Photo by petrr/Flickr CC
I think the best ice cream store in the world is probably in Paris, on a small island in the middle of the Seine, Maison Berthillon. But my favorite ice cream store in the world is in northern Maine, on Route 4, and is called the Pine Tree Softy.
Every year for more than 25 years, I have traveled to the western mountains of Maine, close to the New Hampshire and Quebec borders. Summer is the busiest time of the year for any ice cream store, but it is also the time of year when we have the most people working since all our summer workers are on hand and trained. Happily, it is the time when I most need a vacation.
The Pine Tree Softy is in front of a small pond in the Rangeley Lakes Region. I can tell you that ducks love ice cream more than you'd ever guess. They love hard ice cream, and they love soft ice cream. They love Bear Paws and Moose Tracks and Deer Tracks and Maine Caribou Crunch. They love vanilla soft serve and chocolate soft serve, and they very much love the black and white twist.
People associate ice cream and ice cream stores with first dates, softball victories, and getting into graduate school.
Summer in northern Maine reminds me of the Eisenhower administration and small-town America. A lot of the little boys have wiffle haircuts, and, judging by the photographs in Stubby's Market, they also catch most of the big fish in the lakes.
Rangeley, Maine is halfway between the equator and the North Pole. The sun sets late, and, because of the lake's East-West orientation, lasts a wonderful hour. Most weeks, there are more moose to be seen than working air conditioners. Nights are cool, and even hot days aren't uncomfortable.
The Pine Tree Softy demonstrates the importance of context. People associate ice cream and ice cream stores with first dates, softball victories, and getting into graduate school. St. Louis residents cruise hot streets before going to Ted Drewes for an impossibly thick concrete shake; a custard from Anderson's in Buffalo is one of summer's happy punctuation marks.
And if you have to be in Paris, France, instead of Paris, Maine, then you'll enjoy the white peach ice cream at Berthillon. It is very small and expensive but quite good. You look at the Cathedral of Notre Dame and much of Paris, but there are no ducks.