Entering New England, I couldn't help by be reminded of a few memorable sweets I consumed during the summer of 2005, the same summer Marisa Tomei and I became soulmates at Williamstown Theatre Festival. One such establishment resided less than a half mile from the Connecticut border. The frozen treats were excellent, but the owner made it even more memorable...
“What’s in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?” I asked.
Looking annoyed, Uncle Bob, the large and intimidating proprietor responded, “Did you read the sign?”
I hadn’t noticed the sign, which said 1600 Pennsylvania Ave was a hazelnut chocolate ice cream. (It was more nutty texture-wise and creamy flavor-wise than your typical gianduja.) The origin of the flavor's unlikely name made me curious, but I decided to skip it since I'd already annoyed the man. “Okay, I’ll take a scoop of that and a cup of Black Raspberry ice.”
“Did you read the sign?”
Another sign? Hmm...They were out of Black Raspberry. Popular place. Must be the service, I thought.
Despite this rough beginning, Uncle Bob and I grew to have a good rapport over my many visits to Uncle Bob’s 40 Heavenly Flavors in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The ice cream was good, but the ice was perfect. I’d usually order both…and then go back for seconds on ice. Out of 40 flavors, my favorites were the classics: orange and cherry. I would savor my treats under a shady tree on the benches in the back, enjoying the cool break from my AC-deficient Toyota van, facing a calming field of green. Yes, everything about the Uncle Bob's experience made the trip worth it, even the man, whose gruff impatience with oblivious customers somehow made him appealing. Perhaps it was because he looked and sounded like kin to Tony Soprano, but spent his days selling frozen treats that came in every color of the rainbow.
“Don’t get the blue,” Uncle Bob mentored.
Obediently, I consented, “Okay.”
“We have black raspberry, red raspberry and blue raspberry. All my flavors are good except for the blue. Don’t get the blue.”
My puzzled look prompted him to continue.
“Kids love blue. They don’t even know what flavor they’re ordering. Their parents say, ‘Whaddaya want?’ They say, ‘I want the blue.’”
When he started sharing nuggets of wisdom like this with each visit, I figured I was on Uncle Bob's good side and could ask him for a dinner recommendation nearby. Expecting a concise answer, I instead got detail upon detail. As he directed me across the border into Connecticut, Uncle Bob alternated between closing his eyes to concentrate and staring me straight in the face to make sure I was getting it all. I paid close attention. While he seemed eager to help, I really didn't want to have to ask him to repeat himself. He continued until he had told me some of the restaurant's history and the name of the waitress who worked there on weekends. He didn’t seem to mind (or notice) that his lengthy recommendation was holding up the line. (You know, for the business he ran.) That was Bob for ya.
Internet research leads me to believe Uncle Bob's 40 Heavenly Flavors is no longer in business. I found a few websites that mentioned it and they all list the same number that's no longer in service. Uncle Bob, wherever you are, know that I still think of your Italian ice, your oddly-named ice cream and your east coast hospitality seven years later.