Springtime brings to mind several familiar scents, from fresh rainfall to budding flowers. But its arrival also means the return of beloved foods. In part three of WAMC’s spring series, Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas takes us to two of the most popular seasonal destinations in the area for warm-weather food and fun.
"Traditional vanilla is always the best seller. We do a peanut butter and jelly ice cream which has become very popular, watermelon sherbert and root beer sherbet in the summertime. We do a thin mint ice cream made with Girl Scout cookies that's become very popular..." Is your mouth watering yet? That was Robert Zautner, who owns Toll Gate Ice Cream in Slingerlands.
You might miss it if you drive through the Albany County hamlet too quickly. Slingerlands is home to two places where people stop to take respite from hot summer days and gather to enjoy warm evenings.
Ross's ice cream stand has been around since 1942. Originally called Martin's and stationed at Elm Avenue, the shack was purchased by the Ross family in 1950, was later moved to New Scotland Road and went through several owners until eventually falling into the hands of the six Trefeletti sisters around 25 years ago. Christina Trefeletti is busily gearing up for the traditional spring opening. "I open the first week of May and I stay open 'til October, which is like, pretty much a month later than everyone else."
Like many roadside stands dating back to the mid-20th century, Ross's serves soft ice cream and old-school hamburgers. Trefeletti says people drop by for both. "Our soft ice cream is a very high quality product. We take incredibly good care of our machine. Our burgers, we get them fresh from right down the street from a local butcher, Falvo's. My father owned Star Supermarkets, and originally he supplied the burgers, and then when he sold out, he sold his burger making machine to Falvo. Hence, how I got Falvo!"
For seafood lovers, there's fresh fish: "We cut it, we bread it. It's not frozen. We do it all ourselves."
Trefeletti adds the "secret" to quality food is that "everything is fresh, and real." The way folks expected it to be back in a less complicated time. Ross's offers other amenities: on a lazy summer day or evening, it's good to sit in the spacious back yard. For families with kids and dogs there are swings,and places to run and to play a bit of basketball.
Trefeletti adds that with newer highways bypassing New Scotland Road, Ross's has become a deliberate destination rather than a "look, let's stop here” place.
For decades, carloads of city people traveling to and from Thacher Park stopped either at Ross's or Toll Gate Ice Cream, which sits down the road a piece at the site of the original tollgate, which was demolished in 1908. "The local people would get together and build a section of the road and charge people a toll for it every few miles. The toll road was only here a very few years and shortly after that they began making asphalt and all the old wooden roads got paved."
The milemarker and its moniker, preserved in an old photograph, provided the name... Zautner's Toll Gate Ice Cream business has been family-owned since it began serving up ice cream in 1949. "The place hasn't changed a whole lot. We have some older pictures that show cars from the 1950s parked in the front parking lot. It basically looks about the same today, except the cars are a little more modern. Summertime and ice cream, they go together of course. You get a lot of families, people stopping all the time, older people who say we used to come here, our parents used to bring us here, my grandparents used to bring us here. Now they bring their kids and grandchildren. We were very popular back in the 50s and 60s as kind of the teenage hangout. A lotta kids would work here after school. A lotta kids washed dishes and scooped cones. We get all kinds of people stoppin' and sayin' 'I'm glad you're still here.'"
Many other stands are shacks are opening for the season — there's plenty of room in the comments section below for you to sprinkle in your favorite seasonal ice cream destination.
Corner Ice Cream ~ Guilderland
Jim's Tastee Freez ~ Bethlehem
Jumpin' Jacks ~ Scotia
Kurver Kreme ~ Colonie
Lickety Split ~ East Greenbush
Mac's Drive-In ~ Watervliet
Snowman ~ Troy