This column offers a sampling of dining experiences in the area. It is not intended as a review of the restaurant other than to provide the reader with one diner's experience. It also appears in The Herald's Friday entertainment section, "Ticket."
TONY'S ICE CREAM
Location: 604 E. Franklin Blvd., Gastonia, NC
Hours: 7 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Web site: tonysicecream.com
Ambiance: Ice cream parlor and diner
The yellow-brick, corner building with the old-fashioned red-and-white sign for Tony's Ice Cream Co. on Franklin Boulevard is a Gaston County landmark, and rightfully so.
Since 1915, a local family has been churning out homemade ice cream and basic fast foods, including their "Best of the Best" hot dogs, wings, chuckwagon steak, country ham, grits and much more. While Tony's sells its ice cream -- offering 24 flavors made right next door -- to stores and other restaurants in the Carolinas or by the half gallon ($5.50), I love going to their welcoming "home."
The yellow and tan subway-style tiles are contrasted by the 14 fire-engine red booths and tables that wrap around the large counter area with short red-and-white striped awnings over head. It's truly an old-fashioned ice cream parlor feel. The wide aisles leave plenty of room for the quickly moving long lines for ordering a frozen treat or bite to eat. It's not just Tony's ice cream that's so refreshing, but it's pricing -- no meal costs more than $4. Tony's is always bustling.
We were lucky to arrive after lunch-hour rush during somewhat of a lull, and able to find a booth after placing our order at the counter. Talk about a quick place to grab a bite. As soon I was done signing my receipt, our number was called and we grabbed our sodas and brownbag four hot dogs and two fries.
The all-the-way dogs ($1.75 for plain or all-the-way) come covered in a tasty meat sauce. I love this sauce because the meat is chopped so fine and the spices enhance the hot dog that comes served on a steamed bun. My friend is right, these hot dogs are the closest thing to what was a favorite in our hometown. The fries ($1.50) are a good portion of just right crispy, not too greasy.
I had woofed down both of my hot dogs before my friend had finished her first one. It had been several years since I'd dined here, and I missed it.
I was shocked when my friend said she sometimes comes to Tony's just for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and doesn't get ice cream -- insane. How could anyone pass up even a small scoop of their wonderful hard ice cream? I couldn't resist the temptation. I've had many of their wonderful milkshakes ($3.75) and often shared the famous banana split ($4.70).
After looking over the menu list of flavors, we headed to the counter and asked for a couple of ice cream samples. I tried the grape, she tried the chocolate with peanut butter ripple (what we call Charlie Brown back home). The ice cream is so cool and creamy, and the tastebuds get a jump-start from the flavor.
After looking at her regular cone ($2.35) with a scoop of mint chocolate chip and a slap of chocolate with peanut butter, I asked for the same in a hot fudge sundae ($3.75). It was dazzling with a light visible steam rising from the hot chocolate visible throughout the plastic see-through cup. They make hot fudge sundaes the right way, topped with real whipped cream and a fresh cherry, and most importantly, some hot fudge on the bottom of the cup.
The mint chocolate chip reminded me of the scrumptious Shamrock shakes we'd get around St. Patrick's Day back home -- a light but intense mint flavor. It was fabulous. Then I dug into my scoop of chocolate and peanut butter. My tastebuds were sent into overdrive with a new sensation -- just as fabulous, just as fresh.
But Tony's, the restaurant, is much more than ice cream. It's a scoop of good food rippled with family tradition -- both theirs and so many others -- with a drizzling of excellent customer service and pricing, topped with good, old-fashioned wholesome honesty. It's no wonder so many "scream" for Tony's Ice Cream.
FOR RESTAURANT INSPECTION RATINGS: In Mecklenburg County, visit mecklenburg.digitalhealthdepart-ment.com. In York County, visit scdhec.net/health/envhlth/food_protection/scores.htm. In Gaston County, visit www.co.gaston.nc.us/HealthDept/index.HTM.