Delightful Soft Serve at Tom’s Dairy Freeze

Tom's Dairy FreezeLocation: 630 The Queensway, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.tomsdairyfreeze.ca/

If you’re looking for soft serve ice cream in Toronto, you can’t go wrong with Tom’s.  It’s been a summertime institution since 1969 and, shockingly enough, still sells some of the best soft serve in the city.

In a city where so many old-school restaurants skate by on nostalgia alone (I’m thinking of vintage burger joints like Johnny’s and Apache), I tend to approach years-old restaurants with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Toronto’s food scene has improved astronomically over the decades, and a place like Johnny’s (which routinely used to top “best burger in the city” lists despite serving awful pre-fab junk) is a palpable reminder of how far we’ve come.

Tom's Dairy Freeze

Tom’s Dairy Freeze, however, is a delightful exception to this rule; the soft serve here is top-shelf stuff.

On this particular visit I went simple with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate dip.  The dip is nothing special, but the ice cream is phenomenal.  It’s rich, creamy, and has a really satisfying vanilla flavour.  Anyone who wants to sell soft serve in the city should be forced to come here and take notes.

Quality Soft Serve at Hollywood Cone

Hollywood ConeLocation: 1167 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://hollywoodcone.com/

Hollywood Cone is basically a superior version of Sweet Jesus — they have a similar selection of social-media-friendly cones, along with other Instagram-bait creations like elaborate milkshakes topped with entire doughnuts or slices of pie.

The quality of the ice cream itself is a solid upgrade over Sweet Jesus.  And yet the place seems to be struggling to attract customers — go figure.  On this particular day, I was actually intending to get a scoop from Bang Bang, but the line-up was intense, even by their standards.   Meanwhile, Hollywood Cone (which is just a few blocks away) was a ghost town.

Hollywood Cone

I ordered the Salted Caramel Skor (well, technically I ordered something else and they gave me the wrong thing — but I couldn’t be bothered to correct them), which comes topped with Skor bits, salted caramel sauce, and a chocolate drizzle.

It’s not bad at all.  The sauces were middle-of-the-road, but the real attraction here is the ice cream.  It’s super creamy and rich, and it lacks the artificial sweetness that you find in lesser soft serve.  It’s really, really good.

Hollywood Cone

Like at Sweet Jesus, their creations are designed to be Instagram-friendly cones instead of the sundaes they’re clearly meant to be, so the toppings run out pretty quickly.  But unlike at Sweet Jesus, the quality of the ice cream is so good that you don’t particularly mind.

It’s odd that the place isn’t doing better than it is, though the aforementioned service issues don’t help, nor does the fact that the place is weirdly dirty and dark, with an atmosphere that feels more like a dive bar than an ice cream shop.

Interesting Soft Serve at Milkcow Cafe

Milkcow CafeLocation: 2651 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://milkcowcafe.ca/

Milkcow Cafe is a South Korean soft serve chain — a concept which, thanks to Kiss the Tiramisu, now fills me with horror.  I actually have a great deal of fondness for South Korea, but the ice cream at Kiss the Tiramisu was so profoundly awful that it made me lose a little bit of respect for the whole country.  Just the absolute worst.

Milkcow Cafe

Thankfully, Milkcow Cafe is quite good.  They have a variety of ice cream creations, all featuring a base of their “organic milk soft serve.”  I went with the Milky Cube, which is drizzled with honey and topped with a big chunk of honeycomb.

Milkcow Cafe

They’re not kidding around with the milk thing — the ice cream is really unique, with a subtle sweetness and a pronounced milky flavour.  It actually tastes like drinking a glass of milk, but in ice cream form.  There’s no vanilla flavouring to get in the way; just pure milky goodness.  It could have been creamier, and the texture was vaguely icy, but for the most part it was quite satisfying.

The honey had a nicely floral flavour and added a good punch of sweetness, but honestly, the ice cream itself was so interesting I would have been okay eating it on its own.

French Creme Brulee McFlurry at McDonald’s

McDonald'sLocation195 North Queen Street, Etobicoke
Websitehttps://www.mcdonalds.ca

The world tour (via McDonald’s) continues!  And after the sub-par Chinese Szechuan Burger, this one’s actually not bad.

McDonald’s attempt at French cuisine is the Creme Brulee McFlurry: vanilla soft serve  with caramelized sugar bits and “Crème Brûlée sauce” mixed in.

I guess ice cream is harder to mess up than a hamburger (or I have a higher tolerance for mediocre ice cream), because I enjoyed this.

There’s no custard flavour here — the sauce and the caramelized sugar bits are both trying to replicate the crispy shell of a creme brulee rather than the entire dessert.  But it’s tasty enough for what it is; the sugar retains its texture even when mixed into the ice cream, and the sauce has a surprisingly rich, almost burnt caramel flavour.  The whole thing is too sweet and the ice cream isn’t the best, but it’s not bad.

Instagram-Friendly Ice Cream at Sweet Jesus

Sweet JesusLocation: 106 John Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sweetjesus4life.com/

I don’t think there’s a more blatant case of an Instagram-famous restaurant than Sweet Jesus.  They serve up concoctions that are so finely-honed to be drooled over on social media that actually eating them almost feels like an afterthought.

They mainly serve very elaborately topped cones that are impossible to eat without making a huge mess; but then, what do they care?  Again: actually eating them is secondary to the likes that they’ll accrue online.

Thankfully, they eventually acquiesced to common sense and offered the option of a cup instead of a cone, which is slightly less photogenic, but much more reasonable to eat.

I got the Sweet Baby Jesus, which is supposed to come with caramel soft serve (I’m pretty positive it was actually vanilla) topped with peanut butter caramel sauce, chocolate peanut crumble, and chocolate sauce.

Sweet Jesus

I should note that I actually like Sweet Jesus.  I’ve been there a bunch of times, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back a bunch of times.  But it could be so much better.

The biggest issue is the soft serve itself.  It’s fine; it’s basically on par with what they serve at ice cream trucks.  I like the stuff, but it’s not exactly high quality ice cream.

And because they insist on making these things as cones instead of the sundaes they should obviously be (for no reason other than that the elaborate cones look better on Instagram), the ratio of sauce/toppings to ice cream is way off.  This would be fine if they were using better quality ice cream, but they’re not.  Which means that the big pile of ice cream you’re left with after the toppings have been eaten feels kinda useless.

As for the Sweet Baby Jesus, it was tasty enough.  Peanut butter and chocolate is a surefire combo, and yeah, it works here.  But both of the problems I mentioned above are definitely present.