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Summer Foods USA

Summer Foods USA

August 13, 2014: As summer begins to wind down and so does the enjoyment of mid-year delights like lobster rolls and fried clams, we wanted to bring your attention to some of the lesser-known but equally savory gems while there's still some time left. We sent 10 writers on the hunt for more offbeat summer experiences all around the country. Here's what they found.

Click on a summer food...

By Amanda Petrusich

Kool-Aid Pickles

Mississippi

Kool-aid pickles
Kool-aid pickles

Mississippi is no stranger to food pilgrims: It beckons the belly. And while countless, fawning opuses have been written about the state’s famed barbecue and fried catfish trades — and they are mighty undeniable — Mississippi is also known for a cornucopia of slightly less accessible foodstuffs. In the Delta, the chunk of famously fertile land between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, intrepid travelers can sample hot tamales (boiled and seasoned ground beef or pork wrapped in corn meal, doused in hot sauce and tied up in a husk), souse (a terrine of chilled and sliced head cheese) and pig’s feet (cleaved at the ankle and pickled in jars of red wine vinegar). The best iterations are peddled, of course, by roadside entrepreneurs — the beloved, gray-market virtuosos who operate from parking lots and medians. The Delta palette favors a kind of aggressive tanginess, an unsubtle melding of sweetness and sourness and heat. By mid-morning, you can smell it rising from backyard smokers, and by sunset, you can feel it oozing up from the landscape: a wetness, a brashness, an exuberant warmth.

Earlier this summer, I successfully badgered Richard, an old and very dear friend, into meeting me in Memphis on a balmy Thursday night. We commandeered a Dodge Charger from the airport, and soon we were zooming south on Highway 61 toward Clarksdale, deep into the Delta. I was excited to eat everything the region had to offer, but had mostly come to sample a modern, if no less awesome, innovation: Kool-Aid pickles.

Richard, to his credit, tried not to ask too many questions beyond the obvious: "That isn’t a real thing. Is it?”

In 2007, John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, wrote the first and only mainstream dispatch regarding this oddball delicacy — dill pickles soaked in Kool-Aid — for The New York Times. Edge, a charming writer and an adventurous eater, suggests the treats “violate tradition, maybe even propriety.” I understood his trepidation. There was something ominous about the idea of a warm, candied pickle. Part of it was the flick to the forehead of tradition: An ancient, revered practice (humans have been preserving food via anaerobic fermentation for nearly 4,000 years now) sullied by the introduction of a powdered, artificially flavored soft drink. “If civilization is really about to crumble,” as Calvin Trillin once wrote, “everybody is entitled to his own idea of which is the most significant crack.”

Kool-Aid pickles — known as Koolickles or Pickoolas in the local parlance — are a fairly straightforward product. A packet of Kool-Aid and a few cups of sugar are dumped into a jar of supermarket-bought pickles, typically the Mt. Olive brand. The pickles assume vivid — some might say insane — new colors, and, a week or so later, they’re ready to be sold from room-temperature plastic tubs in gas stations, convenience stores and neighborhood kitchens, usually for around 50 cents a spear. No one can say when this particular folk art started (Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927), but by all accounts it is of relatively contemporary provenance.

Theoretically, the pickles satisfy both sweet and savory cravings — the have-it-both-ways dream that first led Delta kids to start dipping Hot Cheetos into ice cream and my fellow Northeasterners to drag our Wendy’s french fries through the restaurant’s Frostys. Then again, it’s also possible that Kool-Aid pickles simply introduce and satisfy a new and heretofore unnameable desire for a pickle re-pickled in drink mix.

The pickles come in a mess of flavors — as many as there are varieties of Kool-Aid, plus whatever permutations an enterprising proprietor might dream up — but they can be difficult to discern. After all, a Kool-Aid pickle isn’t an artisanal delicacy meant to be savored — the taste is big, immediate and divisive. The primary consumers are schoolchildren. A grown person eating a Kool-Aid pickle is a sort of running joke in north Mississippi — or at least I have chosen to believe that’s why folks always started guffawing when, days later, I explained why my lips were greenish.

A Kool-Aid pickle isn’t an artisanal delicacy meant to be savored—the taste is big, immediate, and divisive.

And since Kool-Aid pickles are an unregulated and unbranded treat, they are always homemade and sometimes difficult to acquire. You do not really find a Kool-Aid pickle; rather, a Kool-Aid pickle finds you.

On our first morning in Clarksdale, Richard and I asked the proprietor of our guesthouse if she knew where we might be able to find one. She suggested we start at Dreamboat, a barbecue restaurant in a refurbished ice cream parlor built to resemble a Mississippi riverboat (it used to be called The Creamboat). Dreamboat didn’t have any pickles to sell us, but we ate a platter of pulled pork, smoked sausage and baked beans, just to prime our stomachs, and got directions to J’s Grocery, a local convenience store that advertises its pickles on roadside marquees.

J’s had a tub of fresh Kool-Aid pickles out on the counter (the flavor of the day was Green Apple), as well as a few smaller jars for dedicated fans to take home. We ordered a lone Green Apple. Once a pickle has been fished out of its brine, it’s tucked into one of those little fold-over sandwich baggies, which do precious little to contain errant juices. The flesh of our spear had taken on a neon hue; it was nearly luminescent. We took it outside and stood, nervously, in front of a NO LOITERING sign. This is where Kool-Aid pickles get eaten, near ICE coolers and ancient Diesel pumps. Richard gave me a look like, “No-no-no, after you.” I took a deep breath. The pickle itself was softer than I’d imagined, barely able to keep itself upright between my fingers after its long soak in sugared vinegar. The smell was acrid and strong. I composed myself and chomped.

The first bite of a Kool-Aid pickle is arguably the best: a sudden and unforeseeable burst of sweetness, followed by a heady rush of acid, a slap of salt. I imagine the effect is not unlike trying to eat a lollipop in the Atlantic Ocean. The second bite is more of a test of character. “Oh, my God,” I said to no one, and chewed for what felt like a very long time.

The first bite of a Kool-Aid pickle is arguably the best: a sudden and unforeseeable burst of sweetness, followed by a heady rush of acid, a slap of salt.

Richard ventured a tiny nibble — or so he claims. I’m pretty sure he just held it near his mouth for a second.

The pickle went back in its baggie, and we drove the Charger toward Indianola, about 60 miles south. We didn’t spend the ride listening to pre-war blues songs but, rather, a 1990s-themed satellite radio station that seemed to play “The Humpty Dance” every 17 minutes. At the Double-Quick filling station in Indianola, we found a jar of Watermelon pickles in a repurposed Utz Party Mix container. While the cashier swatted at a spear with a pair of metal tongs, I found myself involuntarily backing away from the counter. We took our baggie outside. Watermelon seemed a little less jarring than Green Apple, or maybe I was just acclimating to the experience. The artificial flavoring of the Kool-Aid was enhanced by the brine of the pickle, and I suddenly sort of understood why people might eat these. Or at least dare their friends to.

At our next stop, the B&C Package Store in nearby Shaw, old “I’ll try anything twice!” Richard blanched. He suddenly grew very interested in his mobile phone. I powered on. While nearby signage (“We check for weapons with a Magna Scanner”) might lead some visitors to suspect they’re in an unsavory location, B&C is a mecca for pickle enthusiasts. Their counter had four tubs with four new flavors: Cherry, Lime, Hot and Dill. While a short line formed behind me, I inquired about the Hot and Dill flavors. “Those are Hot, and those are Dill,” the cashier said. I handed over $1.80, and took my four baggies outside.

    Where to find Kool-Aid Pickles in this story
  • J’s Grocery
    1001 Ritchie Avenue
    Clarksdale, MS
  • Double Quick gas stations
    (available at most locations in the Delta)
    114 B.B. King Road
    Indianola, MS
  • B&C Package Store
    109 West Peeler Avenue
    Shaw, MS

We stood near a sign for a Mississippi Blues Trail marker (the guitarist David “Honeyboy” Edwards was born in Shaw), and I took a timid nip of each. Lime and Cherry were all but indistinguishable from Green Apple and Watermelon — all that really comes through is sweetness, sourness and the softness of the cucumber — but the Hot and Dill flavors were intriguing. Dill was infused with some iteration of fruit flavoring, but it was the sourest of the bunch; Hot was spicy in an unapologetic way, as if someone had soaked a pickle in Cherry Kool-Aid, then stirred in Tabasco sauce. I emptied a bottle of water into my mouth, and another onto my face. We retreated to the Charger and sped back to Clarksdale, hands on our bellies. We could barely get out the words to “The Humpty Dance.”

In the Delta, one often has the sense of becoming unstuck in time: There aren’t many concessions to modernity. That makes it easy — pleasing, even — to get caught up in the region’s old-time mythology. Sip whiskey on a porch, watch someone pick at a guitar, throw dinner scraps to stray dogs. The Kool-Aid pickle, with its radioactive glow, challenges that sensibility.

It also reaffirms — in the sweetest, stickiest, most confrontational way possible — that this is a place where new and unimaginable things can still thrive.

-Amanda Petrusich is the author of "Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records," a book about extraordinarily rare prewar recordings. Her culture and music writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Oxford American, Spin, Pitchfork, and elsewhere.

By Sara Roahen

Sno-Balls

New Orleans

Behold the sno-ball
Behold the sno-ball

When I asked the no-nonsense contractor who renovated our kitchen where he likes to get sno-balls, he scoffed. No sweet tooth, he claimed as he poured a second tablespoon of sugar into his morning espresso. Then he reconsidered, as most New Orleanians will do in the summertime when pressed about the local snack of syrup-drenched shaved ice. “My son and I bike to a stand on the corner of Fleur de Lis Drive and Harrison Avenue,” he admitted. “I always get gummi bears on mine.”

I know more about sno-balls than the average snacker, having written about them, conducted an oral history project about them and eaten more of them than I should admit. In the summer of my pregnancy, I indulged a craving for root beer sno-balls nearly every afternoon and bought my own ice crusher for days when it got too hot to make the two-block walk to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. Upon passing a glucose screen 27 weeks into my pregnancy, I admitted this transgression to my OB-GYN, and we then proceeded to trade notes on favorite stands and flavors. Rather than scolding me, my doctor confessed to enjoying sno-balls during her post-jog hot-tub soaks. I chose not to tell my son’s pediatrician how early I first allowed a smidgen of sugared ice to pass his lips.

Despite my extensive sno-ball experience, however, which includes having tried pickle juice and a super-sour spray available at some stands as garnishes, I’ve never ordered gummi bears on a sno-ball. As with so many culinary considerations in this town, the New Orleans sno-ball offers a bottomless cup (or, sometimes, a Chinese take-out container) of variations, nuances, and talking points.

Shaveable ice would have landed in New Orleans early in the 19th century, when the business of harvesting and transporting natural frozen lake water exploded up North. On whatever day that first ice block arrived in this subtropical city, so surely did the first sno-ball-like confection — not to mention a general feeling of hope.

Sno-balls didn’t get practical until the Depression, when local snack pioneers machinist Ernest Hansen and grocer George Ortolano built electric ice-shaving machines around the same time. Hansen’s granddaughter, Ashley Hansen, still uses two of his original machines to churn out flurries of impossibly light “sno” at the stand that Hansen and his wife, Mary, helped run until both of them died during their Hurricane Katrina evacuations. Uptown, Ortolano’s nephew, Ronnie R. Sciortino, oversees his uncle’s legacy at the SnoWizard stand, as well as at a sno-ball supply business that deals in everything from ice-shaving machinery to paper cups.

While New Orleans sno is superior in texture to any shaved ice product I’ve sampled elsewhere — including in locales more famous for their icy sweets — and while only a few manufacturers supply most of the city’s ice-shaving machines, the quality of ice can vary widely even here, from delicate to pebbly. Tempting as it may be to “air condition your tummy” (in the words of Ernest Hansen) at the closest sno-ball outlet when temperatures spike, do bear in mind that sno is not sno is not sno.

The same goes for syrups, which some stands make daily with spring water and sugar and others stretch out with too much water and stabilize with preservatives. The New Orleans area is a hub for flavor manufacturers, so sno-ball makers can shop around for the extracts and concentrates they need for syrups. Bubby Wendling, the proprietor at Southern Snow Manufacturing, employs a full-time flavorist/colorist to produce 170 extracts in a warehouse on the West Bank. When I toured his facility, Wendling made me a righteous sno-ball of coconut-syrup-drenched ice topped with sweetened condensed milk and a drizzle of Hershey’s syrup. He called it “Peter & Paul Mounds.”

Wendling doesn’t sell his ode to the Mounds bar commercially, but most traditionally stocked sno-ball stands could reproduce it. Some of my other go-to flavors around town are the plum at Williams Plum Street Snowball (top it with housemade sweetened condensed milk); the purple-hued, cinnamon-roll-flavored king cake cream at Pandora’s; the Vietnamese coffee at Piety Street Snoballs; the lemon-basil at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls; and the cream of nectar at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz (a classic New Orleans flavor that Ashley describes as “a pink vanilla fluffy cloud”).

For newcomers, some of the flourishes can seem, well, over the top. But sweetened condensed milk and marshmallow fluff only seem too much until you top yours with soft-serve ice cream at Sal’s Sno-Balls, or shards of freshly made pralines at Tee Eva’s Pralines & Pies. One of my favorites is cream plus crushed pineapple plus marshmallow fluff plus ice cream plus a cherry at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz — what Ernest aptly named an Atomic.

At Beaucoup Juice, Dylan Williams skews healthier, sweetening his sno with fresh-pressed fruit juices — as well as vegetable and herb juices, for those who so desire. Whenever possible, he sources produce locally, including from a nearby school with a culinary curriculum. New Orleans has more farm-to-table dining options than it did a decade ago, and several traditional sno-ball makers also dabble in fresh juices (the watermelon and ginger syrups are fresh modernizations at Hansen’s). So far, though, Williams doesn’t have much competition for his healthy sno-ball revolution.

The sno-ball might be New Orleans’ most democratic food. At most stands, the small costs two dollars or less, and the lines fill with suits after the workday. The places aren’t fancy, either. Most stands have minimal seating — a bench or two, or a scattering of chairs or umbrella tables. But I consider a seat to be lagniappe anyway. The other day my son and I plopped down with our sno-balls on the sidewalk in front of Pandora’s, avoiding the sticky, ant-swarmed puddles from melted sno-balls past. While we slowly cooled down, we saw a wilted-looking woman waiting in the heat for the streetcar across Carrollton Avenue. And then we saw her decide on a sno-ball instead. She left her post, crossed the street to Pandora’s walk-up window, ordered a raspberry sno-ball, and settled in to eat right on the sidewalk beside us.

-Sara Roahen is the author of "Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table."

By Susannah Felts

Bushwacker

Nashville

Edley's Bushwacker
Edley's Bushwacker

Grab a seat any day of the week at East Nashville’s popular 3 Crow Bar and you’ll find, among the drinkers tossing back beers and highballs, a bunch of folks straw-sipping a thick white substance from a pint glass. To the uninitiated, it looks a bit like . . . a milkshake? They’re not far from wrong.

Behold the Bushwacker, a frozen, creamy booze-fortified beverage that has Nashville in its punch-packing clutches. “It’s an adult milkshake,” says 3 Crow bartender Scotty Dillon. When I asked fans of the Bushwacker to explain their enthusiasm, I receive bemused expressions and variations on “Duh.” As a friend told me: “It’s a Frosty. With alcohol. What’s not to love?” Another friend, more analytical than the first, attributed its appeal to “taste, value and decadence.” (“I Googled the calories once,” she added regretfully. “You don’t want to know.”)

    Pop culture factoid
  • President Obama was spotted (and photographed) at Tacky Jack’s, in Orange Beach, Ala., enjoying a Bushwacker when he visited the Gulf Coast in the summer of 2010, after the BP oil spill.

Until a few years ago, the Bushwacker could only be found at 3 Crow and its sister bar, Broadway Brewhouse, where Bill Carney and Kelly Jones first introduced the drink more than a decade ago. (Carney and Jones are partners on 3 Crow and. Jones owns Brewhouse) It now accounts for 10% of sales at 3 Crow, and other bars have joined the fun. Nashville’s drinking culture has evolved apace with the rest of the city in recent years — with artisanal cocktails as popular here as anywhere, and new, classy, trend-driven establishments opening almost weekly — but the humble, machine-spun Bushwacker has held strong all the while.

At Edley’s Bar-B-Que, which opened in 2011, bartenders serve a variation that includes a ribbon of chocolate syrup swirled around the inside of a mason jar, and offer variations like a patriotic version with muddled strawberries and blueberries during the World Cup and a “Paddywacker” for St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carney believes Jones’ version is the best in town. (I was given the secret recipe’s ingredients — Light Bacardi 151, Crème de Cacao, coffee liqueur, Coco Lopez, milk and half and half — but not the amounts of each.) “Everyone’s trying to copy the original,” Carney says.

Except that the “original” Bushwacker isn’t exactly original. Like armadillos, tamales and other Southern staples, the drink migrated north — in this case from a Pensacola, Florida, bar, the Sandshaker, which bills itself the “Home of the Original Bushwacker.” In fact, this too was an adaptation. In the mid-1970s, according to the Sandshaker website, the owner discovered the Bushwacker on a trip to St. Thomas, then developed a creamier version for the bar. That basic mixture of milk, cream, rum, cream of coconut, coffee liqueur and creme of cacao is replicated in slight variations today at bars all over the Gulf Coast, which is where Kelly Jones first encountered it. Today, in fact, Pensacola hosts an annual Bushwacker Festival, including a Miss Bushwacker bikini contest and a Bushwacker 5K.

Catherine Newman, who co-owns Edley’s, has fond, if hazy, memories of drinking Bushwackers in Orange Beach, Alabama, in college. “I knew from the very beginning of developing the concept for Edley’s that the Bushwacker would be on the menu,” she says. She and her husband and co-owner, Will, tried several recipes before going with the one a girl in a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, bar had given him years ago. He had written it down on a cocktail napkin and kept it in his wallet for years.

Today, one thing seems clear: A cocktail with Caribbean provenance has taken on a new identity as an emblematic drink of a landlocked city. Which is funny, not just because the Bushwacker is a fairly beachy beverage. These days, Nashville has all but discarded its Buckle of the Bible Belt identity, the population is booming and the restaurant industry is growing like never before, says Carney. The haute cocktail scene is flourishing here, as in bigger cities. But through it all churns the rise of the humble Bushwacker — unabashedly lowbrow, at home in Styrofoam, the swill of choice for the cut-offs-and-neon-bikini-clad. If the Bushwacker is an invasive species, it’s one locals embrace rather than stomp out.

And that seems like a good thing. Despite its reputation for killer hangovers and who knows what-all cases of poor reasoning, the Bushwacker performs a critical task for Nashville’s culture, connecting it to a regional identity that we don’t want to lose as we welcome hundreds of new residents by the day. The city’s swank factor may be on the rise, but we still appreciate our rough edges, our grit and twang. Sure, when we talk about the dicey yesteryear of Downtown’s Lower Broad, we applaud the area’s transformation to tourist destination: Look, our honky-tonks are safe; come back, y’all! But lurking behind that clean and shiny image is, I’ll wager, a lingering pride in the way we do seedy and simple so well. Nobody really wants Nashville to be stripped of its Southern swagger.

And if the Bushwacker perhaps more lurch than swagger, this frozen concoction — dubbed “deliciously evil” by the Nashville Scene — still embodies the city’s aggressively casual spirit and appetite for the wild side. Bushwackers keep Nashville down-to-earth, distinctly Southern and — with their high alcohol content, gut-busting creaminess and deceptively easy drinking — maybe yes, a little dangerous.

Which is not to say that a Bushwacker, like most treats, can’t be given a healthy makeover. And where better for that to happen than Nashville? This fall, the city’s first vegan/raw restaurant, Avo, will deliver Nashville’s first non-dairy Bushwacker. Co-owner and chef de cuisine Jessica Rice used to enjoy both making and drinking Bushwackers in her pre-vegan, cocktail-waitressing days at 3 Crow. "When I gave up dairy, they were the one thing I really missed,” she says. “I never got sick of them, but they made me feel awful.” The recipe for Avo’s vegan Bushwacker? Secret, of course. But Rice says the creaminess “will come from a nut. It’ll have that dense, awesome Bushwacker deliciousness.”

Which sounds, indeed, like the crossroads of Old Dirty South and New Sophisticated Nashville — in drink form. While 3 Crow and other bars continue to sell gallons of the Florida-born Bushwacker by the day, Avo’s take may be the closest Nashville has come to putting a signature stamp on it, making the drink truly Ours. Only in 21st-century Music City, perhaps, can you have your Bushwacker and your allergen-free detox too.

-Susannah Felts is a Nashville-based writer, editor, and educator who writes frequently about food, culture, books, and travel.

By Joshua David Stein

Water Ice

Philadelphia

It’s pronounced "wooder ice"
It’s pronounced "wooder ice"

It was another sunny day in Philadelphia and the row houses of South Philadelphia offered no comfort — just block after block of beige brick, vinyl siding and potholed streets. The neighborhood is a far cry from leafy Rittenhouse Square or the shaded alleys of Old City. For the last century, generations of Italian immigrants have settled there, especially the part called East Passyunk. Many arrived from Sicily, early in the 20th century, and they were soon followed and joined by family members and descendants. Some moved away, north to the Main Line or Southern New Jersey, but enough stayed to make the area one of the largest residential Little Italys in the United States. And when the days get hot, there’s only one respite: water ice.

    Where to find water ice
  • If you’re in Philadelphia, Mancuso’s, John’s and Italiano’s are your top three options. Pop’s Italian Ice isn’t bad either. If you want to see how deeply embedded water ice is in Philadelphia food, go to Jose Garces’ Mexican restaurant Distrito, where the Jicama salad with a lime sorbet comes topped with lemon water ice, here called fancifully granita. But if you aren’t in Philadelphia, which is statistically most of us, Rita’s, a chain granted, nevertheless does a good job repping Philadelphia water ice nationally.

Water ice, pronounced in the Philadelphia patois as "wooder ice," is sui generis but it’s almost of many things. It’s almost gelato, but without cream. Almost sorbet, but not quite as fine nor as fancy. Almost a slushy, but finer and less liquid. Almost a shaved ice, but not shaved. It’s made by running ice, fruit juice and sugar through an ice cream maker, and the closest analog is probably a smooth granita from a few towns in Sicily. And when immigrants arrived in the U.S., they brought the tradition with them.

Water ice is restorative from the moment it touches the tongue. The ice crystals melt quickly, in a way that drives home the fleeting nature of summer. Perhaps fittingly, the water ice at most places — and that’s the correct term, just as barbecue is always served at a joint — is sold through a window in a row-house wall. Such is the case at Italiano’s.

The corner of South 12th and West Shunk Streets is treeless and barren. But every summer for 37 years, a member of the Italiano family has served water ice from the side of a sand-colored building with a tan awning. These days it’s usually the son of Nanci Italiano, who is the daughter of Dominick, the founder. Italiano’s says it invented “gelati,” a claim of questionable veracity. But, according to a handpainted sign, “Back in 1975, Mom decided to put water ice and ice cream together in a cup and decided to call it ‘gelati.’”

Regardless, Italiano’s water ice built an empire out of mom’s water ice. It offers a score of flavors ranging from classics, like lemon, cherry and chocolate, to more outré choices such as pineapple, amaretto and piña colada. Real aficionados know that only three flavors count: cherry, the brighter neon-red the better; chocolate; and, above all, lemon. The simple pleasure of a perfect lemon water ice on a hot summer day cannot be overstated.

Italiano’s serves its small lemon water ices in white paper cups. The ices are pale yellow, nearly white, but they smart of fresh lemon. Truly great water ices require fresh fruit, and Italiano’s customers can see stacks of empty lemon crates that attest to the quality of its ingredients. Their contents can be tasted in the refreshing sting of the lemon water ice, and seen in the flecks of lemon rind suspended in granular ice.

Though water ice consists of three simple ingredients, methods of mixing them such as ratios and freezing temperatures are the closely guarded secrets of water ice alchemists. At Lucio Mancuso & Son's Cheese Shop, the trick, says Philip Mancuso, 76 and son of Lucio, is the vintage ice cream maker. “It chops it up real fine,” he says. With relatively little variation in ingredients, most of the charm of water ice is contextual. Mancuso’s — a few doors from a statue of a boxer that looks like Rocky but is actually former middleweight champion Joey Giardello — sells fresh mozzarella and ricotta, as well as a cave’s worth of Italian cured meat. Their water ice is offered occasionally, and advertised only by a handmade sign in the window that reads, simply, “Lemon-Chocolate-Cherry.”

    Why the writer chose this food
  • "I grew up in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia so I’ve always had water ice pride but never fully experienced it in situ. It’s always intrigued me though because water ice is so tautological. There’s something so Philadelphian about being so proud of it and something essentially Philadelphian about the product itself. It’s hard scrabble, not too sweet and quite conservative."

Immediately inside the creaky door is a freezer, a stack of medium blue-and-white paper cups medium, and a copy of the Delaware Valley Italian-American News Herald. Of all the water ice in Philadelphia, Mancuso’s has the best texture: The crystals are so fine they seem almost powdery, so delicate too that they dissolve like a snowflake on the tip of one’s tongue. The cherry is suitably garish but it’s the chocolate, rather than the lemon, that comes closest to perfection.

The best water ice in the city isn’t actually in East Passyunk but in Queens Village, near the Ninth Street Market. At John’s Water Ice, inside what looks like a former garage, two fans spin valiantly yet do little to stop the swelter inside. A gruff woman in a T-shirt that has “John’s Ice” mocked up as the marioneted logo of The Godfather bends over a freezer. John’s, too, focuses on the holy trinity of flavors: lemon flecked with real pulp; chocolate rich with cocoa; and a sublime cherry.

John’s also runs specials, and one of them, peach, was the best water ice I had on a recent weekend. It’s flecks of fresh fruit, suspended in ice the color of a ’70s living room, scooped into a sweating paper cup, and handed over with a gruff, “Here’s your wooder ice.” It’s perfection, devoured so quickly that the ice doesn’t even have a chance to melt.

-Joshua David Stein is the restaurant critic for the New York Observer and his work has appeared in New York Magazine, the New York Times, GQ, Esquire, the Guardian and more.

By Chris M. Walsh

State Fair Food

Iowa

The Fair’s next big thing?
The Fair’s next big thing?

Last month, at a coffee shop named Zanzibar near downtown Des Moines, I sat and talked with Connie Boesen about her preparations for the 10-day Iowa State Fair that started on August 7. Boesen, who has brown hair and an infectious exuberance that makes her look 10 years younger than her 63 years, is one of 98 food vendors who will operate 200 concessions. She’s finalizing plans for her Applishus and Salad Bowl snack stands, which offer products not generally associated with state fairs: healthy foods.

With an impressive globally-influenced coffee menu and art-adorned walls, Zanzibar looks like Williamsburg set up camp in Des Moines. As we sat at a small table near the shop’s front doors, Boesen took me through her menus–salads, wraps, and apple treats. She’ll also offer a new item: a caprese salad-on-a-stick. A foot-long stick with tomatoes and cheese, it looks like a kebab without meat. It was one of five foods that won the fair’s new food contest, which honors items priced below $3.

    State Fair Fact:
  • More than 70 items will be served on a stick including deep-fried brownies, deep-fried sweet corn corn dogs, deep-fried milky ways, deep-fried snickers, deep-fried Twinkies, and double-bacon corn dogs.

As we finished talking, Boesen waved to Jennifer Miller, the food writer at The Des Moines Register. She introduced us and told Miller I was curious about this year’s healthy food options, Miller laughed - the same reaction I first had when hearing about salads amid all the fryers – and nodded her head in Boesen’s direction. ”Well,” she said, “you’re looking at it.”

Boesen isn’t some crusader trying to impose her idea of healthy eating on the masses - far from it. She’s been running her concessions for the past 12 years, and the fair is in her blood. Her father, Kenneth Fulk, managed the fair from 1962-69. She made her first foray into vending at age 14 at the fair, when she and her sister sold “pop, gum and cigars.” And she grew up on the fair’s grounds – literally - in a ranch-style house with her parents and five sisters.

After we spoke, Boesen gave me a short tour of the city, which included a quick stop at the downtown farmer’s market on Court Avenue, before we headed for the fairgrounds. As we turned right off of East University Avenue into the grounds on East 33rd Street, she pointed out that house she grew up in, which still sits just off to the left, set back about 50 feet.

As we drove, I thought about how state-fair food has become a kind of spectacle. The media loves to cover the affronts to health and common sense like fried butter, double-fried bacon corn dogs, and fried Oreos, to name a few. The fair doesn’t publish any official numbers on how many foods are served each year but the guidelines for what they consider healthy are based on the USDA guidelines for school meals. That leaves room for items like shrimp corn dogs, a fried treat a nutritionist wouldn’t be likely to recommend. And isn’t that the point of the fair—to indulge yourself once a year? Why offer healthy food at all?

“Has anyone tried to copy you?” I asked as we drove the grounds. “To compete with you?”

“Not exactly,” Boesen replied.

“Why do you think that is?”

“Because it’s a labor-intensive, expensive product,” she said. “It’s costly. And people don’t necessarily go to the fair for healthy stuff. I serve a need. When you don’t want any more fried food at the fair...that’s the people I’m catering to.”

“Do you turn a profit?” I asked.

“Nothing to retire on.”

“So why keep serving what is basically health food here?”

“There are maybe 1,000 employees who work at the fair who go every single day,” Boesen said. “There’s a whole campground of people and it’s for the people who desire something healthier.”

Part of me wanted to give Boesen a round of applause. Her menus are in direct opposition to all the gut-busting state-fair food, and it’s significant that someone who practically grew up at the fair, has chosen this path. If her concession stand were a Web site, she would be drawing our attention away from Kardashian gossip to something more worthy, perhaps news about Gaza. At the same time, she’s not asking anyone to suffer through something unappetizing. Instead, she’s trying to offer something tasteful and more sensible.

Once inside the grounds it’s not difficult to imagine the enormity of what happens there, for any event. The grounds are 450 acres. It’s huge. It was easy to imagine the impact a network of 200 concessions could have on a captive audience. Suddenly food stands seemed like a business with the power to shape public health. Just the availability of an alternative at an event that has come to represent caloric excess seemed important. Like McDonalds offering salads. They’re there if you want them, which is a step toward better habits.

Boesen met me the following morning in my hotel lobby to show me her caprese-on-the-stick and an apple turnover. As we sat at a glass table in the lobby, she pulled two tin foiled-wrapped styrofoam plates out of a plastic bag and placed them between us. She unwrapped the plates as we chatted about the dinners we had the night before.

I held up the caprese, took the picture you see at the top of this story and then placed the stick back down, wondering how many of these Boesen would sell. Next I took a bite of the apple turnover, then twisted it around to look where to take my next bite. It was sweet and my hands were sticky.

“What’s your best-selling item?” I asked.

“You’re looking at it,” she said as she nodded at the apple bar in my hand. “It’s probably the sweetest thing on my menu.”

“How do you feel about the fair being known for the crazy, over-the-top foods?

“Some of the stuff is out there,” she said, “but it’s good to have news.”

“A lot of it seems gimmicky though,” I asked, trying very hard not to sound like a guy who was just in town for a few days.

“Well,” she said, “it brings a conversation about the fair.”

-Chris M. Walsh is the deputy editor of Zagat.com.

By Emily Rothschild

Kohrs Brothers

Rehoboth Beach

The Khors Bros. lineup
The Khors Bros. lineup

It’s 10:15 AM on a pristine summer Saturday in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, a family-filled resort town on the Atlantic Ocean, and the wood-planked boardwalk is buzzing with a mix of families toting striped beach chairs, sun-tanned teenagers hanging out of skimpy cut-off shorts and a few virtuous joggers getting in a morning run. The beach is already crowded, filled with colorful towels and old sheets turned beach blankets, and there’s a long line at the blue umbrella stand, which has been busy since opening at 8:30 AM. I’ve just driven down from Manhattan, where most of the summering population goes to neighboring Long Island or the Jersey Shore. While the beach is perfectly nice here, the truth is I’ve come for the boardwalk food. Specifically, a Kohrs Brothers ice cream cone. I just have to wait until one of its three stands opens at 11.

Kohrs Brothers has roots stretching back to 1919, when according to company lore, three brothers from York, PA, set up a small stand in Coney Island and sold more than 18,000 cones in one weekend. The secret to their success? Using whole eggs in the base, making for a light and creamy custard that’s still served today. Kohrs Brothers’ menu is fairly compact, offering about five or so soft-serve twists like peanut butter and chocolate and chocolate and mint, but getting anything other than the orange and vanilla is a grave mistake if you ask me. It tastes just like a creamsicle — like summer, really — and it’s the combo you’ll see on all of its signs. Unlike the other flavors, the orange is actually sherbet. It’s made with fruit juice and less dairy, so it tastes a little icier and more refreshing than the richer, creamier custard. The difference in textures causes the swirls to separate ever so slightly the longer you eat it.

I grew up in Maryland and, like many people in the area, my family came to Rehoboth every summer. My parents came with their parents before us. It became a popular summer destination when the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened in 1952, making it easily accessible to those in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Most of my Rehoboth memories involve the treasured foods we could find only on the boardwalk. After playing Skee-Ball, Whac-a-Mole and the frog toss at Funland, my parents, sister and I would end the night at Kohrs Brothers, where we’d all get the orange-and-vanilla twist. Straying from that order was unimaginable — like Stuart Smalley one day becoming a senator from Minnesota; or the daughters of O.J. Simpson’s lawyer taking over the world; or that mustachioed guy from Dazed and Confused winning an Oscar. The cones melted too fast for our tiny mouths and we’d pass them to my dad so he could help us manage the drips.

Nowadays there are no less than 15 places to get ice cream right on or just off the boardwalk. There’s the old-fashioned Royal Treat parlorwhere you can get a classic hot fudge sundae, the aptly named Ice Cream Store, with its more than 100 flavors including bacon de leche, chocolate chocolate thunder and dirty snowball, and a couple of chains like TCBY, Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery. But for me, they’re all besides the point. Kohrs Brothers, with its white-and-blue lettering and perfectly twirly cones is a boardwalk tradition. “You go to Rehoboth Beach, you go to Kohrs Brothers,” agrees the Rehoboth Foodie, who has lived in the area for 10 years and anonymously maintains a popular area restaurant blog and app. Like me, he grew up visiting before moving here about 10 years ago. We both understand that Kohrs Brothers is synonymous with Rehoboth itself. When I see other people lining up in front of any of the other places, drawn in by the multitude of flavors or endless array of colorful toppings, I want to grab their arms and tell them they’re doing it wrong. But I live in New York City; I know what crazy looks like.

You go to Rehoboth Beach, you go to Kohrs Brothers.

- The Rehoboth Foodie

A handful of other places have been on the boardwalk for decades too. Thrashers French Fries, which started in neighboring Ocean City, Maryland, has been in Rehoboth since 1983. They hand cut the potatoes, leave the skins on and cook them in peanut oil for thick, crispy fries served mouth-burningly hot right out of the fryer. Anyone who’s had them knows the only proper way to eat them is to douse ’em in vinegar and sprinkle on the salt, no ketchup needed (in fact, it’s not even offered). While Thrashers officially opens at 11 AM, it’s common to see one of its three stands bustling with activity before 10:30, when there’s already a growing line. I feel confident saying they’re the best french fries on earth.

Gus & Gus Place is another popular stand with a perennial line. Around since 1956, it maintains both a counter and a diner-like interior where you can get straightforward fare like burgers and the like, though the real reason to go is for the fried chicken. Served platter-style or by the piece (you can choose whatever combination you’d like), the birds are meaty and moist, with a flavorful crunchy browned crust. There’s also Grotto Pizza, around since the ’60s, and known for its deliciously greasy no-frills slices with alternating cheese and tomato sauce stripes.

These longtime boardwalk foods are what makes Rehoboth Rehoboth. They’re all we talk about in the weeks leading up to the trip, and what we discuss on the drive. Coming up with a detailed game plan of where to go first is what gets us through Route 1 traffic. Summer doesn’t feel like summer without a week here, but it’s the Kohrs Brothers twist and the bucket of Thrashers fries and the slice of Grotto pizza that make the beach feel like the beach. It’s not just because these favorites are delicious (which, of course, they are), it’s because each sweet lick or fry coated in vinegar provokes a visceral reaction, transporting us back to simpler times when all we worried about was choosing the coolest Trapper-Keeper, not whether we’ve saved enough money or if a recent inability to remember whether it’s “vigilant” or “viligant” means early onset Alzheimer’s.

Nostalgic foods are powerful reminders of our pasts and who we used to be. Most people we interact with as adults have never seen the street where we grew up or the bedroom where we slept or ever known about our first all-consuming crush. As we get older, connections to our childhood can seem more and more tenuous, but certain foods take us right there. How else to explain why people went berserk when the existence of Twinkies was threatened, or why grown adults eat tater tots? One summer my sister and I brought our boyfriends. Neither of them were interested in a Kohrs Brothers cone. It made me feel confused at first and then sad. They weren’t getting the full Rehoboth experience. They were novices. They didn’t understand.

It’s now 11:01 and I’m at the counter at the Kohrs Brothers right next to Thrashers. The Eastern European kids who work there change every year and even the T-shirts are different, but the orange-and-vanilla twist tastes exactly the same. It’s perfect.

-Emily Rothschild is an editor at Zagat.

By James Mulcahy

Boardwalk Food

Jersey Shore

The New Jersey Seaside boardwalk has been a part of the beach-going experience for decades. The wooden slats, which stretch from Seaside Heights to Seaside Park, are filled with rides and vendors that serve what is affectionately known as "boardwalk food." Gigantic pizzas, saltwater taffy and cheap, casual seafood have all been the same for years, even after the businesses had to bounce back after being badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy.

But last September 12, just after Labor Day weekend, the Seaside boardwalk changed forever.

The fire started at a frozen custard stand in Seaside Park. It was a windy day, and the flames spread quickly. It took 400 firefighters over seven hours to put out the blaze, which threatened to destroy the entire boardwalk (and a significant chunk of this seaside community if the winds had changed). The only thing that stopped the advance into Seaside Heights was the valiant efforts of the emergency workers, who tore up a huge swatch of the boardwalk and dug a trench to serve as a fire break.

It held, but that didn't help the businesses on the Seaside Park side, many of which were family-owned restaurants and food concessions that completely burned to the ground. Park Seafood lost two stands, and although The Saw Mill cafe miraculously remained standing, it was badly damaged by smoke and the saltwater that the trucks started pumping once the fresh water hydrants ran dry.

After this July 4, and countless delays in rebuilding and permitting, the vendors started reopening. Some are rebuilding at their old locations, Park Seafood moved to the other end of the boardwalk and others are operating out of temporary trailers while trying to figure out their next steps.

The fire was covered by the media when it happened, but there has been less attention paid to the recovery. The business owners report that it's been a slower than usual summer, especially in Seaside Park. We stopped by to hear about the recovery (watch the video above to see how the vendors are doing) and to try a bunch of the food.

-James Mulcahy is an editor at Zagat.com.

By Kelly Dobkin

Superman Ice Cream

Michigan

The Superman
The Superman

Superman ice cream is the unofficial food of summer in Michigan. A psychedelic-looking mix of blue, red and yellow confections (hence the name), this local specialty is like spumoni on steroids and can only be found in the Midwest, predominantly in Michigan or Ohio. But much like its namesake, this ice cream’s true identity is something of a mystery.

From the looks of it, it might appear that Superman is a mix of fruit-flavored ice creams like blueberry, lemon and strawberry. But this rainbow-colored ice cream tastes much different than it looks. As a child, we paid little attention to what we were actually eating — the bright colors and pleasing taste had us hooked — and we didn’t ask any questions. Tasting it again as an adult, you might pick up hints of vanilla, a nuttiness and a fruity kick, but it isn’t quite clear which color is supplying each flavor. After talking to a rep for Hudsonville Creamery, a company that makes Superman, I learned that the “red” flavor is, not surprisingly, almost always cherry flavor (black or wild), yellow is usually vanilla (depending on the brand) and blue is always Blue Moon, another Midwest specialty. Blue Moon ice cream was the one flavor consistent with every scoop of Superman despite the brand. In fact, you might say it was the star ingredient.

    Why the writer chose this food
  • Growing up in metro Detroit, it wasn’t summer until you’d tasted at least one scoop of Superman ice cream — a Midwestern spumoni of sorts whose red, blue and yellow colors look positively psychedelic to a child. The mix of three flavors: lemon, red pop (a cream soda/strawberry flavor made by Detroit-based Faygo soda) and blue moon ice cream, another mysterious concoction native to the Midwest, gave the flavor its name.

What goes into Blue Moon ice cream is also a little bit of a secret. If you buy Super Scoop (the store-brand name for Superman) in a grocery store, the ingredients on the carton do not list the flavors, nor will the internet tell you what’s in it. Given its color, you’d expect the ice cream to taste like blueberries, but instead, it provides a surprising nutty hit. (Its flavor is often referred to as “indescribable” by retailers.) Upon tasting it, you may pick up strong notes of almond or marzipan, maraschino cherry or pistachio. When searching for the origins of Superman ice cream, I knew that finding the creator of Blue Moon was a good place to start.

Blue Moon was most likely invented in Northern Michigan at an ice cream shop called House of Flavors in Ludington, a popular tourist destination. “We were one of the first manufacturers,” Barry Neal, the grandson of House of Flavors founder Bob Neal Sr., tells us. “My dad remembers that the Blue Moon food coloring was sort of contraband back in the early days. It probably started in the late 1940s.” Since there are no blue foods (blueberries are actually purple) that exist in nature, the early use of the bright blue no. 1 food coloring was somewhat controversial.

That didn’t stop Blue Moon from taking off — when it first came out, it was like nothing that anyone had ever seen or tasted. In 1948, when Bob Neal Sr. entered the dairy business, Blue Moon was one of five flavors total that the dairy brand produced. House of Flavors even created a “Mr. Moonie” Blue Moon ice cream mascot in 1996 because that flavor was so signature to them.

So, the question of the hour: what exactly goes into Blue Moon? A rep for Hudsonville Creamery, Ray Sierengowski, confirmed my suspicion of some kind of nut-based flavoring. “It’s basically almond extract,” he told me.

As for the origins of Superman, while Neal couldn’t 100% confirm that his grandfather invented it, he had some pretty solid evidence to that effect. “We were the first place in Michigan that had the ability to produce three ice cream flavors in one, and that was in 1964.”

Throughout the Midwest, you’ll find the flavor sold under a variety of monikers, including Rainbow or Super Rainbow. Meijer, a Michigan-based megastore similar to a Wal-Mart or Kmart, makes their own version of the ice cream called Scooperman which mixes up Blue Moon ice cream with black cherry and vanilla ice creams. Hudsonville Creamery (another Michigan-based ice cream brand) also makes their version called Super Scoop using the same flavors. The reference to the flavor as “Superman,” I learned, was a bit colloquial, only really going on in ice cream parlors. (No one wants to fight that battle with DC Comics for rights to the name, I suppose.)

So why is Superman such an enduring favorite? In spite of the artisanal ice cream movement that praises hand-churned, all-natural flavors over the less organic methods popularized in the ‘80s, Superman remains immune from vilification. Children are still mesmerized by its bright appearance and its reference to the famous superhero doesn’t hurt either. But what keeps Superman popular is the fact that it’s just downright delicious, plain and simple. Eating it again as an adult after 20-odd years reminded me that it doesn’t always matter if you know what you’re tasting, as long as it tastes great.

-Kelly Dobkin is an editor at Zagat.com.

By Jenny Miller

Marionberry

Portland

A Portland summertime treat
A Portland summertime treat

In Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, summer seems to start as late as July. One sure sign of the season is the Marionberry, a big, hybrid blackberry that’s juicier and sweeter than most, with a purplish-red color and a conical shape. Bred from the Chehalem and the Olallie, it was developed in the 1940s at Oregon State University and named for the county in which it was tested. (Any name similarity to a former Washington, DC, mayor is purely coincidental.) Unique to the area around Portland, the Marionberry is all but unknown elsewhere. Locally, though, it’s so beloved that when its season begins it gets top billing everywhere from roadside farm stands to supermarket produce displays.

    Marionberries in Pop Culture
  • Marionberry pancakes are features in the "Brunch Village" episode of Portlandia, which aired 07/20/2012.
  • Marionberry preserves were an ingredient on the Oct. 4, 2011, episode of Chopped.

I’d like to report that I have fond memories of baking Marionberry pies — which are excellent — but I can’t. What I remember best about these berries is enjoying them in violet-colored, sweet-tart milkshakes at Burgerville, a Pacific Northwest fast-food chain. When I was growing up, the moment I saw a parking-lot sign advertising “Marionberries are here,” I made a pit stop for what I still think of as the taste of summer.

Before you turn away from a story that seemed to promise memories of pie-baking with grandma and instead delivered tales of greasy drive-thrus, I should mention that the shakes were an exception. Unless you count Shake Shack or the occasional emergency coffee run at Dunkin' Donuts, it’s been a decade since I’ve set foot in a fast-food restaurant, and I didn't like them much as a kid either. I may be one of the only kids who actually went to a fast-food place for fruit — which seemed perfectly normal at the time.

This got me thinking: How was it that, back in the '90s, before “local” and “seasonal” became dining trends, a Northwest burger chain with three-dozen locations got 12-year-old me worked up about fresh Marionberries? What strategy at Burgerville HQ resulted in such a farm-to-Formica-counter approach? I decided to call and ask.

This got me thinking: How was it that, back in the '90s, before “local” and “seasonal” became dining trends, a Northwest burger chain with three-dozen locations got 12-year-old me worked up about fresh Marionberries?

“We actually call them blackberries [now],” Burgerville’s director of supply chain, Cathy Insler, tells me. “There’ve been certain years when we have to mix in other berries.” But she assures me that she was just out at Oregon's Liepold Farm and the 2014 crop looks good for milkshakes: “This year,” she says, “they’ll be made with 100% Marionberries.”

Insler tells me Burgerville’s three annual Marionberry shipments can be unpredictable. “It’s when [farmer] Rob Liepold says they're ready, so we have to be pretty flexible,” she explains. Unlike strawberries and raspberries, which “come in flats straight from the field,” Burgerville cold-processes the fragile Marionberries. “We gently remove their inner core and add a little bit of sugar,” Insler says. “This helps us serve them all the way through Labor Day.” If this sounds like a headache for someone who now has 40 restaurants to worry about, Insler says it's worth it. “The reason we use Marionberries is they make the best milkshake. They're the sweetest berry; a blackberry doesn't even come close.”

I half-prepared to hear Insler deliver an earnest take on how Burgerville is willing to forgo some profit for the publicity of offering local items — including the Walla-Walle onion rings and Oregon raspberry milkshakes they also feature during their respective seasons — but that’s not the case. “There’s such a demand for local, seasonal items that they’re a bit of a sales-driver for us,” she says. In other words, I’m not the only person drawn into the restaurants by the “Marionberries” sign. And Burgerville relies on local farms mostly out of tradition: The chain was started by the son of a small creamery owner who opened the first restaurant in Vancouver, Washington, in 1961, and it tries to stay true to its roots. “When the company first started, that's how you did business,” Insler says. “You showcased those ingredients everybody loved.”

-Jenny Miller is a food and travel writer based in New York.

By Joshua David Stein

Lemonade

Haworth, New Jersey

© Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0
 

Haworth, New Jersey, is a shady suburban hamlet that time seems to have passed over. With quiet streets, leafy lanes and a population of 3,403, it can sometimes seem like less of a town than an archetype of American summer. So that’s where I went to find the most primal of classic American refreshments, lemonade. But it wasn’t the store-bought lemonade I sought but the homemade lemonade stand, that rickety yet enduring symbol of youthful innocence, nascent entrepreneurship and the $1 Dixie cup of sticky sweet lemonade.

Though the idea of the pre-adolescent estival lemonade stand predates Norman Rockwell, it was his 1955 pencil drawing entitled “Lemonade Stand,” made as an advertisement for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, that really enshrined the tradition. In it, three children — two boys and girl, no older than eight years old — huddle over a crate, on top of which sit a few half-filled cups. “Lemonade,” reads a scrawled sign, “5 cents a glass.” A lad holding a pitcher hawks his product. “Git yer lemonade!” one imagines he yells. In the intervening years, thousands of children have, for at least a day, tried their hand as lemonade hawkers.

    If you can't get a Dixie cup of the wholesome stuff from a stand, why not get your alcoholic lemonade cocktail on? Five to try for adults in New York:
  • Del's Frozen Lemonade
    Ok, well, you'll have to provide your own booze for this -- we recommend vodka -- but this Rhode Island institution has been serving frozen lemonade since 1948. There's no secret here, just fresh lemon juice, sugar and ice. Debuting this summer is a new shandy made in partnership with Del's and Narragansett Beer available at the roaming Del's Truck in New York City.
  • Night of Joy’s Orange Blossom Rum Lemonade
    Don't let the name of this Williamsburg bar fool you. It's not as sweet as its namesake, Disney's Christian-rock festival. The same could be said for the Orange Blossom Rum Lemonade, a dainty cocktail which seems benign, refreshing and wholesome but is actually a deadly though delicious rum delivery system.
  • Brooklyn Bramble at The Breslin
    Calling a bramble a lemonade might be a bit of a stretch but here, the classic cocktail -- gin plus a pomegranate-black currant shrub -- makes the cut for the liberal addition of a pressed lemon, which brings it close enough into the orbit of a lemonade to order after a long day of lemonade hunting.
  • Sweet Tea Vodka Lemonade at Double Wide
    Vodka and lemonade are natural complements. At Double Wide, a Southern bar that happens to be in Alphabet City, the pair is joined by ginger beer and fresh mint. The result is refreshing and bracing, as lemonade should be, and powerful, as befits a dive-bar cocktail
  • Last Straw from The Gramercy Tavern
    Like a boozy Arnold Palmer, the Last Straw includes homemade lemonade and homemade iced tea. To that classic mix, two types of alcohol -- Bulleit Bourbon and Velvet Falernum -- add both smoke and spice.

And, why not? Overhead costs are low; potential profit is high. Lemons have remained relatively affordable, thanks to the fruit’s hardy complexion and a robust domestic market. Lemons hover around $1.81 a pound. Compare that to limes, that fickle citrus cousin, whose price fluctuates more than a tidal pool and one realizes why the Great American Lime-ade Stand never was a thing. According to Martha Stewart,, the juice of 10 lemons (about $6.78 according to BLS statistics) should yield a quart of lemonade. Of course, the return on investment wouldn’t be so alluring if parents didn’t shoulder the start-up and material cost. Lemonade stands — the birth of corporate welfare.

Though lemonade stands do exist in urban settings, for many there is nothing more typical of America in the summer than a suburban lemonade stand, set out on Main Street, USA, or at the end of a driveway. The closest thing Haworth has to Main Street is Terrace Street, and on a recent Saturday morning there was no one there. The Minit Mart was closed and no customers were getting keychains or tchotchkes engraved at Heartsmiths Engravables and More. There were no children nor adults on Terrace Street. So a correspondent walked up and down Haworth’s streets, parched.

All was not lost, however. There is a hardware store in Haworth, next to the post office, and it was open. As a woman exited her car, in search of top soil, I asked, “Excuse me, do you know if there are any lemonade stands?” She looked at me, my short shorts, my tattooed arms, my tank top. My eyes followed hers as they moved to the car, a silver Subaru 2004 Impreza WRX chosen because it combines the hatchback of suburbia with a turbocharged engine for straightaways, driven by my friend, a longhair. He saw her eyes narrow momentarily but eventually she replied, “Oh yes. I saw two kids had set up a stand over on Hardenburgh Avenue.” How long ago? “Well, it was last weekend.”

Still, this represented our best chance to see a lemonade stand, an elusive quarry if ever there were one. For the homemade lemonade stand exists outside the realm of certainty, beyond the reach of regulation or even taxation. In the few recent cases where municipalities busted kids for setting up a lemonade stand, the government fared far worse in the tussle than the tyke. Lemonade stands are wild beasts, they can no more be tamed by things like fixed addresses or posted hours than a mustang can be broken and still be so-called.

The tires screeched as we peeled down Terrace Street. The citrus scent of imagined lemonade and lost innocence (and Google maps) guided us. Hardenburgh Avenue is a long leafy road with wide-spaced houses and sidewalk only on the south side. We slowly scanned the curb, looking for a handmade sign on posterboard and we found one. A man was walking his dog. He wore athletic shorts. “Excuse me, have you seen a lemonade stand?” He also eyed us suspiciously. “What do you want that for?” he asked, as his dog panted stupidly. “Lemonade,” came the reply. “Why don’t you just go to a Dunkin’ Donuts?” My friend replied, leaning over me in the driver’s seat, with a disquisition on all that is right with summer, of youth, nostalgia, entrepreneurship, Rockwell. The man nodded slowly, pointed east and said, “Dunkin’ Donuts.”

We would not be stayed by cynicism. So we drove west, determined to wring from Haworth’s deserted lawns an ounce of pure lemonade, to find a break in the conservative hedges where some boy or girl — or even a desperate adult — was selling lemonade. We drove past golf courses and houses framed in orderly shrubbery, past a pond, where a grandfather fished with his grandson, in search of a refreshing glass of lemonade.

And then, as if by magic, lights appeared. Alas, they were in the mirror and not golden at all. They were flashing, red and blue lights attached to a police cruiser. We stopped, and a police sergeant with a crew cut saddled to the driver-side window. “License and registration,” he said. “Do you know why I stopped you?”

After a long look into the backseat of our car, the sergeant went to his cruiser, then walked back to us. “We got a call of two males acting suspiciously,” he explained, handing back the license and registration. “They were asking about a lemonade stand.” Once again, I explained about nostalgia for simpler summers, refreshment out of Rockwell. But the sergeant remained impassive behind his sunglasses. “No one does that anymore,” he said, finally. “I wouldn’t even say it’s worth looking for.” From his tone, this seemed less a recommendation than a command to return, lemonade-less, to wherever we had come from.

-Joshua David Stein is the restaurant critic for the New York Observer and his work has appeared in New York Magazine, the New York Times, GQ, Esquire, the Guardian and more.

By Megan Giller

Agua Fresca

Austin, Texas

A true agua fresca
A true agua fresca

In the past, East Austin was known for cheap tacos and amazing handmade aguas frescas. While the tacos have traveled to new heights of tastiness, something else has happened to the fresh juices: They’re now just glorified soda, even in the Tex-Mex capital of the country. What happened?

When the heat descended in May, all I could think about was an agua fresca from my neighborhood Tex-Mex joint. The girl behind the counter handed me a big Styrofoam cup of cold with my aluminum parcel of tacos ($3.48 total, thank you very much), and I was ready for the salsa to light my mouth on fire and the agua fresca to cool it down. I took a greedy sip of the watermelon juice over ice on my way to the car — and almost spit it out. At best, it tasted liked melted snow. It went in the trash.

I took a sip. Perfection: fresh pineapple, a hint of sugar, crushed ice and muddled mint, worth every bit of the $4 plus tax.

Traditional aguas frescas feature fresh fruit blended with water, sugar and ice for a refreshing pick-me-up in flavors ranging from mango to horchata (rice milk with cinnamon). Unfortunately, it’s increasingly difficult to find authentic versions of these drinks at neighborhood Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants while becoming more common to see them — at higher prices — at upscale spots and juice bars. Why is it that in a city with such great Mexican food, it’s hard to find a drink as good as what you’re eating? That overly sweet watermelon faux fresca sent me on a quest to find the last of the perfectly blended drinks.

Across I-35, on the historically wealthier side of town, was the upscale La Condesa. The modern Mexican restaurant bustled with brunchgoers ordering $14 tacos — I was usually one of them — but today it was all about the quest. I nestled into a plush bar seat and relaxed amid the festive Latin music and graffiti wall art.

“I’ll try pineapple-mint,” I said, after contemplating the menu, and then there it was, in a frosty milkshake-style glass. I took a sip. Perfection: fresh pineapple, a hint of sugar, crushed ice and muddled mint, worth every bit of the $4 plus tax. The East Austin drink cost $1.99. While $2 doesn’t generally mean much, in this case it stood for a lot: the rising price of eating healthy, fresh food and the economic divide that’s far more powerful than the highway that segregates a city. For some reason, we’ve come to accept imitation instead of nutrition.

Traditional aguas frescas require a boatload of fresh fruit, which has to be chopped, puréed and mixed with ice and a hint of sugar in small batches so that the drinks don’t settle. La Condesa’s team makes each of the restaurant’s five flavors in one-gallon batches, which means they’re constantly prepping throughout the day and evening. That’s a ton of labor, and the restaurant business, with its tight profit margins, tends to kill those items first. If they can pour powder into water and sell just as many drinks, why wouldn’t they?

For the past five years, big-box companies like Klass, Ace Mart and Jell-Craft have transformed an age-old Mexican delicacy into a Tex-Mex take on Kool-Aid. And over the past couple of years, those versions have come to dominate Mexican restaurants as well as, inevitably, American taste buds. In our relentless pursuit to lessen expenses, we’ve created a sugar-laden Frankenfresca, which most people drink because it’s so hard to find the real thing. At most Tex-Mex places, the syrupy liquid sits in vats for days on end. Houston chef Sylvia Cásares said the problem goes beyond drinks too. “Tex-Mex has been altered to the point that it has a bad reputation,” she said. Consumers no longer associate it with freshness.

Curious eaters can still find the traditional drinks done correctly, of course — for a price. My third stop found me at Juiceland, one of Austin’s many raw, vegan juice bars famous for its green juice. Would it be an agua fresca in flavors like pineapple-spinach, cucumber-apple or cacao-durian? (Think those flavors are unusual? Taste the next trend at NYC’s Tacombi, where you’ll find spiked horchata with dark rum, $9.49 for a single, $29.49 for a pitcher.) After waiting 10 minutes for the dreadlocked barista to make my drink, I sipped on the mango-habanero version. Spicy and delicious.

Even though these specialty products taste wonderful, they come at a high price: $3.95, in Juiceland’s case. That same freshness used to be available at any Mexican joint, and the fact that it’s not makes me wonder if we’ve lost something. Is there any middle ground?

To find out, I headed back to East Austin, to the hip Veracruz All-Natural trailer. It mainly caters to middle-class hipsters, and owner Reyna Vasquez uses fresh ingredients and makes her tortillas, al pastor and aguas frescas from scratch. She knows that taking short cuts means losing flavor and authenticity. That’s why she calls her trailer “all-natural.” She handed me a tall glass of mango freshness, and as I took that first sip, the heat melted away and summer once again became my favorite time of year.

-Megan Giller is the editor of Zagat.com, Austin.

By Jenny Miller

Chili Half-Smoke Dog

Washington, DC

"Chili half-smoke from Bens" by User bionicgrrrl on flickr.com
 

To a certain slice of our nation, summer is a time for ball games. And though the song may implore us to "buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack," everyone knows the true baseball-stadium food is the hot dog. Several teams have a signature offering — say, the Dodger Dog or the Fenway Frank — but the country's tastiest team tube steak is served, fittingly, in our nation's capital: the Washington Nationals half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl.

Ben's is a DC institution that has occupied the same address on U Street since it opened in 1958. It's stayed open continuously, under the same family ownership, ever since — through segregation and its end, race riots, economic hard times, years of subway construction, Obama appearances and the neighborhood's recent wave of gentrification. One bite of this greasy spoon's signature chili half-smoke, and this longevity isn't hard to understand at all.

    Sightings in Pop Culture
  • Scenes from the 1993 movie The Pelican Brief were filmed in Ben’s.

The half-smoke, a smoked 50-50 beef-pork blend, is said to have been created by a local butcher in 1940s. At Ben's, it's charred on the grill and split lengthwise (this puppy is much thicker around than your average hot dog), served on a steamed bun with mustard, raw onions and the restaurant's famous chili — which is dark as a moonless night and tastes lightly burned and ever-so-subtly sweet, no doubt owing to its secret spice blend. In honor of summer ball games, hot dogs and Ben's, here's a timeline of this beloved institution's remarkably colorful history.

August 1958Ben's Chili Bowl opens for business at 1213 U Street. Founders Ben Ali, a Trinidadian immigrant, and his fiancée, Virginia, are married seven weeks later. DC is still segregated at this time, and U Street is known as the "Black Broadway." Thanks to this location, jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Nat King Cole frequent the restaurant during its early years.

1960s - Bill Cosby, who is stationed nearby in the Navy at this time, begins an enthusiastic patronage of Ben's that continues to this day. The actor can reportedly down up to three chili half-smokes whenever he visits Ben's. Until the Obama family was added in 2009, Cosby was the only one on the "list of people who eat free at Ben's Chili Bowl."

April 1968 - Martin Luther King Jr's assassination in Memphis sparks riots outside Ben's doors. To quell the violence, the city imposes a curfew on the neighborhood, but Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee prompts the Alis to gain special permission to stay open later. During this tumultuous period, Ben's offers food and a safe haven for those working to restore order in the streets.

    The writer on why she chose to write about Ben’s
  • "I first tried Ben's on a trip to D.C. about four years ago, on a friend's recommendation. My dad and stepmom and I sat in the classic diner seating area, which seemed like it hasn't changed since the 1950s. After I had my turn to ask, "What's a half-smoke," I couldn't get the rich, flavor-to-11 taste of that sweet, smoky chili over the charred dog, offset by the sharpness of raw onions, out of my head. When I was back this past November, I had to have a Ben's half-smoke again—this time after hours and after a few drinks, as is quite traditional in D.C. It didn't disappoint—even when I gobbled the leftovers hungover the following day."

Mid-1970s to mid-1980s - As DC's more well-to-do residents decamp to the suburbs, the U Street Corridor declines into seediness. Throughout the downturn, Ben's remains open, serving as a kind of "neighborhood barbershop" role, as the Alis' son, Kamal, later tells Businessweek.

Summer 1985 - Bill Cosby, by now a famous comedian, holds a press conference at Ben's to celebrate The Cosby Show.

1987-1991 - Construction of the U Street-Cardozo Metrorail station causes yet more of the neighborhood's businesses to close. Ben's remains open, for much of this time staffed only by Virginia Ali and one employee.

August 1998 - As Ben's celebrates its 40th anniversary, Bill Cosby surprises the Alis by filming a special about the restaurant for CNN.

August 2003 - Ben's Chili Bowl celebrates its 45th anniversary with Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack and then DC Mayor Adrian Fenty in attendance.

May 2004 - Ben's is honored with an America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation.

April 2008 - The half-smoke becomes the official dog of the Washington Nationals. Then mayor Fenty lines up for a dog on the first day, saying, "Tell Bill Cosby that I beat him here."

October 2008 - A few days before the election, the Obama family is included on the [newly printed](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ben'sChiliBowlEatFree_Sign.JPG) list of patrons who "Eat Free" at Ben's.

January 2009 - Anthony Bourdain visits Ben's Chili Bowl for his Washington, D.C., episode of No Reservations and asks "What is a half-smoke?" Upon taking a bite, Bourdain declares, "That's not a hot dog. That's another creature entirely."

January 2009 - Ten days before he's inaugurated, Obama pays a lunchtime visit to Ben's and gets his turn to ask, "What's a half-smoke?" As is later recounted on Meet the Press, many consider the president-elect's ignorance of this matter scandalous.

2009 - Ben's opens its first online store and begins shipping half-smokes and chili nationwide.

Fall 2011 - A location at FedEx Field opens, bringing its dogs, fries and chili to Redskins football fans.

September 2013: - Ben’s hosts the first annual Half-Smoke Eating Contest at the annual H Street Festival.

March 2014 - Bill Cosby is on hand for the grand opening of Ben's second-ever stand-alone location, at 1725 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia.

Coming soon: Never fear if you're merely touching down in D.C.--Ben's will bring its half-smokes and more to Reagan Airport in the imminent future.

-Jenny Miller is a food and travel writer based in New York.