The warm temperatures and the parade of cars could mean only one thing. It was time to stop standing at the kitchen counter eating ice cream straight out of the container. Wearing our brightest masks, we got into the lines — now longer for being safely spread out — for long-awaited summer treats. We added Orleans to our usual four-town coverage because, when it comes to ice cream, you never know where the need may arise. One writer welled up remembering the time a first lick sent her double dip to the asphalt. She would never go back to the shop that made her pay for a do-over. We decided to add “What’s your dropped-cone policy?” to our survey questions and found nothing but generosity. Homemade and otherwise, here are our writers’ dairy joys. —Teresa Parker
Bliss! P’town Frozen Yogurt
322 Commercial St., Provincetown
Open 7 days, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“Black Cherry Swirl is sooo good!” advises the masked preteen ahead of me in line. Her friend tells me it’s only soft serve here. I can get hand-dipped down the street, but it’ll be way more expensive. Regulars.
Even on a drizzly night the pods of customers stretch long enough that I can really spend some time with the window signage. A mixture of quarantine memes (“update: this strawberry has 211 seeds”), social justice calls-to-action (a Maya Angelou quote), and detailed transaction protocols (“Yes, we are laundering the green stuff”), the carefully arranged glass scrapbook perfectly encapsulates the moment.
Not one to defy an enthusiastic recommendation, I order a $3 cherry soft serve. In a cone. I had meant to ask for samples, but I’m flustered trying to follow all the rules (“Don’t touch anything,” “Cash only”) so I get in and out. The first lick is bliss but too soon I’ve devoured the cherry edges and I’m left with plain vanilla. I spend some time targeting the red traces before accepting my fate. It’s a good fate. Then, the melty crunch at the bottom of the cone (“oh my god that’s where all the cherry went”) even more special. Why pay more for hand-dipped? —Olivia Weeks
310 Commercial St., Provincetown, at Lopes Square
Call for hours: 508-487-0977
A hot dog at Coney Island, a beignet in the French Quarter, and an ice cream in Lopes Square. Some places are so perfectly matched to a food that it seems wrong not to partake, diet be damned. Sitting on a bench, watching the tourists pour off of MacMillan Pier, listening to the sounds of their luggage and their gentle bickering — it’s a time-honored recreation that can only be improved by ice cream.
A chalkboard out front proclaims WE MAKE IT HERE. The store is big, but there is still often a line winding out the door and up the sidewalk. An efficient, focused, and capable staff keeps that line distanced but moving briskly. The flavors and toppings are all the classics, like Butter Pecan and Oreo. My favorite is the homemade ice cream sandwich: any flavor you want between two slightly salted chocolate chip cookies, baked fresh at Sunbird Cafe in Orleans, is the ticket to ice cream nirvana. I get Caramel Heath Bar between two huge cookies, ask for extra napkins, and then try my best not to make a complete sticky mess of myself in front of all those tourists. They’re watching me as I watch them, and I realize that all of us — the tourists, me, the ice cream shop — are all performing our parts perfectly. —Paul Benson
The Nut House
237 Commercial St., Provincetown
Front shop in Whaler’s Wharf
Open 7 days, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The sign in the window says it all: “Toscanini’s homemade ice cream.” Homemade? Well, maybe by Toscanini’s, the renowned ice cream café in Cambridge, but not at the Nut House in Provincetown, which has many other snacks, including fresh-baked cookies, candy, coffee, and, of course, nuts. But as outsourced ice cream goes, Toscanini’s is rich, flavorful, and smooth.
I ordered Espresso ice cream, not the internet recommendation, Burnt Caramel, because coffee is my favorite and espresso comes close enough. I hate thinness and chalkiness in my ice cream, an over-fatted blandness, or finding ice separated out. I prefer purer flavors to trendy combinations. The closer it comes to the concentrated taste of gelato, the better. Toscanini’s Espresso didn’t disappoint. It was up there with the best.
My Nut House server was a regular (seen on the store’s Facebook page going years back), and sassy, engaging. That’s what I want from Provincetown! It was a Covid-safe transaction, masked and distanced, except for the problematical exchange of cash and me removing my mask to eat — outdoors. I enjoyed my single dip in a cup (the low end at $4.95), which was more than enough, even for a “husky” like myself. —Howard Karren
Twisted Pizza, Subs, and Ice Cream
293 Commercial St., Provincetown
Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 10 to 11 weekends
I’ve always let that giant soft serve replica in front guide my order at Twisted. But on this particular visit I didn’t have anyone to share the two-for-one soft-serve discount that was advertised, so when it was finally my turn, I opted for a scoop of hard ice cream. The space inside wasn’t roomy, but masks were required for entry, and tape on the floor marked six-foot intervals for patrons interested in distancing.
Twisted hosts a wide assortment of creative flavors, like Muddy Boots and Flying Fish, which I usually snub for a soft serve. Today, though, the promise of homemade ice cream made with dairy from local farmers lured me in. After some probing, I discovered Twisted’s ice cream is certainly homemade, just not in house. I jogged away with a scoop of Cherry Blossom, since I’m a sucker for cherries and chocolate chips. Once I got to a safe place to unmask and take the first bite, and I had to agree with the curt response that I received after asking for the finer details about the shop’s process and importation decisions.
“It’s just really good ice cream.” —Sabina Lum
Savory and the Sweet Escape
316 Route 6, Truro
Open 7 days, 7 a.m. to closing
The Armagnac Plum ice cream at Sweet Escape in Truro is, essentially, elevated rum raisin. The slightly boozy base is complemented by flecks of prune, an underappreciated fruit. It is exactly the ice cream I would have hated as a child, but can now savor as a mature 20-something.
Upon arrival, I learned that Sweet Escape is doing pints only. All the better for me. Manager Diane Costa said that they are understaffed but hope to resume cones and cups in a couple of weeks.
For the time being, their dropped cone policy is “sadly underutilized.” They’ve set up separate ordering and pickup windows, with social distancing marked on the ground. Employees wear gloves and masks.
Their ice cream is made from a mix from a small dairy in Western Mass., but they mix in all their own flavors.
Armagnac Plum wasn’t always so-named. When Sweet Escape first opened, they named flavors after the local people who enjoyed them. Charlie’s Coconut Almond Joy was named after Charlie Miller and his sunglasses store. Armagnac Manso, named after Peter Manso, quickly rose to popularity, but Costa said she ditched the creative names because people were holding up the line asking for the ingredients. —Saskia Maxwell Keller
A Nice Cream Stop
326 W. Main St., Wellfleet
Open 7 days, noon to 9:30 p.m.
I pulled off Route 6 into Wellfleet’s town center for A Nice Cream Stop on the drive home to Boston. While the quaint shop serves a local special, the Wellfleet Mix, the homemade flavors here are from the Boston-based chain Emack and Bolio’s, which has locations up and down the Eastern seaboard and in Asia as well.
The place has a cozy and small-town feel, though, with high-quality ice cream that tastes house made. The flavors include chocolatey and creamy combinations to satisfy anyone’s sugar cravings, with vegan and non-dairy options that others in line recommended.
How could I not go for the Wellfleet Mix? It’s a vanilla-based ice cream with a perfectly soft vanilla swirl and crunchy notes of perfectly sized toffee chunks that won’t glue your mouth shut. Plus, candied pecans and almonds!
Orders are taken from the window so patrons can stand outside, socially distanced. Be sure to bring cash as no cards are accepted here.
If you drop your cone, don’t fret, it’ll be replaced at no charge –– that is, unless you drop a few too many. Then you may still get your cone, the scoopers here told me, but after a little hesitation. —Cana Tagawa
Bob’s Sub & Cone
814 Route 6, on the Bike Trail, South Wellfleet
Open 7 days, 11 a.m. to closing
Don’t take this the wrong way, Bob’s Sub & Cone. Our dog Amos loved your vanilla soft serve best. When we found out he was dying, we got him to Bob’s. From the backseat of the car, window rolled all the way down, he unfurled his long, pink tongue and lopped the top off the treat. Ever the diplomat, he waited for each of us to take a bite before he efficiently helped himself to more.
I hadn’t been back to Bob’s in four years, since that last trip with Amos. Counter staff are still filling cups and cones with Hood soft serve (vanilla, chocolate, swirl) and a wide array of hard scoop from Gifford’s, including Lobster Tracks, Maine Black Bear, and Campfire S’mores. It took me about six seconds to choose: a small vanilla soft serve in a cup ($2.25).
The first creamy spoonful melted in my mouth. Not a hint of a Madagascar bean, nary an organic ingredient, not a whiff of an inventive addition of absolutely anything. “Vanilla” exactly as it tasted in about 1940 and exactly as it will taste until Kingdom come. What could be more comforting in the pandemic? —Cathy Corman
Mac’s on the Pier
265 Commercial St., Wellfleet
Open Sun-Thu 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Mac’s ice cream counter at Wellfleet Harbor is the go-to spot for post-boat ride treats.
And it holds a special place in my heart. Growing up, a Cookies and Cream frappe with extra vanilla syrup seemed like a taste of paradise. Even now, the sacred syrup takes me back to a time when sucking large cookie chunks through the straw was my only concern.
Their hard ice cream, which ranges from $2.99 for a kiddie size to $4.99 for a large, is supplied weekly from Gifford’s in Maine. Their flavors are mainly traditional, but the menu includes a few surprises like Blueberry Crumble and Peanut Butter Pie. Their soft serve — vanilla and chocolate — comes from Hood. Soft serve prices range from $2.49 for a kiddie to $3.99 for a large.
Standing in the shade of Mac’s shingles, New Jersey resident George Potter told me Mac’s Mint Chip is his kids’ favorite, while he prefers the classic vanilla soft serve.
At the counter, a stanchion keeps you six feet away from the person taking your order. Employees wear masks and gloves and will offer to sign your credit card receipt for you if you don’t want to reach.
They will also replace your ice cream if you drop it, no matter how old you are. —Devin Sean Martin
PJ’s Family Restaurant
2616 Route 6, at Cahoon Hollow Rd., Wellfleet
Open 7 days, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Bring on PJ’s soft serve vanilla with a hard chocolate dip for a blend of two classic flavors and three textures. That’s right, three: you’ve got the crunchy chocolate (or butterscotch or cherry) shell, then the creamy vanilla ice cream, and finally the crème de le crème — the vanilla ice cream that has been melted by the hot chocolate coating.
Busting through that chocolate dip unleashes the deliciousness of Carvel’s under neon lights, a roadside pleasure from my youth.
PJ’s serves Gifford’s and Hood ice cream. They’ll do everything from a pup cup for $1.60 to a large cone (waffle or gluten-free for both soft and hard serve) for $3.75 to $5. Plus a huge array of add-ons, like the dips.
The counter is wiped down after each customer, as are the pens and everything else involved in ordering. Customers and staff must wear masks.
If a child takes a first enthusiastic lick and the ice cream drops, no charge. “It happens!” said Denise Reeves, the owner.
The Black Raspberry-Coffee twist is the most unusual flavor combination. It is soft serve and has a real following. —K.C. Myers
Ben & Jerry’s
50 Brackett Rd, North Eastham
Open 7 days, noon to 10 p.m.
Flavor names remain one reason to love Ben & Jerry’s. I just had to get Netflix & Chilll’d. But as can happen with that proposition, I was a tiny bit disappointed afterwards.
The peanut butter ice cream with fudge brownies was delicious and chunky. But where were the promised pretzels in the swirl? Not finding any, I am unsure this flavor deserves three l’s instead of the usual two.
My grandfather went for the Salted Caramel Blondie and judged the blondies therein plentiful and tasty.
As you would expect from a brand born in the milk mecca that is Vermont, the quality of the ice cream is reliably good here. And even though its founding hippies sold the company to Unilever in 2000, the Eastham franchise is an independently owned shop.
A shy teenager handed me my kiddie cup ($4.95). From behind her mask, she looked flustered when I asked her what the “dropped cone policy” was. She deferred to her boss, who instantly worried that I had actually dropped my cone and stood ready to get me another.
I’m sorry I fell in the Netflix trap, clearly set for members of Gen Z like me. Regardless, Ben & Jerry’s remains a high-quality classic. —Eve Samaha
Nauset Ice Cream
4550 Route 6, North Eastham
Open 7 days, noon to 10 p.m.
It took only a couple of miles on Route 6 to realize that summer traffic is upon us. Reason enough to exit into the spacious parking lot in front of Nauset Ice Cream. The place is a jewel in Eastham’s shopping plaza crown, serving homemade ice cream in an array of mouth-watering flavors, including fan favorites Coconut Almond Chip, Ginger, Cape Cod Cranberry, and my choice of Caramel Sea Salt ($4.75 for a “small” — but generous — cup or cone).
The shop also has yogurt, sorbets, and vegan flavors along with the traditional frappes, sprinkles, and sundaes.
The young people scooping regretted that they can’t offer samples of the flavors this year, but they cheerfully reviewed the options, pausing to take instructions from owner Joanne Cremins when she dropped in to check on the tidy shop and re-clean a table out front.
The ice cream is “a little soft” warned my cashier, so he gave me a cup to accompany the sugar cone. I was glad for it, and equally so for the soft hard scoop, so creamy and flavorful my daughters called it “a 10 out of 10” and “one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had in my life.” —Molly Newman
Ice Cream Café
5 South Orleans Road, Orleans
Open 7 days, noon to 10:00 p.m.
Let me say right up front, I’m biased. Two mornings a week, I arrive at the Ice Cream Café in Orleans at 6:30 a.m. and make about 28 tubs of ice cream. I scooped here through high school and college. Now I feel like an ice cream chemist, making the stuff in my mask and gloves.
We call it “Zen ice cream.” You set up the machine, play some music, and mix up the creamy goodness that will proceed to sit in a blast freezer for 24 hours.
The machine we use was made in Italy. We call it the Italian Stallion — it’s a beast of a cream churner, mixing a batch in about eight minutes. All the extras must be added efficiently so the ice cream doesn’t melt along the way.
All hard serve flavors at the Café are homemade, though the shop does sell soft serve and frozen yogurt.
My favorite is Cookie Dough — a French vanilla base with cookie dough pieces and chocolate chips. But I dabble in some others, like S’mores and Avocado.
You can order online or by phone or stand in a carefully distanced line on the deck. —Ryan Fitzgerald
5 Route 6A, Orleans, near the rotary
Open 7 days, 11 a.m. to 8:30 pm
The ice cream at this former DQ isn’t homemade, but the masked server enthusiastically listed items the Knack does make from scratch, from pickles to peanut butter. Purists will be pleased with their two flavors of soft serve: chocolate and vanilla. My sister and I ordered one of each.
Only one size is available. But you’ll be glad you didn’t get a “kiddie cup” or some other minuscule serving.
In a few minutes, a gloved hand pushed two big cones out of the farthest window. A brief hesitation: it seemed a shame to stick my meddling tongue into the perfect six-inch swirl. Then I dove in.
Soft serve has a tendency to taste like stale air. But this version is smooth and creamy, and full of flavor. The chocolate intense and rich, and the vanilla light and silky. If one of us had tragically dropped her cone, the server assured us they replaced fallen ice cream for free.
With the outdoor dining area roped off, there was no place to sit outside and eat, so we lingered awkwardly by a fence nearby until our cones didn’t drip, and then went along home.
As the name suggests, there is only one “The Knack.” We wish there were another in our neighborhood. —Dorothea Samaha
The Local Scoop
34 Cranberry Hwy, that’s 6A, near Stop & Shop, Orleans
Open 7 days, noon to 10 p.m.
The Local Scoop lives up to its name with all flavors homemade on site. Experimentation is the name of the game when it comes to creating them. Ingredients are locally sourced where possible, including from the farmers market. The flavor selection is smallish but rotates every two weeks, with 12 choices at any one time. When we visited these included the usuals — Chocolate, Madagascar Vanilla, Strawberry, Cookies & Cream — as well as fun flavors rarely seen: Lavender Honey, Lemongrass Ginger, and Jelly Donut, using donut holes from the nearby Hole-in-One, no less.
As a coronavirus precaution, the inside is closed. There’s a temporary counter in the doorway at which orders are taken and ice cream is served. My 10-year-old joined me for the treat. Wellfleet native Desiree is in line six feet ahead of us. “I love the Jelly Donut; it’s really good,” she told us.
When it’s our turn, Helena helps me choose Lavender Honey and we add fresh strawberries as a topping. Our server is super-friendly and, of course, is wearing a mask. Hand sanitizer stands ready by the credit card keypad. And the taste test: creamy vanilla with a subtle hint of lavender, just the right amount, we agree… WOW! —Susannah Elisabeth Fulcher
Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream
210 Main Street, East Orleans
Open Mon-Wed 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thu-Sun until 10:30 p.m.
Smitty’s serves over a dozen homemade flavors, with the cherry, or, in this case, whipped cream, on top also made in house. The shop carries the classics with some more unusual varieties thrown into the mix, like Amaretto Cherry Chip and Sweet Cream & Nuts. One customer I spoke to who lives on Cape in the summer and visits Smitty’s at least once a year said Oreo Coffee is a must-try. I went for a medium Amaretto Cherry Chip in a cup. (I love cones, but they can be messy and licking fingers does not seem smart in the age of Covid-19.)
The medium was lots of ice cream. I must concede I didn’t finish it although it was so enticing that I scarfed down half before remembering to take a picture. Prices ranged from $4.50 for a small to $5.95 for a large. My medium rang in at $5.25. Staff were friendly, mask-wearing, and willing to replace a dropped cone.
Smitty’s is an outdoor eating spot, the small shop surrounded by benches and tables, now strategically placed and cleaned after each customer for safe, frozen fun. —Colleen Cronin