Chill Out

Cool Treats for a Hot Summer

Story by Janan Talafer  ❧  Photography by

When the temperature soars and the humidity threatens to overwhelm, nothing is quite as delightfully chilling and enjoyable as ice cream. The first taste tantalizes and tingles, slightly numbing the tongue. Eat a cone of your favorite flavor too quickly and you might get brain freeze; eat it too slowly on a hot day and it will melt, sticky on the fingers.

Whether you prefer ice cream or frozen custard, gelato, Italian ice, snow cones, shakes, floats, banana splits, sundaes, frozen yogurt or smoothies, one thing is certain. Few people can resist the temptation of their favorite frozen concoction.

When the mood strikes to indulge in a rich, smooth, tasty treat this summer, skip the more widely known chains. Here’s a selection of some cool Tampa Bay spots to visit for a delicious dessert, one that will definitely help you beat the heat.


TAMPA—This is more than an ice cream shop—it’s a place to hang out. There’s always something happening at this fun, slightly bohemian venue that offers live local bands seven days a week, a giant talking oak tree and a mind-boggling assortment of flavors, from Coca Cola Ice to chocolate black raspberry and Jack Daniel’s Chip. If that’s not enough, you’ll also find owner Matt Walsh out front entertaining the crowd as he carves blocks of ice and transforms them into angels, cartoon characters and animals (plus liquor luges for off-site adult catered parties). What makes their ice cream different? “It’s made with love,” jokes Matt. He and his wife Tanya have been churning out homemade ice cream at the Colonial Promenade location since 1991. Now they’re opening a second shop in Westchase this summer.


ANNA MARIA ISLAND—A quintessential Florida vacation ice cream place, Big Olaf’s is located right across the street from one of the most spectacular beaches on the Gulf Coast, beautiful Bradenton Beach in Anna Maria Island. Stroll the beach, take in the sunset and make your nightcap a scoop of your favorite ice cream. With 32 flavors, it’s hard to make a selection. How about Kahlua Crunch for something different or lemon/lime Italian ice for a cool, refreshing, slightly tangy taste? The secret to the ice cream is in the high butterfat content (14 percent), which makes it especially rich and creamy (who cares about calories!). Plus, it’s made locally. The Big Olaf Creamery has been making ice cream for 25 years, right in Sarasota’s Amish community of Pinecraft.


TREASURE ISLAND—Imagine a cone brimming with freshly made finely shaved ice, doused with one or more of the 55 dazzling flavors that Beach Snoballs’s owners James and Kimberly Boswell concoct, some based on their childhood in New Orleans where snowballs are a popular staple in the summer. In fact, James is a second-generation snoball chef—he learned the trade from his mother, who had her own popular stand in the Big Easy. This is not the icy, crunchy snow cone I remember from my childhood up north, but a lighter, fluffy version like new fallen snow. Stop by on your way home after a long, hot day at the Treasure Island beach and wrap your mind around flavors like Tangerine Dream, Pink Flamingo, Polar Punch or Frog in a Blender.


PLANT CITY—Strawberries are king in Plant City, and there’s nothing better than strawberries from Parkesdale Farm Market, the largest strawberry and citrus market in Florida. You can only get their famous strawberry shortcake during season, which runs January to April, but you can enjoy thick, creamy, satisfying strawberry milkshakes and homemade strawberry ice cream year-round at this family-run business with adjacent farm. It’s so peaceful and charming to sit at the rustic picnic tables inside the shade-filled greenhouse, where tropical flowers and plants are for sale. When you’re done, purchase strawberry trinkets and jam at the gift shop or select farm-grown produce and citrus to take home.


DOWNTOWN ST. PETERSBURG—It’s easy to drive right by and miss this iconic little hot dog eatery in the line-up of storefronts on this busy street in downtown St. Pete. Inside, the atmosphere is a time warp back to the 1950s—maybe earlier, with the Formica countertops and comfortable, old booths. The lunch menu is simple: hot dogs, chili dogs, hot dogs with onions. Ketchup costs extra, as the owner is a hot dog purist, so only mustard is sanctioned. Wash everything down with a chocolate milkshake. They’re big and the real thing, handmade with milk, chocolate and vanilla ice cream while you watch, mixed up behind the counter using a big old green Hamilton Beach blender, the kind your grandmother might have owned. The perfect indulgence on a hot summer day. 727-822-4493


ST. PETERSBURG—It’s a feast for the senses when you walk through the door of this authentic Italian market that is always overflowing with people, no matter what time or day of the week. Keep reminding yourself that you’ve come for the delicious, creamy gelato as you wind your way through the market, tempted every few feet by the specialty cheese room; the deli with homemade pastas, antipastos and sandwiches; the wine cellar; barrels of olives; and the coffee beans from around the world. Located adjacent to the bakery, the gelato is worth every bite. It’s smooth, flavorful, cold and lighter than ice cream because the butterfat content is lower. The flavors you’ll find here are every bit as exotic as the rest of the market. There’s zabaione, Italian custard made with eggs and sugar; along with hazelnut, fig, mixed berries, lemon, praline, vanilla bean, Heath chocolate bar, spumoni, toasted almond and voglia stracciatelli, a vanilla base blended with shredded chocolate. An afternoon spent at Mazzaro’s is like a mini-vacation to the old country. On Saturdays you can enjoy live entertainment on the patio.


DUNDEDIN & PALM HARBOR—If you like the appeal of old-fashioned ice cream parlors, you’ll love Strachan’s. Leave any thought about calories behind when you walk through the door. This family-owned business specializes in rich, mouth-watering milk shakes, decadent sundaes, ice cream sodas, root beer floats, fresh fruit smoothies and more. Try the Strachan’s Split—a banana split with frozen custard crowned with strawberry, pineapple and chocolate toppings. Or take home an ice cream cake made with a thick layer of brownies on the bottom, then ice cream blended with Snickers, topped off with caramel and hot fudge sauce. WOW. Strachan’s even offers Ice Cream School, a unique three-day workshop where you learn everything you need to know from the pros about how to open up your own shop.


SARASOTA & SOUTH TAMPA—With frozen yogurt from SunniBunni it’s possible to feel like you’re doing something healthy for yourself while enjoying a decadent frozen treat. That’s because the company uses live and active yogurt cultures which offer probiotic benefits for your digestion. It also won’t make you tip the scales since frozen yogurt is nonfat and has just 90 calories per serving—that is until you pile on the toppings. Choose from an assortment of toppings like granola, Captain Crunch cereal and coconut, or organic and seasonal fruit like strawberries, mangos, blackberries, kiwi and pineapple. The frozen yogurt comes in two flavors: original and green tea, which has a slightly tangy taste. The smoothies are also popular and you can add a scoop of protein powder for an extra health boost.

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