Worth the drive: Cool off summer’s heat with icy treats
Alabama has a tempting array of soda fountains, popsicle shops and ice cream parlors to keep you coming back for more yummy slurps
By Jennifer Kornegay
Summer is almost here, and soon, it will be so hot, we’ll all be loudly and frequently complaining, despite promises made during last winter’s deep freeze to appreciate this season’s warmth. So when the temps climb up to 95 degrees (in the shade), I suggest a sweeter way to handle the heat. Instead of grumbling about it, try gobbling up the cool and tasty treats that some of our state’s oldest and newest establishments are scooping out.
Lunch followed by a dreamy dessert at Trowbridge’s is a tradition for many in the Shoals area. This ice-cream parlor has been dishing out its deliciousness since 1918 from the same spot in downtown Florence, making it the city’s oldest business still operating in its original location. And, it’s still owned by the third generation of its founding family, the Trowbridges. The egg and olive sandwiches and hot dogs are favorite savory bites, but do your best to not fill up on either. Classic sodas, sundaes and other ice cream concoctions worth screaming for are the main reasons to visit this special spot.
Jenn’s Pick: Orange Pineapple ice cream, made using Trowbridge’s signature recipe
316 N Court St.
Steel City Pops, Birmingham & Tuscaloosa
Thanks to Steel City Pops, which opened its first Birmingham location in 2012, you can have your pop and eat it too since these treats turn a cold shoulder to high-fructose corn syrup, dyes and artificial flavorings and are instead, all natural, made from whole fruit and other ingredients (many from nearby farms and producers). The result is a simple menu, featuring simple products in simple stores. And the pops are simply wonderful. You can stick to the basics and order a bursting-with-berries strawberry or blueberry pop. Or branch out and try more “sophisticated” varieties like avocado, buttermilk or orange mint green tea.
Jenn’s Pick: Blood Orange pop
2821 Central Ave; Suite 109, Homewood
329 Summit Blvd., Birmingham
2128 University Blvd., Tuscaloosa
You’ll discover a multitude of refreshing popsicle options at Frios in downtown Gadsden. Its name is a play on the Spanish word “frio” that means cold or frozen since Frios gourmet pops were inspired by fruit popsicles found in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. This family-owned and operated business opened in 2013 and hand-makes its pops using the best fruits and dairy products from local farms. That means the menu changes often, reflecting what produce is currently at its peak. And Frios captures it at the height of ripeness; the locally grown fruit used is usually picked and turned into pops within 24-hours. The Tiramisu pop (Spoiler alert: There is a cinnamon lady finger in the middle!), is made with coffee brewed at Gadsden’s popular coffee shop, The Coffee Well, from beans roasted in Birmingham. You can definitely taste the difference, and soon, folks several hundred miles away will have the chance to experience a Frios pop too. The shop just announced its partnership with LuLu’s restaurant in Gulf Shores, which will be serving its pops starting this summer.
Jenn’s Pick: Lemon Ice Box pop
414 Broad St.
The Pop Factory (inside The Overall Company), Opelika
Frozen goodness on a stick is made fresh daily at The Pop Factory in downtown Opelika. Tucked into the Overall Company, which is occupying a corner building that was once home to an actual overall-producing business, The Pop Factory is one facet of what the Overall Company’s owners are calling a “community that highlights and celebrates Southern music, food and culture.” Filled with funky found-object art; vintage posters; a massive American flag; and comfy and random couches, stools and chairs, The Overall Company also serves homemade baked goods, artisanal coffees and sells Alabama-made beers and other items as well. There’s an art gallery on the second floor, and live music is often floating on the air. But during summer’s swelter, the pops are tops here, and the creative ingredient combos yield mouth-watering results: the basil lemonade pop is tart with only a hint of the herb’s clean, green bite. The sweet cream pop is lightly sugared velvet. You can get creative too. Dip any of the pops in white, dark or milk chocolate and then roll them in sprinkles or candy-bar crumbles. And while your add-ons can make any of the Pop Factory’s popsicles pretty indulgent, you can still enjoy them relatively guilt-free since they are made with natural, Alabama-farm-fresh products.
Jenn’s Pick: Chocolate-Hazelnut pop dipped in white chocolate
1001 Ave. B
Byrd Drug Company, Troy
The soda fountain at Byrd Drug Company on Troy’s Court Square has been dispensing frosty fun in the form of ice cream for decades. Lunch counter fare like grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs keep locals and visitors coming back, and the old-fashioned ice cream treats, including creamy milkshakes and malts, are the preferred way to chill out in Pike County. Warning: The milkshakes are so yum, yet so thick, you’re likely to burst a blood vessel trying to rush the luscious liquid into your mouth.
Jenn’s Pick: Strawberry milkshake
81 N Court Square
Carlisle Drug & Gifts, Alexander City
Next time you’re near Lake Martin, set aside a little time to take a taste of Alabama history. Anchoring a corner leading into downtown, Carlisle Drug & Gifts boasts the oldest continually operating full-service soda fountain in our state; it first opened in 1914 and has been delighting its many repeat customers and visitors with milkshakes, malts, floats and ice-cream sundaes ever since. You can enjoy Southern staples like chicken salad, pimento cheese and sandwiches as well. Or go for the ooey-gooey mac ‘n cheese, a local favorite. Wash it all down with a tangy limeade.
Jenn’s Pick: Hot Fudge Brownie sundae
12 Main St.
Stacey’s Drugs & Old Tyme Soda Fountain, Foley
Miss the good ole days, when friends met up at the neighborhood drugstore for conversation and comfort foods, and piping hot coffee was only 10 cents? Well, stop in Stacey’s Drugs & Old Tyme Soda Fountain and relive your yesterdays. A self-serve cup of joe will still only cost you a dime, and the friendly folks working the soda fountain will whip up an ice cream float, a banana split or an old-school phosphate in a jiffy and with a smile. In business since 1927, Stacey’s also makes some mean chicken salad.
Jenn’s Pick: a Key Lime Shake, one of the Alabama Department of Tourism’s “100 Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die”
121 W Laurel Ave.
Toomer’s Drugs, Auburn
The area around Toomer’s Drugs is hallowed ground for Auburn fans; directly across from its doors sits the beloved Toomer’s Corner. The drugstore was started in 1896 by Sheldon Toomer, known as “Shel” by most, a halfback on the school’s very first football team. Pop in and grab a roast-beef melt, a sugar-cone-full of Blue Bell ice cream and a few War Eagle souvenirs before walking across the street to bask in the glow of Tiger tradition.
Jenn’s Pick: Toomer’s famous fresh-squeezed lemonade
100 N. College St.
So Nice, We’re Mentioning Them Twice
If you’re a regular “Worth the Drive” reader, you’ll remember that I’ve visited and written about these two places before. I just wanted to remind you about their cool treat offerings.
Huggin’ Molly’s, Abbeville
This restaurant, named after a legendary and very friendly ghost, is fronted with a perfectly preserved soda fountain taken from an early-20th century drug store in Pennsylvania. Hop up on a swivel stool and order a retro Brown or Black Cow (root beer or Coke float), milkshake, malt, sundae or a flavored Coke. Pretty much anything you get here is scary good.
Jenn’s Pick: Vanilla Coke
129 Kirkland St.
Ugwee’s Ice Cream Shop, Georgiana
You won’t be sad you went out of your way to satisfy an ice-cream craving after a few bites of the soft-serve varieties at this tiny, neon-green ice-cream counter located in a convenience store.
Jenn’s Pick: Banana Split
10801 Mckenzie Grade Road
Shirey’s Ice Cream, based in Florence, has been wowing crowds and winning fans at festivals and happenings across the state in recent months with its scratch-made, all-natural ice cream made with all-local ingredients. The first brick-and-mortar store is opening this summer in downtown Florence. Check www.facebook.com/shireyicecream to find out more.
I want to hear from you! Due to space constraints, I know I’ve left out some great places serving equally great cool treats. Let me know your favorites, and I’ll try to work them into the “Worth the Drive” schedule. Email me with your ideas at email@example.com.