For Christmas of 2016, my mom gave me a book titled A Taste of Upstate New York, by Chuck D’Imperio. In it, Mr. D’Imperio travels across New York State in search of regional foods and traditions. When I read his piece about Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream, I knew I had to go there. It’s a tiny (and I mean TINY), summer-only (Memorial Day to Labor Day), cash-only ice cream stand that serves one flavor combination per day. It is run by the fourth generation of the same family and has been a Saranac Lake staple since 1953. While the dairy farm that was once on the land behind the shop is long gone, the high-quality ice cream that has had generations of families lining up for the past 65 years keeps on churning. Locals know that summer has truly arrived when Donnelly’s opens for the season.
Maybe five or six people can fit inside at one time and the only seating is a pair of small red wooden benches in front. Other than that, customers can eat in their cars or standing in the parking lot and taking in the amazing view of Whiteface Mountain off in the distance. Enter through the door on the right and exit through the door on the left. In between is some of the best ice cream I’ve had in a while. The ice cream machine bought in 1953 continues to dole out out what I can only describe as “sweet creamy moo” (a phrase I borrowed from fellow Roadfooder Wanderingjew). The one flavor per day is, as the sign says, ALWAYS TWISTED WITH VANILLA. The black raspberry-vanilla twist cone I had on my visit was transcendent, like tasting my childhood, bringing me back to Friday nights with my family and the local ice cream stands of my youth.
Donnelly’s also offers milkshakes and ice cream by the dish and pint and it carries a pretty good selection of milk, cheeses, and other dairy products from Hood, Cabot, Heluva Good, and Crowley, brands. There is a small roadside stand serving a great Michigan-style hot dog (a local specialty) just a few miles down the road and would make for a great prelude to a cone at Donnelly’s. But I can confidently say that Donnelly’s is a destination-worthy place all by itself.