Local ice cream stands open for business despite the calendar

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Sat., Mar. 5, 2011
Hunter, 10, gives his bubble gum ice cream cone from Milano's a thumbs-up despite chilly temperatures. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Hunter, 10, gives his bubble gum ice cream cone from Milano's a thumbs-up despite chilly temperatures. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

The temperature is below freezing. Trees are bare, and a bitter wind whips over 3-foot-high piles of sooty snow.

Wait – is that a mirage, or is it real? Is that neon sign at the local ice cream stand really lit up and flashing “open”?

Winter weather notwithstanding, Griswold’s ice cream hangouts opened for business the first week of March, and even brisk temperatures didn’t deter regulars who have been waiting for months for the season’s first taste of ice cream.

“This is definitely spring. It doesn’t matter what the weather is,” said Lee Treadway, of Noank, between licks of a butter pecan cone. He and his wife, Nancy, showed up at the Buttonwood Farm ice cream stand on Route 165 last Saturday afternoon, when the mercury crept up into the 50s.

Nancy chose a dish of mocha crunch ice cream. “We always start the season with these flavors and work our way through the list,” she said.

At Buttonwood Farm, that list is formidable: 60 flavors at the moment, with another 10 to be added come summer, said employee Dave Burns.

The season at Buttonwood has started March 1 every year since the stand opened in 1998, said owner Kim Button. That’s true even if it’s snowing on opening day. Crowds start out slow, but begin to pick up “as soon as the weather starts getting nice,” she said. “That could be the end of March, or later.” The stand’s last day of business for the season is Oct. 31.

Buttonwood’s ice cream is made on site in two 40-quart machines, said Button. Among the selections on the menu are sorbets, frozen yogurts, sugar-free ice cream and sundaes. New flavors are introduced as the season gets busier.

“A lot of people wait all winter” for the first of March, said Burns.

For the Treadways, this year’s first trip to Buttonwood brought bittersweet memories. This is the first time they haven’t been accompanied by Nancy’s mother, Leona Watrous, an ice cream fan who died last year at age 94.

“We’ve had a lot of smiles up here every weekend,” said Lee.

Buttonwood Farm is open from 1 to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through the spring months. The hours are extended in summer.

Down the road at Milano’s, on Route 138 in Griswold, opening day was March 3. “I have to say we sold more pizza than anything,” said employee Cathy Calle. “But we had some takers for ice cream: black raspberry and bubble gum.”

Beginning its third year in business, Milano’s offers Italian and other fare, along with 13 flavors of New England-made Garelick Farms ice cream at its outdoor stand. The restaurant closed for two months this year, during the depths of winter.

The first day of the new season was a treat for the staff as well as for restaurant-goers, said Calle. “It’s nice to see our loyals from Griswold and Voluntown,” she said.

Milano’s also has reduced spring hours, opening from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. “In a couple of months, we’ll be open later on Friday and Saturday,” said Calle.

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