A sea of yellow tank tops, tees and bandannas flooded into Rockville Centre’s International Delight Café — before its doors were even set to open — early Saturday morning. The ninth annual Long Island Ice Cream Tour had just begun.
Founded by Jeff Noreman, of Old Bethpage, and Derek Steen, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the 10-hour tour of nine handcrafted ice cream parlors led dozens of New Yorkers through a plethora of sweet delight, from Rockville Centre’s “Berry Cookie Blast,” to Riverhead’s “Peconic Swamp Thing.”
The key requirement for a parlor to make it onto the tour’s stops? The ice cream must be made in-house.
“It’s not just about finding ice cream wherever you go,” said Jaime Kobin, of Queens, a four-time tour-goer. “It’s about the experience of these artisan ice creams and the love that these business owners put into what they’re creating.”
The quality of artisan ice cream is noticeably better from that of the mass-produced dessert, Kobin said, noting that the local shops are one-of-a-kind, some also making their own whipped cream and hot fudge, or displaying funny signs along their walls.
One day on a road trip, Joyce Keller of Manhattan, a friend of Kobin, turned to her and asked, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner?”
“You will never guess — I have the thing for you,” Kobin replied, with this ice cream tour, one of her favorite days of the year, in mind. In 2017, Keller accompanied her, and they tasted the flavors from start to finish, without missing a spot.
“This year, my second year, I’m keeping up with tradition,” Keller said, vowing to sample the products at each location once again.
Marvel Frozen Dairy, a traditional roadside shop in Lido Beach, Hildebrandt’s, a classic sit-down malt shop in Williston Park, and longtime Herrell’s Ice Cream in Huntington are among the other locations of the self-guided tour. Typically, the route begins at Riverhead’s Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe and makes its way west, but after results from a Facebook poll created by Steen indicated that participants preferred the trail reversal this year, that’s exactly what happened.
Tour-goers are encouraged to wear designated-color clothing and, this year, official yellow T-shirts were designed for the first time, so the group could identify itself on the road. A registration fee of $20.70, also introduced this year, covers the cost of the T-shirts, along with online promotions of the event.
The sugary tradition actually started in the mid-80s, when Noreman saw a list in the paper of homemade ice cream places on Long Island, he said. He went on the tour with a friend, and years later, in 2010, invited his extended family and Steen to accompany him on it again.
Through social media, word spread throughout the years, with 30 to 50 participants, usually. This year, 90 people registered, and about 100 showed up at the first stop.
The locations vary each year, but ultimately, Steen and Noreman rotate the selected spots from a list of 15-20 reputable places. The flavors at some of these parlors are unmatched, they said.
Hildebrandt’s peach concoction, for example, is sweet, but it doesn’t hit you over the head like a hammer, Noreman said, comparing it with certain store-bought recipes. “It tastes like you’re eating a slightly sugary peach.”
Maybe that can be attributed to Hildebrandt’s manager, Tom Bauman, who has been handcrafting the shop’s ice cream for 35 years, using only fresh and natural ingredients.
"There’s no artificial anything in it,” he said.
Chris Testa, co-manager of the International Delight Café, has tried gelato in Rome, Venice and Barcelona. While he does not know if the 82 flavors at his restaurant top these, visitors to the cafe have said as much, he said.
“Everybody likes it," said Testa. "We take this seriously."
So seriously, that a new flavor, “Berry Cookie Blast,” combining strawberry ice cream, Oreos and brownies, was introduced this week, specifically for tour-goers to taste on Saturday.
“Ice cream is one of the fun things, no matter what age you are,” Noreman said. “It’s enjoyable. You feel joy when you taste something sweet and cold, and something that pretty much, universally, everyone likes.”