I need to tell you about the business that may just be my favorite soft serve ice cream joint on earth.
And please know that this statement does not come lightly, as I was born and raised by the Jersey Shore, a soft serve mecca if ever there was one.
But in the most unexpected place--Aztec, New Mexico, in a region called "Four Corners" given its proximity to the spot where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah all meet--there is a most magical ice cream spot called The Vanilla Moose.
Here's what you'll see as you drive up.
There are picnic tables leading up to the burger shack-style order window. You can drive through, too, but that's definitely not as much fun as walking up.
Soft serve is what's on the menu here, vanilla and chocolate, and it's done right. It's creamy and smooth, with none of the "ew"-y grainy texture that can characterize lesser varieties of soft serve (and like I said, I know). But if a plain ol' cone is too boring for you, that's ok, because they have a number of different ways to dress it up, as you'll see on the menu.
By the way, the menu boasts "spoiling dinners since 1983" and "as always, free doggie & baby cones". Seriously, don't you love them already?
There are floats, cones, shakes, and especially sundaes. Now, don't get me wrong, because we got a shake and it was most excellent--chocolate with almond syrup and almonds inside and on top of the shake, thankyouverymuch--
But. In my opinion, the true joy here is the sundaes. We sampled several, so I feel well qualified to tell you about it. They are served in several sizes, but I found the "junior" size to be just right. It's like a small ice cream, but when topped with a number of different textured and flavored additions and whipped cream and a cherry on top, it's the perfect amount.
Some highlights? The brownie sundae was a study in balance, with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream playing beautifully off of the chocolate-rich brownies (made by owner Pam) and the rich fudge sauce. When it slightly began to melt and all of the flavors came together...perfection. Good with nuts, too.
The peanut cluster sundae was ideal for this sweet-and-salty dessert lover. Creamy vanilla ice cream was coated with caramel and crunchy salty roasted peanuts, then (why not) it was all topped with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. It was just indulgent enough, and the saltiness made each bite completely tantalizing, making you want more sweet, and then the taste of sweet made you want more salty.
During a week-long stay in the area, we went four times. The owner, Pam, who took over the business from her mother, and her employee were both just stellar, dealing with simultaneous drive-through and walk-up customers with ease, speed, and friendliness. On a visit when there was no line, Pam came 'round the counter and sat with us and talked about New Mexico, spirituality, cross-country moves, and of course, her role as one who brings sweetness to many lives. She's a pretty cool lady. Tell her I said hi if you go.
And, speaking of which, yes, I do think you should go. Aztec is an interesting little town, with Native American ruins which are fascinating to tour, and it's just a stone's throw from uber-cute Durango, Colorado. It's worth a visit if you find yourself in that part of the world.
But please, make sure you visit The Vanilla Moose. I'll warn you, they're closing in about 2 weeks (a little before Halloween) for the season, but they'll be back in the spring, and the spring after that, and it's my sincere hope that they are there forever. Because we need places like this to make us pause from being so busy in our everyday lives, and savor some sweetness just for a few minutes.
OH! And remember how I told you they do free doggie cones? Guess who we brought on one of our visits...
Yeah, this happened. Porkchop loves The Vanilla Moose, too! Wonder what emotions he felt while eating his cone.
The Vanilla Moose, 1721 West Aztec Boulevard, Aztec NM 87401. On Facebook.