Whether you’re a neighborhood kid chasing down a truck playing “Turkey in the Straw,” a pair of teenage sweethearts sharing a chocolate shake, or just a grown-up getting ready to binge some Ben & Jerry’s over reruns of The Office, nothing is more quintessential to summer than ice cream. Cincinnatians have their fair share of classic spots to grab hard ice cream year-round, but we’re certainly no strangers to a good ol’ dairy bar soft serve. There’s a special magic about only being able to get those twist cones in certain summer months.
To honor the city and the season, three CityBeat interns set out on a mission in search of the best soft serve, fending off brain freeze as the dairy dessert made its way into their hearts (and hair.)
A total of five cones was about the limit for one day’s soft serve intake, so while they couldn’t get to every creamy whip in Queen City, consider this a jumping off point for your next ice cream run. Just make sure to catch those drips as they melt down your cone.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; 4050 Drew Ave., Westwood, zip-dip.com
Zip Dip literally shines like a beacon of light through the dark — the iconic neon lightning bolt adorning the roof is unmistakable. It was added to the building in 1951 and has been guiding customers through summer heat waves to ice cream salvation ever since.
The walk-up ice creamy whip was built in 1950 by Charlie Metzger, himself a resident of Westwood’s Drew Avenue, and first leased out to two teachers at Colerain High School. It was then owned by two different couples before going up for sale in 1987 when the current owners took charge. Now it belongs to Chris Torbeck and his wife Sue, the fourth owners tasked with keeping a West Side mainstay alive.
“We’re very old school,” says Chris. “Nothing here has changed. Any of the kids that worked for me 25 years ago could walk in right now and not miss a beat.”
As with all good Cincinnati traditions, coming to Zip Dip is a family thing.
“We’ve had a 60th wedding anniversary party here, because this is where mom and dad took their first date. We’ve had a wedding party that stopped here on the way to the church. And every year we normally get one or two groups of families that come after a funeral because this is where grandma or grandpa — usually grandpa — brought ‘em all the time,” Chris says. “We all toast him with a cone.”
Family values rings true for its staff, too. Chris has been in the game long enough that some of his newer employees are the daughters of kids who worked for him way back when.
If there’s one thing Chris’ ice cream crew can learn from him, it’s that a cone of soft serve can make anyone’s day.
“My job makes people smile, all day, every day,” he says. “Little kids run at me with money and a smile on their faces. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Must Try: Everyone loves a classic. The top seller here is a basic small cone with a twist. But scrap the whole chocolate and vanilla idea. Zip Dip serves an orange and vanilla twist that will make you forget you ever wanted anything else. If you’re looking for more, Zip Dip has a whole heap of ice cream selections from chipwiches to sugar-free yogurt to banana boat parfaits. Those who prefer to drink their ice cream should skip the shakes and opt for a malt instead — Chris recommends the hot fudge flavor.
Putz’s Creamy Whip
10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; 2673 Putz Place, Mt. Airy, putzscreamywhip.com
Putz’s Creamy Whip has been in the family since the day Constantine and Anna Putz opened their first trolley car walk-up ice cream window in 1938. The Putz as we know it — now in a square concrete structure just down the hill from Mt. Airy Forest — is a scoop of summer nostalgia served with a smile. Not much about this place has changed over the past several decades.
Of the current generation, Putz descendant Mindy Borgman has been cranking out cones at the creamy whip for the last 17 years — all on the same Electro-Freeze machine. “It was made in the ’50s and it’s still running,” she says. “That’s what we’re most famous for and everything made with that — from shakes to cyclones and everything in between.” Another tradition? Putz’s is cash-only.
Must Try: Despite the hoopla about the vintage ice cream machine and vanilla soft serve, the pineapple sherbet is a must. It is creamy like soft serve and tangy like, well, pineapple. Sit down and enjoy five minutes of tropical paradise in the sweltering southern Ohio summer and pretend that the cars passing on I-74 are ocean noises. “Face cones” are also a hot commodity at Putz’s. The soft-serve cones are adorned with Necco wafer ears and mysteriously crunchy candy googly eyes.
Mount Healthy Dairy Bar
11 a.m-9:30 p.m. daily; 7840 Hamilton Ave., Mt. Healthy, facebook.com/MHDB98
As far as penny-pinching goes, this ice cream shop offers the most bang for your buck. Mount Healthy Dairy Bar has been serving leaning towers of soft serve for more than 60 years. The current owners bought the dairy bar in the late 1990s and trust their daughter, Caitlyn Brisker, to hold down the fort. She serves the cones and bakes the chocolate cake that is integral to one of their most popular treats, the hot fudge cake sundae, on a daily basis.
“We have people who get hot fudge flurries, shakes — basically, if you can think it, we can do it,” she says of utilizing the cake.
If you’ve got a monstrous appetite and love a good challenge, they also have a monster sundae that jams three large servings of ice cream, three sundae toppings, four brownie and two bananas into a ginormous bowl for $8.60. Does a better bargain exist?
Must Try: While they famously serve two-pound monster cones for dirt cheap, their rotating sherbet flavors are to die for. They offer a farmers market variety of flavors throughout the summer: Wild Mountain Blackberry, Bold Black Cherry, Lucky Lime and Perfect Pineapple to name a few. The Bold Black Cherry tastes uncannily like a cherry Starburst. If you don’t catch the flavor you’ve been jonesing for, no worries — they run through their sherbet stock several times during the season so second chances are almost guaranteed.
Gold Top Dairy Bar
Noon-10 p.m. daily; 2810 Blue Rock Road, White Oak, goldtopdairybar.com
There is no illusion as to why this dairy barn is named Gold Top: It has a bright yellow-gold peaked roof. Although the history is a little vague, Gold Top has been a favorite of the White Oak area since it was built in 1968. In the late 1990s, Marilyn Tenhundfeld of The Goody Shop reestablished Gold Top and helped it become what it is today.
Jen Davis, Gold Top’s current owner, purchased it in 2003. For Davis — a business management grad from UC and former employee of Miami Township’s Angelo’s Creamy Whip — this was a dream come true. “I don’t know any other job where I get to work six months and then get six months off to be a mom so it’s a perfect job,” she says.
Davis says she also loves Gold Top for the people. Parents take their kids to her creamy whip to celebrate good grades or victories after sports games; families bring their furry campions; and young couples are often found sitting outside the creamy whip on a causal date. Davis says that she’s even seen a couple get engaged at Gold Top.
“Selling ice cream is secondary to what I am really selling,” she says. “I feel like I’m selling memories and traditions and I’m just doing that through ice cream.”
What to Try: Gold Top is known for its famous blue raspberry ice cream, which often is just described as tasting “blue,” but the flavor also has hints of raspberry and vanilla. Outside of soft serve, they also offer a wide assortment of customizable cakes, housemade chocolate-covered bananas, cookies, chipwhiches (picture a cookie ice cream sandwich) and more. However, Emily Bick, who has worked at Gold Top for the past three summers says, “People get flurries and that’s the thing most people get. You can get any candy inside of it with your favorite ice cream flavor.” Gold Top has something for pups, too: They make dogs treats in house with yogurt, peanut butter and bananas.
7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 626 Vine St., Downtown, facebook.com/sportspagecincinnati.
Unlike many of the other creamy whips in the city, Sports Page is a full-service downtown restaurant that’s been in business since 1977. They only added their soft-serve walk-up windown 10 years ago, but their signature flavor bursts and classic cones have become a summer favorite of the Central Business District set.
Established by Tary and Pete Paskal 41 years ago, their son, Kali, runs Sports Page today. As a family-run joint Kali is not alone in his business — he works alongside his siblings, including his little sister, Connie Chaney, who is the youngest of five and the only daughter.
“This has been my life; I’ve been doing this since I was 9,” Connie says, reminiscing about times in summer when her mom would bring her in to help bus tables. Sports Page has been a culmination of years of hard work and the family even owns another location on Main Street, but that one is sans ice cream.
Must Try: You can’t go wrong with a traditional vanilla and chocolate swirl on a cake cone, which they pile high for the fair price of two dollars, however Connie says that strawberry is a crowd favorite. When their twist machine us up and running, make sure to get a peanut butter flavor burst (a type of treat created by a machine that which adds a choice of flavor — peanut butter, blueberry or strawberry — to vanilla ice cream.) Or a flurry with M&Ms.