A sweeter, safer, yet equally enticing alternative to the popular pub crawl can be found locally by taking a “Tour de Scoop” this summer.
Summer wanderings through Winnebago County can have a sweet finale by following the Tour de Scoop and checking out local ice cream shops whose offerings are as unique as the folks they serve.
Here, we highlight four locally owned, seasonally-based ice cream shops in Winnebago County which are as unique as the flavors they serve:
DAIRY DEPOT, LOVES PARK
Our first stop on the Tour de Scoop is the Dairy Depot at 5413 N. Second St. in Loves Park. First opened in 1984 and now co-owned by husband and wife John & Diane Elliott, the Dairy Depot offers several unique menu items.
“One of our signature menu items is our turtle sundae with hot fudge, hot caramel, vanilla soft serve, pecans and whipped cream,” John said. “We do all of our shakes and malts from scratch and put flavorings in to match the customer’s satisfaction. We also offer a brownie sundae with hot fudge, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream and a great banana split. These are very popular on the weekends, so it’s not unusual for us to make 50-75 in a weekend.”
Dairy Depot’s menu also includes treats for those watching their diets. “We do smoothies with low-fat yogurt because some people like to be more conscientious about their health,” John said.
Frozen yogurt and ice cream are each offered in soft serve at Dairy Depot and both come in chocolate, vanilla, a chocolate/vanilla twist. Only ice cream is served as a flavor of the week which can be swirled with vanilla.
“I think that our soft serve is a better grade than what most places have, it’s probably the creamiest soft serve in Northern Illinois and we get a lot of repeat customers because of that,” John said.
“The flavor of the week changes on Monday and we go through about six or seven flavors during a summer. Probably our most popular flavor of the week is grasshopper which is a mint flavor; and then we have black raspberry, dreamsicle, blue moon, black cherry, strawberry and peach,” he said.
Information on Dairy Depot’s flavor of the week can be found on its Facebook page and it’s important to note that the business is cash only and doesn’t accept debit or credit cards. There is no indoor seating at Dairy Depot but the business has several covered picnic tables, a handwashing station and a grassy area to accommodate customers.
“We have a ‘keep it simple’ philosophy meaning that we only do ice cream and frozen yogurt,” John said. “I think that allows us to focus on making our menu items the best they can be.”
A short distance north of Loves Park is the small town of Rockton, home to Dairyhaus.
Situated in a historic stone building at 113 E. Main St. in downtown, Dairyhaus started 35 years ago as a way to showcase the products of the Rockton-based Taylor Company, a manufacturer of commercial freezers.
Currently, Dairyhaus specializes in 65 varieties of homemade scoop ice cream and offers 12 of those varieties on a daily basis.
“We always have chocolate and vanilla, but some of our flavors like salty caramel cashew and blue moon are available very frequently but some specialty flavors float in and out depending on the season and the requests of our customers,” said Brent Murray, owner of Dairyhaus.
Murray’s mother bought Dairyhaus in 1995 and it has remained a family business since then.
Murray said that Dairyhaus’s success comes from product evolution and collaborating with other local business to market unique flavor combinations.
“We try to make everything as fresh as we can from the ice cream to the waffle cones we serve the ice cream in. In the fall, we use apples from Edwards Apple Orchard to make an apple cobbler ice cream. This year we partnered with Rockford Roasting Company and we’re utilizing their coffee beans to flavor our ice cream. I think we’re going to be working with Kate’s Pie Shop to do an a la mode series. We’re just going to chuck full pies into the ice cream.” Murray said.
Possibly the most unique flavor the Dairyhaus offers is a beer ice cream.
Murray explains, “We have been working with Prairie Street Brewhouse on a beer ice cream flavor. The Doppelbock and Nut Brown are available on a varied basis Dairyhaus and as part of an ice cream sandwich at Prairie Street Brewhouse.”
Murray also has a partnership with Woodman’s Food Market which sells pints of Dairyhaus ice cream.
“This November will be six years that we have had our product in the Rockford Woodman’s and it will be about two years that we’ve been in the Beloit Woodman’s. The first three weeks of selling at Woodman’s; our ice cream was so popular that I would literally show up with the ice cream and be handing it to shoppers as they passed the freezer section,” he said.
Woodman’s stocks anywhere from 11-15 flavors of Dairyhaus ice cream.
Product development is ongoing at Dairyhaus with Murray relying on his Main St. neighbors as taste testers.
“We’ll take samples of new flavors across the street to the village hall and have the mayor and city clerk give us their thoughts. We also take samples over the library and see what the staff there thinks. I think it’s always important to get as many opinions as we can before launching a new flavor,” Murray said.
BING’S DRIVE-IN, ROCKFORD
The next stop takes us due south to Bing’s Drive-In at 3613 South Main St. in Rockford.
Possibly the oldest drive-in restaurant in Winnebago County, Bing’s opened around 1952, according to current manager, Lisa Nilles. Owned by Nilles’s mother, Loretta Gasparini since 1988, Bing’s is known for its food items as well as its cool treats.
“I think our best seller is our double cheese burger. We make our own chili for our chili dogs and we make our own barbeque. People also like our soft serve ice cream cones. They’ll order a small and when they get the cone, they can’t believe how big it is,” Nilles said. “We make our cones bigger because we want to give people their money’s worth.”
In addition to soft serve, Bing’s offers customers dipped cones, assorted ice cream sundaes, the banana boat and a brownie delight.
“We also make our own root beer, and that can be incorporated into a root beer float or a root beer shake, which is somewhat of a unique item,” Nilles said.
Bing’s popularity in the region, Nilles said, stems from the fact that it’s a great place to go for a quick meal or just for ice cream.
“Our business comes from all over Rockford. We get people coming in for lunch from UTC Aerospace, from the airport, the industrial park and we even get lawyers and judges from downtown. So, our lunch time crowd is mainly business people and our dinner crowd is mainly families,” she said.
DAIRY FAIR, ROCKFORD
Our Tour de Scoop concludes by heading northwest to the peppermint stripped building which houses Dairy Fair, 2813 Kilburn Ave. in Rockford.
Rebecca Herra manages Dairy Fair which has been owned by her parents, Kevin & Diane Hilby for around 14 years.
“I think what shocks people when they come up to the window to order is that we offer food in addition to ice cream treats,” Herra said. “People love our cheese fries and our chili cheese fries. We serve lots of burgers, especially our bacon cheese burger; our Chicago hot dogs are very popular, too. I think for how small our building is, we do a very good job of putting out a large menu.”
On the cool side of the menu, Dairy Fair has taken two favorite desserts and combined them into one decadent treat.
“A huge part of our menu is the cheesecake and soft serve combinations. We have strawberry cheesecake, caramel cheesecake and chocolate chip cheesecake pieces that can be added to the soft serve or blended in to make our Coolers, which is like a Blizzard or McFlurry,” Herra said.
“We also have a hot Nutella topping, almost like a hot fudge that we can put on sundaes. This year we added cherry pie crumbles that can top a sundae or go into a Cooler.”
Herra said that Dairy Fair has a soft serve flavor of the week that can be twisted into vanilla or served on its own. They also offer granita that can be served solo or twisted into soft serve.
“People love the lemon soft serve twisted with cherry granita,” she said. An additional unique feature at Dairy Fair is the Twinkle cone, which is a soft serve cone dipped into a peanut-brittle type topping.
–Here’s the scoop: Tour of local ice cream shops offers varied, unique treats–