I didn't grow up with the 1.5 siblings or the white picket fence, but do I like to think I still got a nice, fat cookie-cutter slice of the American dream. You know, the kind that comes lumbering down the street to a tinkling music box tune, trailing a gaggle of giggling, carefree kids. Ice cream trucks, despite their urban ubiquity, always struck me as profoundly suburban, as though they'd slipped unwittingly from the tree-lined, sun-dappled streets of Pleasantville into the exhaust-clouded gutters of downtown Manhattan.
Perhaps it was the 1950s logo or the fuzzy, gramophone quality of the music, but gazing up through that plexiglass window, hopping eagerly from foot to foot, I felt one with the Jimmys and Janes of the world. Together, straddling our distant universes for one climatic moment, we'd wrap sweaty hands around wafer cones and dive face-first into our chocolate-vanilla swirls, shedding a flurry of rainbow sprinkles at our feet. It was, in a word, good.
"ice cream trucks are basically severely underutilized mobile sundae stations"
But what if Mister Softee could be more than that? What if Mister Softee could be amazing? What if we all took a collective breath and realized that at the end of the day, ice cream trucks are basically severely underutilized mobile sundae stations? A Dr. Seussian explosion of genius is what. I'm talking sprinkle-packed cones, double-dipped swirls, milkshakes with real banana, and the biggest tower of soft serve your greedy eyes have ever beheld.
Yup. That's twice as much ice cream as your standard cone, and it's child's play.
Are all Mister Softee trucks driving around with hidden copies of an exclusive second menu, printed within the musty bowels of their secret society mausoleum? No. (Maybe?) But they are basically treasure troves on wheels. Where you can buy whatever treasure you please for pretty damn cheap. While prices vary from truck to truck, our Mister Softee hacks cost us, on average, $1-$2 more than a comparable menu item. What I'm trying to say is that the primary limit to our so-called "secret menu" isn't your wallet, it's your imagination. And, you know, the available ingredients. Let's take stock:
- Soft Serve Bases: Chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla swirl. Plus strawberry syrup for milkshakes.
- Frozen Bases: Popsicles galore, ice cream sandwiches, choco tacos (don't mess with these...they're already perfect), and assorted cartoon character busts.
- Vessels: Waffle cones, wafer cones, the double cone, and, of course, cups.
- Solid toppings: Rainbow and chocolate sprinkles, nuts, crunchies (more on these shortly), banana, and syrupy chunks of canned: pineapple, strawberry, and cherry.
- Liquid toppings: Chocolate magic shell, cherry magic shell, butterscotch, and fudge.
Now it's time to mix-and-match! We visited trucks around New York City and asked their operators to fulfill our wildest what ifs and couldyas. But before we showcase our creations, a few words on courtesy.
With the information we're about to unleash, you may be tempted to go mad with your newfound power. Don't be an asshole. Show your ice cream truck operator some gratitude and respect. Ask for your crazy awesome ice cream hack with a smile and consider offering a tip—if you do it for your coffee, you can muster one for ice cream, too. We tried out our unorthodox requests at a few different trucks and encountered nothing but friendly acquiescence, but we can't guarantee you won't be shot down, especially if they're coping with an extra-long line. But assuming that all goes smoothly, what comes next is a mere glimpse into the realm of soft-serve possibility.
The Popsicle Dip
What we have here is a coconut popsicle—one of these guys—dipped in chocolate magic shell. We had to talk a rather skeptical operator into this particular feat, but the look of self-congratulatory surprise on his face when it came out of the dip looking so damn fine was kind of the best part. It's one helluva game changer. Try this trick with your popsicle and magic shell flavor of choice—I'm thinking Turbo Rockets in cherry shell or Creamsicles in chocolate. But wait! You can also...
Take your ice cream sandwich from ho-hum to fucking incredible with a quick dip in chocolate and a roll in peanuts. Between the snappy shell and the crunchy nuts, it was virtually unrecognizable. I'm talking restaurant-quality delicious.
Dip 'n' Roll
Yes, you can also do this to your regular old soft serve. Pictured above, we have chocolate-vanilla swirl, dipped in chocolate, and covered in rainbow sprinkles. But feel free to change it up with whatever liquid and solid toppings pairing your heart desires!
The Double Dip
For lovers of cherry magic shell only! I tend to find the stuff overly sweet and somewhat medicinal; what matters here, though, is that it's possible. IT'S ALL POSSIBLE [laughs maniacally].
The Secret Surprise
Why limit yourself to just one coating of chocolate and sprinkles when you can have two?!? We asked to have the inside of the cone coated in chocolate dip and sprinkles before the ice cream was added. Here's what happens when you get to the bottom:
Not bad, amiright? This would also be great with nuts, crunchies, or one of the fruit-based sundae toppings.
This is Carlos. Carlos is a soft-serve artist. Not only was he the most willing and enthusiastic participant in our Frankensteinian expedition, but he came up with a brilliant hack of his very own. Perhaps you've heard of The Merlin, an old-school, off-menu Mister Softee item featuring a partially dipped cone with a ring of sprinkles at its the base? Well, Merlin's hanging his head in shame right now.
Behold The Carlos:
Chocolate ice cream dipped in crunchies—themselves a top-secret (read: off-menu) topping of crunchy chocolate cookie bits—further topped in vanilla ice cream, partially dipped in chocolate. Like I said, Carlos really got the spirit of this experiment. New Yorkers can find him at Union Square West all summer long.
Shake it Up
Fun with toppings is all well and good, but what about the shakes? Typically on the loose, watery side, Mister Softee's shakes have never really captured my attention. If you're in the same boat, get this: you can ask for a thicker shake. They'll do it! But that's not all.
We asked to have a banana (typically used in the banana split) blended into our vanilla shake. The result was a rich, creamy, fresh-tasting shake that may be my new go-to order. It's even better with some whole slices added to the mix. You could add strawberry syrup or a fruit topping to the cup, or even amplify the flavor of your chocolate shake with a pour of sundae fudge.
Presumably you're already out the door. Just don't forget to let us know what fantastical ice cream truck hacks you come up with!
Make it Yourself
No ice cream truck? More of a craftsperson? Hack away at home, you lucky bastard:
- Novelty Ice Cream Week: How to Beat Mister Softee at His Own Soft-Serve Game
- How to Make Mr. Softee-Style Soft Serve
- How to Make Your Own Chocolate Dip (aka Magic Shell), Ice Cream's Most Magical Topping
- How to Make Your Own King Cones
- How to Make Your Own Klondike Bars