Getting out and about, especially with the family has been harder than ever these past few months. More than once I have grabbed the kids and simply just gone out for a destination-less drive, periodically explaining to a 4, 7, and a 9-year old that “no we can’t go in that store, or that one, or ANY OF THEM.” On one of these drives, staring down three cartoonishly frowny faces I was struck by a genius idea that would change everything, at least for a couple of hours. Fast food drive-thru soft-serve ice cream!
Some history and evidence that I am qualified to write this article: In a past life I had a borderline inappropriate relationship with ice-cream. I think I have found a happy, and healthy medium since becoming a dad (and a grown-up). But I also have a vivid, slightly embarrassing memory of being asked what my favorite food was at a fancy-person party a couple of years back and I immediately blurted out, “vanilla ice cream!” Only to then listen as the rest of the ‘adults’ included in the conversation listed myriad fancy French, Moroccan, and Singaporean haute cuisine items. Well, I still stand by my answer.
We have written about ice cream on the site before (11 of the Best Places to Get Ice Cream or Gelato in Salt Lake City) but this article is a little different. Here we are sharing one specific type of ice cream; soft-serve. Seriously, next time you are looking for something to do with your family, or for a date night (or by yourself!) hop in the car and head to one of the 5 places highlighted below, and then go find a nice place to park and enjoy some drive-thru soft serve ice cream!
LOCAL NOTE: Literally all of the 5 restaurants listed below offer some form of what I have found to be a UT phenomenon; thick-shakes. Where I am from (OR) we call these Blizzards (thanks DQ), or just ice cream with “stuff mixed-in.” But, I am not complaining. Let’s dive in.
Grannies is an experience as much as it is an ice cream destination. They are only open seasonally from May to September, and they are located far up I-80 in Heber. But, so worth the drive. I swear I had been there a dozen times before I even realized they served more than just ice cream. (I am being only half-serious, I did see the burgers, fries and onion rings. I was just too distracted by my delicious thick shake made with real Farr’s ice cream, Oreo cookie chunks and thick chewy cheesecake bites.) Grannies was also the first UT thick-shake I ever had. I must have commented to my friends half a dozen times how pleasantly surprised I was at this “thick-shake” that was so unlike a milkshake before I was told to stop talking and enjoy. And enjoy I did, and still do.
Arctic Circle was founded in UT over 70 years ago and about half of their 62 restaurants are in UT. Their above-the-rim shakes use only real fruit and brand-name candy. They proudly state that “we won’t waste your time with fake fruit and filler candy. You deserve only the best.” I know this is an article about ice cream, but Arctic Circle also has some way above average fries, which always make a great companion a shake. Fun fact: Arctic Circle invented the ‘Original Fry Sauce’ and was also the first drive-thru restaurant to market a kids’ meal. Also, and this is important, Arctic Circle allows you to choose as many mix-ins as you want for the same price. I like my flavors pretty simple, but ever wonder what a milkshake with ALL the berry flavors mixed-in would taste like? Go find out!
Dairy Queen serves all the regular fast-food fare, but come on, it is right there in the name. Of all the national chain restaurants, DQ seems the least stodgy and corporate. Not sure if that is a good thing, but I have a lot of fond memories here. All of the places on this list have good vanilla soft-serve, but DQ absolutely crushes simple vanilla ice cream. And then they will put bananas, strawberry, chocolate, and pineapple on it and make a split, or put it on a brownie or layer in chocolate fudge and peanuts. Lastly, you know those treats on a stick, the Dilly and Buster Bar, plus the ice-cream sandwich? Novelties they call them. You can buy them by the box and take them home!
Iceberg Drive Inn
Some restaurants serve an even mix of food and frozen treats. On our list here in this article, McDonald’s would be on one end of the spectrum focused more on food. Iceberg Drive Inn is way, way on the other end of the spectrum. Not that they don’t also serve a good burger and super crispy fries, but come on, when you want a thick-shake that weights more than a baby, you think of Iceberg Drive Inn. Note: With what I am sure were purely ironic intentions, Iceberg has two sizes of their thick shakes: mini and regular. I will never forget the first time I went to Iceberg and ordered 4 regular size shakes for two adults and two toddlers. I ate a LOT of ice cream that day.
I know, the biggest fast-food burger chain on the planet. What are they doing on the list? Easy; when it comes to pure and simple vanilla soft serve, McDonald’s is as tried and true, and consistent as they come. McDonald’s ice cream treats are also, somewhat ironically, the least supersized of the bunch. If you are looking for a quick vanilla cone or sundae for a dollar something, or a mini thick-shake (McFlurry) McDonald’s is solid. Oh, and it may seem like an unlikely combination, but a vanilla cone with a hash brown chaser is a surprisingly satisfying combination.
As we start to ease into the new-normal and out of a life of quarantine I highly recommend making one of your first ventures with your family a trip to a local drive-thru for a soft-serve ice cream adventure! Let us know if we missed your favorite spot in the comments below!