Talk about a hard assignment: Go to a bunch of local ice-cream stands to find out where local ice-cream zealots like to go, what they like to order (cone? cup? sundae? frappe?), and what flavors you absolutely have to try.
Hey, it's a tough, but someone's gotta do it. So a group of reporters were forcibly sent -- against their will -- to some of the more popular local ice-creameries. Here is their very cool report.
Cherry Hill Too, Townsend
Moose Tracks and Coffee Oreo are popular at this Route 119 stand.
Beth O'Brien of Groton ordered a Mint Chocolate Chip frozen yogurt. Her son, Alex, ordered the same but in ice-cream form -- his favorite.
She likes to try something new on the menu and likes that Cherry Hill has a variety of flavors.
The prices are a draw, too, O'Brien said: A single scoop costs under $4.
Michael Weiss of Pepperell stopped in to order his usual -- a Chocolate Chip frappe. He has been coming to the stand since it opened. Before that, he went to the original location in Lunenburg. Weiss used to live in Texas and said people didn't like to eat ice cream unless it was warm outside.
That wasn't the case for him and a handful of customers who came in on an overcast afternoon.
"Here it could be 40 degrees and people would still want ice cream," he said.
They ordered from a window covered by an awning. When it's sunny out, customers can sit at picnic tables with umbrellas.
-- MINA CORPUZ
Dr. Davis, Pepperell
A handful of customers came in to the Route 111 stand for cones and take-home ice cream on a drizzly afternoon.
John Peck of Shirley has been coming to the shop for about 20 years. He used to play softball against a team in town, which is how he learned about Dr. Davis and started coming. He stopped by to pick up some Dark Roast Coffee ice cream to surprise his wife. Peck and his family have been to other ice-cream places in the area, but they come to Dr. Davis because it's tradition.
"It's a family thing," he said.
When it's nice outside, customers can sit under large blue and yellow-striped umbrellas.
Moose Tracks -- a mix of Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter cups and fudge -- is a popular flavor at the shop. Dr. Davis has both a vanilla and peanut-butter version.
The ice cream is made fresh at the Hollis Street shop. It originally opened in 1939 as a stand in front of founder Doc Davis' home. There's also a location in Brookline, N.H.
-- MINA CORPUZ
Gary's Ice Cream
Gary Frascarelli's establishment has been around for 46 years at its Gorham Street spot in Chelmsford, and he says he takes pride in being the only stand in Lowell, Chelmsford, Billerica, Tyngsboro or Wilmington that makes all of its own ice creams and sauces.
"So many of the old-fashioned flavors have gone by the wayside, but we stick with them," Frascarelli said Sunday as he prepared the base for the Orange Pineapple ice cream.
Priyanka and Babi Dash live nearby in Chelmsford and said they like to come to the Route 3A stand for its quality and flavors. They also appreciate the large, grassy area where they can sit and their daughter, Punita, 5, can play.
"It's good to relax and have an ice cream," Priyanka said.
The Dashes enjoyed dishes of the Carrot Cake ice cream, which features shredded carrots, raisins and walnuts. They said they like the soft, creamy texture of the ice cream and its genuine taste.
Hongsyn Keath of Lowell came with his family because they wanted to try something new. Some members of the family live nearby and come all the time, but for most of them, it was their first time trying Gary's.
Keath got the Mud Bog flavor -- a coffee ice cream with chocolate chips, both dark and white, and Oreo pieces -- in a homemade waffle cone. "It's really good," he said.
-- ALANA MELANSON
Heritage Farm Ice Cream & Restaurant
A great night out either begins or ends at Heritage Farm, owner Bob Howard likes to say.
All summer long, ice-cream lovers descend upon the Pawtucket Boulevard staple in Lowell -- which has been there for 80 years.
Heritage Farm's extensive menu includes a long list of classic flavors, including Moose Tracks, Peanut Butter Fudge, Rum Raisin and Cookie Dough.
Many customers are attracted to the banana splits and sundaes. The S'Mores Sundae is one of the most popular treats: Campfire S'mores ice cream loaded with hot fudge, marshmallow, whipped cream and s'mores crunch in a waffle bowl.
People also gravitate to the frozen drink concoctions -- the Mississippi Mudslide, Peppermint Patti, Creamsicle and Bananarama Shake (a banana split in a drink).
Heritage Farm has theme nights three days a week throughout the summer: Classic Car Night and a free concert series on Mondays, Bike Night for the Jimmy Fund on Tuesdays, and Kids Night on Thursdays.
-- RICK SOBEY
Johnson's Restaurant and Dairy Bar, Groton
A rainy day didn't draw much of a crowd to the outdoor window, but several customers enjoyed an afternoon inside the Route 119 restaurant to stay out of the rain.
When it's warm, people line up to order, then can sit in a patio area behind the restaurant or on the hill where there are Adirondack chairs.
The restaurant, which opened as a drive-in in 1946, makes its own ice cream. Coffee Oreo is a popular flavor. Creations like Suzanna Banana, Tina's Twix, Coconut Blondie and Scooby Snax are newer ones added by the current owners, the Santiano family.
-- MINA CORPUZ
Kimball Farm, Westford
A drizzly day didn't stop customers from lining up for icy treats -- but when has the weather ever been a factor at the Route 110 establishment?
Customers stood under the farm's white awning to order scoops of ice cream, sundaes and frappes.
Classic Cookie Cough, Cookies and Cream and Coffee Oreo are popular favors.
Marie Carpenter of Ayer comes often to the stand, either with her husband or on her own.
"I've been coming around since banana splits were 50 cents," she said.
They now cost $7.70 for a small and $8.25 for a large.
Carpenter's favorite flavors are the basic Coffee and Chocolate.
She ordered a kid's cone, which had a scoop that was the between the size of a tangerine and a tennis ball.
Kimball's has offered homemade ice cream for nearly 80 years. People can try more than 50 flavors at all four locations, the others being Lancaster and Carlisle, and Jaffrey, N.H.
-- MINA CORPUZ
People come from all over for some generous scoops of homemade ice cream at Meadowlands in Tewksbury.
The stand, on North Billerica Road, was opened in the 1960s by a diary farmer, and has been a local favorite for decades. Paula and Denis Lussier are Billerica natives who made sure to make a stop at Meadowlands during their visit back in town from Florida. They've been coming to Meadowlands since 1973 and brought their grandson, Isaac Lussier, for a treat recently.
"We used to have a dog and they had doggie ice cream," Paula Lussier said, adding that simply put, "the ice cream is great."
The three left with Coffee, Butter Pecan and Chocolate Chip treats.
Carl Rudelitch, of Marblehead, makes sure to hit up Meadowlands when he's around.
"Grapenut is my favorite flavor," Rudelitch said. "It's just great ice cream. Reasonable prices, good-sized portions, and everyone is friendly."
For the past five years, Kay Wray of North Billerica, has been coming to the ice-cream stand. She said having a favorite flavor definitely keeps her coming back. Hers is Coffee Oreo Cookie.
"My son and I both try different flavors over the summer but always go back to what we normally get," Wray said with a laugh. She added that her son loves the open space next to the ice-cream stand, where he runs around with his friends.
Joe Partyka of Lowell has worked at Meadowlands for 15 years and has owned the stand for the past three years. He said choosing his own personal favorite flavor is like "choosing amongst your children" -- but if he had to pick one, he'd go with Pistachio. He said generations of families visit the stand, and customers travel from as far as Worcester for the Frozen Pudding.
"It's not mass-produced. We're making it one batch at a time," Partyka said. "There's more of a personal touch that comes with every batch."
-- KORI TUITT
On a recent day, Eva and Keith Gedrich sat on the outdoor seating at Shaw Farm on New Boston Road in Dracut. As they have many times, they savored the ice cream. Eva had a small coffee ice cream with whipped cream, and Keith had a hot-fudge sundae.
"I think the ambiance is nice," Keith said. "It's very clean. It's got plenty of parking, which is really a big plus, I think. ... You feel like you're in the country 'cause you got the smell of the cows. Cows have their own distinctive aroma, which is nice. You go to the other ice-cream places, and it's not the same."
Eva said she likes that Shaw Farm is family-oriented.
"It's homey, and I can take the grandkids to see the cows," Eva said. "They love that."
While Shaw Farm has a wide variety of flavors, on this particular day, workers reported that coffee is the most popular. Other top favorites include Cookie Dough and Purple Cow, which includes Black Raspberry ice cream with white and dark chocolate chips.
-- AMARIS CASTILLO
Sullivan Farms Ice Cream
After savoring a cup of Coffee Oreo ice cream outside Sullivan Farms on a recent Saturday, Jacquie Hardwick confessed that she would drive hours to enjoy a treat from the Tyngsboro business on Middlesex Road, in the shadow of the Tyngsboro Bridge.
"It's just the quality of the ice cream. It's good," the Milford, N.H., resident said. "I'm kind of like an ice-cream snob, I guess. They have a lot of different flavors -- unique flavors -- and it's homemade."
Hardwick said she visits the Route 3A stand as soon as it opens for the summer season. She tends to get coffee-based flavors because the stand has so many varieties of it, adding that she "can eat ice cream all year."
Over at another bench table sat Meghan Camara, 34, with her children, Sophia, 6, and Gabriel, 4. Sullivan Farms is the go-to stand for the Tyngsboro family.
"We've been coming for a lot of years," she said. "They have the best ice cream."
Sophia said her favorite flavor is Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Gabriel's is Strawberry, and mom opts for the Mocha Chip.
Christina Misirlioglu, 40, of Tyngsboro enjoyed a cup of Cookies 'n' Cream with her 6-year-old son, Max. This stand is their go-to for ice cream also.
"It's clean-tasting," Misirlioglu said. "And the portions, I mean, we're both full and shared. This is a kiddie cone," she added, pointing to her large portion.
Asked what the best flavor is at Sullivan Farms, Misirlioglu said the Butter Pecan is "quite lovely." Max's favorite? Chocolate.
"With caramel sauce, he prefers," his mom added.
-- AMARIS CASTILLO
Sully's Ice Cream Stand
Even on a cool, rainy afternoon, Sully's Ice Cream was hopping with young families and local teens right out of school.
Audrey Hinson of Chelmsford said she promised to bring her two young children, Nathan, 3, and Hannah, 4, and they weren't about to be dissuaded by the weather. They came in their raincoats and galoshes. That ended up being a good thing, because the eager ice-cream eaters wore a good amount of the Banana and Mint Oreo dishes they ordered. For mom, it was all about the Almond Joy.
"The ice cream is fantastic," Hinson said. "It's delicious. It's really close, it's awesome ice cream, and the kids love it."
Sully's has been around since the 1960s, meaning generations of Chelmsfordians have enjoyed its ice cream, according to owner Ricky Sullivan. The ice-cream business is in this family's blood -- Sullivan's brother, Bob, owns Sullivan Farms in Tyngsboro.
Sully's makes most of its huge variety of flavors of ice cream and sherbet -- anything with a vanilla, chocolate, coffee or strawberry base is definitely theirs. Some flavors -- like the peanut-butter based ones -- and yogurts are provided by Richardson's Ice Cream. Sullivan said he won't put anything with peanuts in his ice-cream-making equipment out of concern for allergies.
In the last two weeks, Sully's debuted two new dairy-free ice creams, made of coconut milk, in vanilla and chocolate, and a new Grape Sherbet.
It doesn't hurt Sully's that its location on Graniteville Road is within walking distance of Chelmsford High School. Freshmen Ethan Lafontant and Andrew Phillips, both 15, visited Sully's after school recently for a treat.
"Towards the end of the year, there's a lot of tests, so it's nice coming here to relax with my friends after school," Lafontant said while enjoying a dish of his favorite, Cookies and Cream. He said he also likes that Sully's gives larger portions than many places.
Phillips said he's a fan of the frappes and grilled cheese sandwiches, and loves the chocolate ice cream.
On Monday, Pamela Davies of Chelmsford stepped out of her comfort zone with a butterscotch sundae with scoops of Chocolate Marshmallow and Vanilla Brownie.
"It's lunchtime, so I'm pretending, with the nuts, there's added protein, so it totally rounds it out," she joked.
Davies said her family -- and their dog, Nora -- love to come to Sully's. Nora gets the $1 doggie ice cream: a bit of vanilla soft-serve topped with a biscuit.
-- ALANA MELANSON