We all know there's no such thing as a bad ice cream cone, but we certainly can agree that an exceptional cone has a life-affirming, almost spiritual quality. So after just shy of two weeks, we're pleased to announce that our inaugural "best-of" ice-cream winner is — Scoops, from Scotch Plains.
While it might be easy for passing motorists to fly right by it on the eastbound lanes of Route 22, it's just as likely that anyone needing a frosty treat will realize their mistake and make a u-turn to satisfy their craving at the store that's been open since 1990.
Once you get inside, things slow down considerably, unless you're working behind the counter. Scoops boasts 60 to 70 flavors of homemade hard and soft ice cream, Italian ices, cakes, chipwiches, sundaes, egg creams, ice cream floats – just about everything you'd imagine from the joint with the full-on ice cream parlor vibe.
As you peruse the chalkboards, they feature colorful drawings and calligraphy, which are done yearly by an artist in Toms River, who does the signs for a number of ice cream shops down the Shore.
The Colendenski family, from Mountainside, was enjoying a visit on the day of the Patch announcement.
"We've been coming here a long time," said 11-year-old Julia. "My favorite is 'Smurf' (Blue ice cream with marshmallows).
Bridget, Julia's twin sister, was working on a cup of mint chocolate chip, but sided with her sister. "Me, too. I like Smurf," she said. "You can't get it anywhere else. And the lady's very nice."
Their mom, Bridget, who was enjoying mint chocolate chip in a waffle cone, said her daughters are lifelong Scoops aficionados.
"My mother-in-law used to come here with the babies, so we've been coming here for at least five years now. It's a nice treat. The lady is nice, and we're right in Mountainside, so it's convenient," she said. "Mint chocolate chip is our back-up flavor."
"I find it nice, the atmosphere's nice," 12-year-old John said, "the flavors are good." But the baby of the siblings, Caitlin, 9, grasping a wafer cone of chocolate ice cream, face smeared with chocolate ice cream: "It's yummy!"
Tom Varkey, there to pick up a chocolate shake for his 11-year-old son, said, "It's my kids' favorite place. They love the variety."
Owner Colleen Tighe, serving everyone in her blue Scoops polo shirt splattered with enough of her offerings to qualify as a menu, said:
"The chalkboards and the authentic displays we have – they're authentic, they're all from the '50s and '60s. My aunt is an antiques dealer and found them."
"You can still get an egg cream or ice cream soda done the right way. And the staff is friendly."
The shops that round out the top three, Zita's in Berkeley Heights, and The Ice Hut in Springfield, also boast loyal fans. So as you travel around Union County this summer, don't forget to check out the shops and then report back on your favorite Patch sites.
Feel free to upload your own photos and videos of your family trying out your favorite frozen treats!