Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream

It has become a happy ritual. Every time I make a summer trip to the place where I grew up, the first stop is Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream, a one-room shack off a rural highway in northern New York’s Adirondack Mountains. It serves the creamiest, best-tasting stuff around.

When I say “first stop,” I mean it.

After a 90-minute flight from Boston — on a plane so small they ask your weight before giving out boarding passes — I am whisked away by family to Donnelly’s, conveniently located between airport and home. It’s not just the ice cream, either. After two days immersed in traffic and crowded airports and strangers, Donnelly’s is the opening act in summer vacation’s welcoming unwind.

If I plan it right, it’s a Tuesday. That means red or black raspberry, twisted into vanilla. Heaven on earth.

Donnelly’s is an institution, open every summer since 1953 — with not only the same family but, according to the sign inside, the same ice cream machine. The whitewashed shack, once the warming hut for a local ski hill, is a throwback, like much at Donnelly’s. Things are simple: They serve just one flavor that changes daily, on a weekly rotation. Neighbors from surrounding communities who think nothing of making the half-hour (or more) drive after dinner, or a long hike, is over. It’s not fancy: No dips, sprinkles, mix-ins, or apologies. Ordering is the opposite of Starbucks’ multi-adjective gibberish. Just state size and vehicle. “Small, on a cone” will do.

The ice cream stand has a screen door that bangs when it closes. There are no tables or chairs — just enough room for a single-file line of customers that sometimes stretches out the door. Outside, there’s an uneven asphalt parking lot and, thanks to the local land trust, a killer mountain view protected in perpetuity. May Donnelly’s be the same.

In this issue, we look at ice cream made and distributed here. Having local dairy farms and an emphasis on fresh ingredients — like the berries grown here — are a recipe for the perfect scoop or soft swirl. And sometimes, the homegrown is literal. When photographer Kerry Butowicz visited Edaleen Dairy to shoot photos for our ice cream feature, she was lucky enough to be there for the birth of a calf (p. 45). Welcome to the world, little one. Grow fast — our waffle cones are counting on you.

"It’s not fancy: No dips, sprinkles, mix-ins, or apologies."