Nelson’s is one of the Minnesota’s oldest sweet shops, dating back to 1923. Starting as a seasonal stand in Stillwater, it changed hands a few times and finally was bought by locals who grew up loving the place. Relatively recently, they opened this bustling second location in St. Paul. The current owners do not churn their own ice cream, but their place remains Minnesota’s most energetic ice cream parlor. It’s as much an experience as it is a dairy store.
This is not artisan ice cream for culinary purists. Almost all flavors contain chunks of confectionary and/or artificial colors. The real appeal is in the bustling vibe of the place and its ludicrously enormous portions. Many ice cream shops claim to serve generous scoops, but Nelson’s is up there with the grandest. A “small” serving is close to a full pint. Larger sizes are surreal. Customers eat ice cream out of Big Gulp-sized paper cups. Some even finish.
Being that the portions are impossibly large and the cups overflow with extra scoops, surfaces tend to get drizzled with drips of melting ice cream in of all sorts of unnatural colors. The counter of the seating area might have been painted by Jackson Pollock. The stickiness and long lines help to cultivate a fun, frenzied atmosphere, especially in the heights of summer. Nelson’s feels like a rowdy ice cream saloon. The best way to enjoy it is to bring a group of friends, share an order and eat as fast as you can. If you’re riding solo, get a child size and do your best.
The ice cream satisfies. While the S’mores Brownie might be a little too much, the classic Moose Tracks flavor of fudge ripple and peanut butter cups is just right. Although the kookier flavors are tempting, it’s good to remember that you’re about to eat a pound of this stuff. Choose a flavor that you can have a hundred bites of.
Even if this isn’t the most precious ice cream we’ve ever had, the experience is great, and they’ve stuck strong to their nearly century-old credo: Variety, Quality, Value.