many people do not enjoy the thick density of Ben & Jerry's ice creams, having less air whipped into the cream makes this mixture less susceptible to a quick meltdown on hot days -- an important consideration when you have kids in the back seat. The only drawback here was the cone, which wasn't as fresh tasting as those made on-site at other ice cream parlors. Cost for one scoop in a waffle cone is $3.20.

Second up in preference was the newest addition to Charlotte, a franchise operation out of Houston. The line was long at the new Marble Slab Creamery in Sycamore Commons, due to only two attendants adding the mix-ins into the ice cream. Marble Slab has 38 flavors and a variety of mix-ins, allowing customers to create large varieties of ice cream flavors. The ice cream is made in store from non-local dairy products. Marble Slab excels at cones. In fact, this light and crisp cone was the best we tried. The cookie dough mix-in was of satisfactory quality, but the ice cream almost immediately became increasingly soft and drippy once put into the cone. The price for a waffle cone with one mix-in is $3.09

Another mix-in ice cream parlor is MaggieMoo's Ice Cream and Treatery, a Maryland franchise, which opened here three years ago. Owner Chuck Koch currently has two locations with a future site to open in Dilworth's new Latta Pavilion. MaggieMoo's also makes their ice cream and cones in house. What we liked about the Ima Holstein, their vanilla mixed with chocolate chip cookie dough, was the tongue coating butterfat and the luxurious creaminess of their ice cream. Although not part of the taste test, their cheesecake flavored ice cream mixed with fresh strawberries is excellent. They also make their waffle cones on site. The cost of a waffle cone with one mix-in is $2.80.

Sun Jae Kim opened Carolina Creamery 11300 Lawyers Road, Suite A, in Mint Hill almost seven years ago. Folks in line told me that "this is the best place in town," and the server reported Butter Pecan as the top selling flavor. This ice cream shop is individually owned and the ice cream is made every day in house. Kim gets his dairy products from an Atlanta dairy and makes 28 flavors. In addition to ice cream, he also sells burgers, hot dogs, fries and onion rings. The downside to their cookie dough ice cream was the cookie dough tasted like slice and bake refrigerated dough. Plus the cone wasn't fresh. Price is $2.59 for a waffle single scoop.

Having a curly topped soft serve vanilla cone at the DQ after a game is a ritual for many Little Leaguers. In 1998, Dairy Queen became a subsidiary of the investor's investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and has since positioned itself for more growth, hence the new influx of shops in the Charlotte area. This soft ice cream has always been a favorite among young children because of the ease of licking. The styrofoamesque cone is a serious drawback, though.

Last up was the ice cream cone from Spoon's Restaurant. We went to the one at 415 Hawthorne Lane although there's one other in town as well as locations in Mooresville, Lincolnton and Denver. Another one is planned downtown. Spoon's has been a Charlotte tradition since it was established as Mrs. Spoon's Ice Cream in 1926. Besides burgers and hot dogs, Spoon's now serves Greenwood ice cream from Atlanta in cones and shakes. While the price was the best of any place we tried, $1.45 for one scoop, the cone tasted stale and the ice cream, while a creamy mixture, had the fewest and smallest bits of cookie dough of any we tried.

The best ice cream overall was Ben & Jerry's, although we would have preferred to have their ice cream in a Marble Slab Creamery waffle cone.

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt 507 Providence Road, 704-333-1003; The Arboretum, 704-543-8333; 7800 Fairview Road, 704-364-7600; 202 S. Main Street, Davidson, 704-892-0604.

Carolina Creamery 11300 Lawyers Road, Suite A, Mint Hill; 704-545-0401.

Dairy Queen 1431 Central Avenue, 704-377-4294; 9013 Albemarle Road, 704-535-8212; 2732 Wilkinson Boulevard, 704-399-1385; Mallard Creek, 704-547-8886; 1819 Matthews Township Parkway, Matthews, 704-847-8085; 9121 Sam Furr Road, Huntersville, 704-892-1884; 8334 Pineville-Matthews Road, 704-752-3751.

MaggieMoo's Ice Cream and Treatery 15235 John J. Delaney Drive, 704-759-8100; 8408 Park Road, 704-643-3303.

Marble Slab Creamery 2233 Matthews Township Parkway, Suite B, Sycamore Commons Shopping Center, 704-844-8630; soon to open in Stonecrest at Piper Glen Center, 7824 Rea Road and Park Town Center. Franchises separately owned.

Spoon's Restaurant 415 Hawthorne Lane, 704-376-0974; Idlewild Crossing, 704-567-6838.

Do you have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant which has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? You can fax this information, at least 12 days in advance of event date, to Tasty Tidbits: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. *

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