Welcome to #NotAnAd, where we post enthusiastically and without reservation about things we’re obsessed with from the world of food.
When was your last time you had soft serve? In the immortal words of Anthony Marentino (is two Sex and the City references in my first month of employment here overkill? You decide.): If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. For me it was last night, around 9 PM. There was a Mister Softee truck parked outside the Barclays Center—which appeared to be hosting an event attended exclusively by people in sexy athleisure wear, so at least the line for ice cream was short—and I couldn’t pass up such a convenient cone. I almost never do.
I’m new here, so maybe I’m doing this column wrong, because I don’t think Mister Softee is unheralded or under-appreciated. It’s not a problematic fave or even particularly in need of championing. The number of trucks patrolling the mid-Atlantic and New England has fluctuated slightly since the company’s founding in 1956—peaking in the ‘60s around 1,000, and since falling victim to diet trends—but for the most part everyone loves ice cream that’s readily available and comparatively cheap.
But they don’t love it as much as I do—an adoration that borders on religious in which “a soft serve swirl in a cone with rainbow sprinkles” is the only incantation necessary to reach nirvana. How much do I love this classic Mister Softee order? Let me count the ways: two or three times a week during the months between May and September, inclusive. Or somewhere around 50 swirls each summer.
This being the first time I’ve done the math, I’m now going to need a few minutes of quiet reflection.
Here is where I provide an emotional backstory for my dedication to Mister Softee—something to give this ode heft and perhaps even pathos. I could tell you that in the five years we’ve been together, my husband has exclusively worked nights. And how often, our only chance to see each other during the week is between our two shifts. If we time it just right, we’re able to to rendezvous somewhere in the middle, on the streets of Manhattan, where we’ll have between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the whims of a capricious subway system. That’s not enough time for dinner or even a drink. It’s barely enough time for me to hear how he is after I’ve unloaded my litany of gnat-level annoyances that develop over the course of an average day as a byproduct of being alive.
The perfect antidote—to our limited time together, to my predisposition for malcontent—is to eat ice cream served and consumed on the sidewalk with barely any standstill except to hand over $3. The Mister Softee truck of most people’s imaginations is a roving beast heralded by the proprietary jingle, and those still populate suburbs and leafy parts of upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs. But south of Central Park, especially down by Wall Street where my husband works, the trucks stake out particular corners for weeks at a time. Their presence feels random, but in fact is reliable, the sort of thing you can pretend to happen upon.
(Even still, however, their location is not internet searchable. Perhaps this is charming and folksy, reminiscent of a simpler time in the same way their 60-year-old logo has remained unchanged, but sometimes a person just wants to know where the closest sprinkle fix can be had. And for this, we need someone to invent an exhaustive Mister Softee tracker—unlike this map which purports to be just that but which I know to be lacking since there are around 200 trucks in New York and only one tenth of that shown. If you are that someone, all I ask for is due credit and unlimited access.)
I could tell you all this, but the truth is I love a soft serve swirl in a cone with rainbow sprinkles just because it tastes so damn delicious. If ice cream is good because it is sweet and creamy, than there’s no truer platonic ideal than a Mister Softee swirl. (I’m convinced their offbrand competitors produce an icier product, which melts into something more liquidy rather than unctuous and which is in fact visibly detectable in the darker, slightly greyish chocolate.) Remember how you’d sort of swirl the dregs of your hard ice cream around in the bowl as a kid until it got a little bit melty? That’s how Mister Softee starts out, on purpose. Sprinkles are exactly the level of textural contrast (high) and sophistication (low) this sort of dessert deserves, and the wafer cone is perfect carb-y palate cleanser.
I’ll eat one alone, and I often do. My last job was in Union Square—an area practically lousy with ice cream trucks, including Mister Softee. The ability to simply step away from my desk for a few minutes and enjoy, standing right there on the streets of midtown Manhattan in the middle of a Wednesday, something so good for just a few dollars, felt like maybe all the drawbacks to modern society have actually been worth it just for that.