If a pub crawl is your kind of thing, you can find plenty of places around Central Ohio to walk and imbibe. But situated along 1.4 miles of Main Street in Hilliard is a quartet of establishments that enables sweet-toothed citizens of all ages to enjoy a frozen treat crawl.
Interested? Then cleanse your palate and come along as (614) treks a not-so-grueling route through an ice cream gauntlet.
Our trek begins at Whit’s Frozen Custard, located in a former barbershop just outside the Franklin County Fairgrounds. For the uninitiated, owner Judy Vitale explains that her product “is very different from ice cream. Custard is blended with a lot less air, so it’s silkier. It’s smoother.” Customers choose a base flavor of vanilla, chocolate or the current Weekly Flavor. Then they decide what they’d like from over three dozen ingredients (including nuts, candies and fruit) that can be added as toppings or mixed in with the custard. The indecisive can pick a suggested combination, such as the popular Buckeye Blast, a blend of Reese’s Cups, chocolate syrup and peanut butter. Shakes, floats and smoothies round out the menu along with a few sandwiches and hot dogs. Still not finding quite what you want? Whit’s will satisfy your craving. “Customers can come in here and custom-order any flavor” says Vitale. “They can get mint chocolate chip or strawberry or raspberry, any combination that they like.”
As we saunter out the door, it’s a pleasant, half-mile stroll through Old Hilliard before we arrive at our next stop, a family-owned Dairy Queen that is a local tradition. If ice cream shops could talk, this one would bear witness to over half a century of change, having gone into business when the expanding suburb’s population was only about a fifth of what it is today. During that time, this DQ has served the community as both a landmark and a gathering place. Sure, you can get your favorite Blizzard or munch on a Dilly Bar, but on any sunny afternoon you might see a gaggle of little leaguers wolfing down soft-serve cones on the front deck and engaging in the lighthearted pastime of encouraging passing motorists to honk their horns. Generations of teenagers have entered the workforce here, and countless classrooms of students have found it to be a rewarding field trip. That Dairy Queen is a Brazier location as well, but I hope you didn’t just indulge in a shredded chicken sandwich, because our next waist-expanding destination is less than 100 yards away.
In the very same space where both Dippin’ Dots and #froyo tried and failed, Diamonds Ice Cream has recently celebrated its first anniversary. The third time may be the charm for this site, now occupied by a business that boasts a bewildering variety of frozen treat options. Although they offer over 40 flavors of ice cream, it’s the paletas that make Diamonds unique. “We have 100 flavors, all natural,” says owner Agustin Leon of the rectangular treats also known as Mexican Popsicles, “and we make it here.” Paletas de leche are cream-based and come in varieties such as blackberry and cheese, corn, and vanilla with raisins. Customers seeking non-dairy options will be pleased with 40 flavors of the water-based paletas de agua, including cactus pear and watermelon chili, some of which feature suspended pieces of real fruit.
Leon enjoys the Hilliard community, and Diamonds has been embraced in return. He speaks proudly of accommodating a nearby school as they celebrated the last day of classes. “We served 700 kids in two days,” he smiles, pointing toward the wall at a trio of popsicle posters that the children signed and presented to him in thanks for the good service.
Now that we have some frozen goodness from three different places under our belts, it’s probably a good thing that our fourth and final stop is almost a mile down the road – we can use the walk! Located in a retail strip just beyond where Main Street becomes Hilliard-Rome Road, The Little Ice Cream Shoppe is the culmination of its owner’s fascination with small, independent ventures selling homemade ice cream.
“We just visit these little ice cream shops all over the country,” says Mark McDevitt of family vacations, “and in doing that, we only ever go to mom-and-pop places, something small and local where you can get a better feel for the neighborhood.” McDevitt has replicated the experience with a business now in its fifth year of operation, “a hometown, homemade ice cream shop” firmly rooted in the community. “We live here in Hilliard, and we get a lot of familiar faces. I think we’ve done a spirit night for every elementary school in town.”
The Little Ice Cream Shoppe always has two dozen varieties of homemade ice cream and sorbet on hand from its rotating menu of flavors. Milkshakes, sundaes and banana splits are also available. To keep things interesting, McDevitt adds special touches now and then, like a holiday-themed model train display or candle-lit table reservations for Valentine’s Day.
What’s that you say? You’ve had enough? Yeah, us too. But fear not – having fully satisfied our sweet teeth and then some, our frozen treat crawl has reached its indulgent conclusion. Now here’s hoping our waistlines can resist the ice cream hangover..