Esther Swartzentruber is a newcomer to Elkhart County who teaches English grammar and literature at a small Mennonite school in Nappanee. You can read more of her work on her community blog for The Elkhart Truth, Shasta’s Fog.
So as a newcomer to Elkhart County, I simply had to try all the local ice cream places that everyone keeps raving about.
Admittedly, though, when I moved here, I was a bit smug toward any ice cream other than Jeni’s.
As a central Ohio native, I know that no ice cream can compare to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams of Columbus, Ohio. Jeni’s ice cream is organic and made with local ingredients whenever possible. With flavors like Goat Cheese with Red Cherries or Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries, this ice cream is not for the faint of heart. (Do not judge the sweet corn. You have not tried it. It is AHmazing! Says the girl who hates anything healthy in her ice cream. Like fruit. Much less vegetables.)
But my new friends keep raving about Rocket Science and The Chief.
Whenever The Chief is mentioned, there this sort of sober consensus and accompanying moment of silence. “Mmmm, The Chief.” They silently transport themselves to another place — warm summer nights, sticky fingers and happy taste buds.
Then there’s my town, whose only claim to fame is its ice cream shop. “You live in Nappanee? Oh, they have that ice cream place Rocket Science.”
Rocket Science is a little ice cream shop in the Coppes Commons building. This place is a novelty because the “cream” of your “ice cream” (and any ingredients you choose) are frozen in front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen. There’s a huge tank of nitrogen that newcomers warily regard and ice cream workers cheerfully pump from as they prepare your ice cream.
I finally visited The Chief last week, so I’m going to rate these two ice cream establishments based on taste, texture, environment and customer service.
First, let’s rate Rocket Science.
Taste: Yummy! I like how you can choose the shop’s flavored creations or you can make up your own combinations (similar to Cold Stone Creamery). I prefer very rich desserts, so Death By Chocolate is a definite favorite. (Hint: It is possible to get a shot of espresso in your ice cream! The nitrogen simply freezes it in as another flavor.)
Texture: Firm. The fast freezing of the liquid nitrogen makes it very, very frozen. Sometimes it is better to let your creation melt a bit before consuming, so you can enjoy the full flavor.
Customer Service: I’ve only ever been helped by smiling, cheerful workers. Last summer, one worker even started remembering my order. I stepped in the door. “Death by chocolate?” she grinned. Also, while the lines are short, it takes a few minutes to create your individual flavor. The wait time is similar to getting a specialty drink at a coffee shop.
Environment: You can spend your time waiting choosing a seat indoors. There are small wrought iron tables and chairs in the front, or you can sit at larger tables, or even couches, in the large seating area beyond the shop.
Bonus: The indoor accommodations mean you can enjoy this ice cream on a rainy day. Another perk? There’s a drive through, and the shop is open year-round.
Let’s move on to The Chief. It is LEGENDARY. Or so I have heard.
Taste: Very nice. I tried the Peanut Butter. I found it to be light at first, but as I ate my waffle cone, I found there to be a very nice after-taste.
Texture: A firm smoothness, somewhere between ice cream and frozen yogurt. The texture was a bit of an anomaly. My friend suggested that to have the full effect, I needed to try the ice cream on a hot day. (It was low 70s.) This consoled me. I would like to try the ice cream on a very warm day and compare the consistency.
Customer Service: Long lines, but fast service. We went on a Saturday evening, and there were probably about 30 people in line. I spent the time in line choosing the perfect flavor and listening to locals rave about the ice cream. Goshen — you are loyal! Once we got to the window, a pleasant high school student took my order and quickly served me my ice cream.
Environment: It’s a busy place. There are a few picnic tables out back. If those are full, you can either stand or sit in your car. Honestly, it’s just fun watching the locals flock to the place. Very diverse crowd. Elderly, middle-aged, kids with young parents and teenagers on dates.
Bonus: The Chief employs local high school students, providing them with jobs and even scholarships. A business that gives back!
So now it’s time to vote: What is your best ice cream experience?
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