GROWING UP in a West Coast city, the only Tastee Freez ice cream stands I knew of appeared in John Mellencamp songs and S.E. Hinton's perennial middle-school reading assignment, The Outsiders. This early mythologizing of the Tastee Freez, coupled with a childhood heavy on organics and light on high-fructose corn syrup, means that as an adult, I will almost always brake for a swirl cone at a roadside ice cream stand. Among my favorites: rural Vermont's incredibly optimistic idea of how much soft-serve fits into a wafer cone, a Massachusetts farm stand that serves grass-flavored ice cream (actual grass, I am not being euphemistic here), and a Tastee Freez in Chicago where you can request an ice cream sundae served as a little island floating in a milkshake. All hail the Tastee Freez, and its ilk, with their variously misspelled names alluding to dairy-fed teenagers in America's popular imagination, their reliably massive handwritten lists of ice cream mix-ins, their jaunty neon signs!
Alas, there are no longer any true Tastee Freez locations in Oregon. Tastee Freez itself is the name of a chain founded in Illinois in the 1950s. At the height of Tastee Freez popularity in the '50s, there were nearly 1,800 nationwide. Now there are fewer than 40, confined mostly to the South and the Midwest. The three that once served Portland are gone; the two buildings that remain, on N Lombard and SE Milwaukie, respectively, are identifiable as a former Tastee Freez by their bad A-frame design alone (one is now a Dairy Queen). But do not despair! Here are some nearby alternatives where the spirit of the Tastee Freez lives on!
If you have a car and your devotion to ice cream knows no time limits, treat yourself to a mini-road trip to scenic St. Helens, where you can enjoy that certain Tastee Freez je ne sais quoi at the Dari-Delish (1680 Columbia), with its teal-painted, formica-topped outdoor tables and seemingly infinite ice cream menu. Do you want a sundae AND a milkshake AND a cone AND an ice cream sandwich AND a banana split AND a float? All things are possible with the Dari-Delish! They deliver a solid swirl cone, and something called a Red Bull Freeze, which, with Portland Punch flavoring (mixed berries with coconut), was just gross enough to be good. There's also standard fast-food fare, including an impressive number of burger permutations (corn dogs are $1.50 each). It takes 40 minutes to get there, and it's worth every one. Bring cash, because while the Dari-Delish is many things, it is not accepting toward credit cards—in "keeping with the '50s theme," it cheerily states via window placard.
If what I just suggested—driving 40 minutes FOR ICE CREAM—seems nuts to you, you probably have more sensible priorities than I do, and Roses Ice Cream (5011 NE 42nd) is your worthy in-town alternative. Their menu is less exhaustive than the Dari-Delish, but it includes BIRTHDAY CAKE ICE CREAM, a rare treasure this side of the Mississippi. Put this in a brownie sundae, eat it at a picnic table out front, and you just might feel yourself transported into a novel by Beverly Cleary. Forget Proust and his madeleine. This is America. And this is the magic of the Tastee Freez.
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