You Scream, I Scream
Ice cream holds a special place in many an Ithacan’s heart. After all, the Finger Lakes town claims to be the birthplace of an American culinary staple: the ice cream sundae. As the story goes, in 1892 Chester C. Platt of the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in downtown Ithaca served a new concoction—vanilla ice cream with cherry syrup and a candied cherry—to the Reverend John M. Scott, who had stopped in for a treat after services. It was deemed delicious and worthy of its own name, the Cherry Sunday.
No matter what counterclaims other small towns across the country may bring to being the true originators of the sundae, it is obvious that Ithacans continue to love their ice cream: every summer, local favorites Purity Ice Cream and Cornell Dairy Bar are hotspots for the frozen treat.
Purity Ice Cream
With its distinctive red-and-white awning and a red counter, which has been mentioned in several books set in Ithaca, Purity Ice Cream has built a loyal following since it opened in 1936. Owners Bruce and Heather Lane should know. After all, they used to come here regularly on dates before buying the shop from the founding family in 1998.
Since then, they have refocused the business from wholesaling to scooping and expanded its offerings to include homemade baked goods such as pies, muffins, and brownies, “things that match our classic goodness,” as Heather puts it. By that she means using real berries and making crusts from scratch—and processing only locally sourced milk and heavy cream from Byrne Dairy in the ice cream.
Rick and Robin Beck from Lisle, who were relaxing in some of the outdoor chairs to savor their scoops on a recent sweltering day, appreciate these choices. “I think the ice cream is fantastic,” Robin said. “I like how rich it is—you could almost use a fork.”
They selected their favorites— French Vanilla and Almond Joyous— from among thirty-eight Purity flavors, which are offered alongside several sorbets and vegan soy options. Among the bestsellers are Bulldog Crunch (praline flavored ice cream with caramel swirl and chocolate-covered pecan candy), Chocolate Raspberry Truffle (with tiny Gertrude Hawk truffles), and Mint Chip. “We melt our chocolate and infuse it into the ice cream while it’s being made, so we get chips that aren’t hard or chunky,” Heather explains.
In addition to classic scoops and sundaes, try the sammies, Purity’s ice cream cookie sandwiches, among them peanut butter chocolate chip cookies filled with Goose Trax ice cream (vanilla with a peanut butter fudge swirl and peanut butter cups) or ginger doodles stacked with black raspberry ice cream.
Purity is open year-round and, thanks to ongoing renovations, will soon boast a dining room seating seventy-two and a party area. But some things, Heather is quick to assure, will always stay the same, including the red counter and the menu boards from the 1980s.
“People are so passionate in this town about Purity, they send me letters,” she said. “It’s their place to celebrate the first and last day of school, a place to come after dinner…Yes, I think the ice cream is a big pull, but it’s also the community, the connection.”
Cornell Dairy Bar
Up the hill, right on the Cornell University campus, there is no mistaking Stocking Hall, home to the Cornell Dairy Bar. One entrance to the newly renovated Food Science building is fittingly marked with a giant sculpture of a milk bottle, and a tall, shiny glass front along Tower Road puts its dairy processing plant on prominent display.
Inside, the modern scoop shop and café—reopened last year after a three- year hiatus and now under the auspices of Cornell Dining—is a tribute to milk products that don’t get much more local than this. Its twelve ice cream flavors, as well as yogurt, pudding, and Big Red Cheddar, are all made with milk from Cornell Dairy Farm’s 900 cows and processed in the Cornell Dairy, which serve as training facilities for students in agriculture and life sciences and veterinary medicine. (The dairy products are also served in Cornell Dining facilities across campus.)
You can order breakfast or lunch as a base for dessert or go straight for such ice cream varieties as Coconutty Spring Thaw (coconut ice cream with praline pecans and chocolate flakes) or a special developed for the Cornell class of ’54, Big Red Reunion Revel (white chocolate base with a tart cherry swirl and chocolate). Other chunky flavors, such as Bavarian Raspberry Fudge or Calamity Chocolate, are studded generously with large, fudgy bits of chocolate.
Located just a short walk away from many classrooms, the Dairy Bar is predictably popular among students. In fact, ordering ice cream here is Number 12 of the Cornell Daily Sun’s “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do.” But townies and visitors follow suit just as eagerly. Kate Richardson of Eugene, Oregon, for example, rated her first-ever spoonful of Cornell ice cream highly: “It’s really good, very creamy, and nice and sweet in a good way,” she said of Cornelia’s Dark Secret (natural vanilla ice cream with chocolate flakes).
For something different, try an ice cream cupcake, and as you leave, grab a pint or two of pre-packaged ice cream as a culinary souvenir of Cornell.
Purity Ice Cream Company, Inc.
700 Cascadilla Street, Ithaca, NY 14850. (607) 272-1545. Check www.purityicecream.com for scoop locations outside of Ithaca.
Cornell Dairy Bar
Stocking Hall, Cornell University Tower Road (between Wing and Judd Falls roads), Ithaca, NY 14853. (607) 255-7660. www.living.sas.cornell.edu/dine/wheretoeat/cafescoffeehouses/cornelldairybar.cfm