Nelson's Ice Cream is a local institution. Opened in 1923, the original humble, ramshackle scoop shop in Stillwater earned legions of fans thanks to its ungodly portions of velveteen Cedar Crest and Kemps ice creams (Cedar Crest is made just north of the Twin Cities in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and Kemps is a Twin Cities company).
After 91 years in business, the purveyors of all things grandiose have opened a second location in the former Palumbo's Pizzeria in St. Paul. Not surprisingly, the Mac-Groveland neighborhood is quite taken with this new arrival.
The Snelling Avenue digs put a modern twist on the idealized ice cream shops of yore, as does the price to portion ratio. Crowds overrun the shop's confines, so it's easy to see why most customers migrate to the sizable patio that abuts the shop's front entry, even if seating is available in the cheery red dining room.
We tried two child-sized cones ($3.50/$4.50 with a waffle cone). The first was a combo of Coconut Joy and Butter Pecan. The former is the star of Cedar Crest's endless flavor factory, and tastes like Almond Joy in ice cream form while the latter was high on the butterfat, but low on smoky pecan sweetness, which would've toned down its richness. While the waffle cone was formidable, it's no challenge to Izzy's, which arguably makes the best in town.
The second serving featured Strawberry and Toasted Almond Fudge ice cream. Unlike many strawberry ice creams, Nelson's wasn't overly sweet, which showcased the luscious fruit. The Toasted Almond Fudge was delicious in the way that every chocolate ice cream inherently is. Though other flavors at Nelson's warrant more attention, this is the way to go if you're a chocolate junkie.
If you thought Nelson's portions couldn't get any bigger, think again. Competitive eaters and unapologetic gluttons can take a swing at the Lumberjack ($10), a five-scoop, three-topping monstrosity. Finishing the whole sundae merits a Polaroid on Nelson's wall-of-fame.
Though Cedar Crest and Kemps are readily available in select supermarkets, they seem to taste better at Nelson's -- in part because of the nostalgia of walking into a scoop shop and ordering an unadulterated, all-American ice cream cone. This shop has a winning formula that could make Nelson's a neighborhood mainstay for another 91 years.