Food fight: Soft serve

By Allan I. Ross

It could have been the perfect summer day we had while partaking in this week’s Food Fight. It could have been the very nature of the battle itself — over soft serve ice cream. Or it could have been the good service we experienced at each establishment. Whatever the case, the ratings of the judging team — this time featuring an accountant, a marketing professional, a court reporter, a photographer and a writer — were mostly high and nearly identical across the board. This resulted in a near five-way tie for everything, except the clear winner and loser. Ranking was done on a scale of 1 to 5, with consideration given to cost per portion, taste, texture, service, atmosphere and “X-factor.”
Here’s the scoop:

Dairy Queen. 2.4 out of 5
Friendly staff aside, DQ didn’t get much loving from our judges. Sure, it’s a national chain and almost a proprietary eponym for soft serve ice cream, but we found virtually nothing distinguishing the product. The flavor was weak (“so aver age it hurts,” said one judge, “not worth the calories” said another), the frozen ice crystals made for an unpleasant texture, and the seating is at the far end of a long parking lot. And while some of the other establishments we went to were also situated on busy roads, the view here was by far the bleakest. The price, however, was noted as being the best per portion.

Dairy Queen, 3906 S. Cedar St., Lansing. (517) 882- 0611.

Culver’s. 3.8 out 5
Another national chain, Culver’s is known for its decadent ButterBurgers and daily rotating custard flavors. The day we went, it was blueberry cheesecake. At $2 for a “single scoop” (don’t ask), this was the most expensive cost per portion, but with custard, a little goes a long way. The rich egg flavor, combined with the real chunks of cheesecake, blueberries and graham cracker crust, made for a guilty pleasure with every bite. Bonus points were also given for the clean indoor eating area (one of only two on our trek).

Culver’s, 5140 Times Square Drive, Okemos. (517) 853-8714. www.culvers. com

Cool Cone. 3.9 out of 5
The lemon-vanilla twist was described as “smooth and velvety” and “strong but subtle.” However, one of our judges noted a “syrupy aftertaste that had an almost effervescent quality to it,” while another “couldn’t help but be reminded of Lemon Pledge.” Its proximity along South Cedar was a tad unnerving, as two cars drag raced past us at one point, but the cute tables made for a relatively pleasant experience.

Cool Cone, 2124 S. Cedar St., Lansing. (517) 485-8175.

Twisters Ice Cream. 4 out of 5
By far, this place had the coolest feature, which also had the most awesome name: the Flavor Burst! If you take a peek inside the window, you can see multi-colored tubes feeding more than a dozen different flavors directly into the soft serve tap handle. Name a flavor, and the syrup is injected directly into the ice cream as it comes out onto the cone. Alas, our server suggested we go with apple, which thrilled none of us. The best we could say was that the flavor was weak, but then again,
a powerful sour apple flavor may have been too much. Everyone agreed
the concept was sweet, so this will definitely be a place to revisit.
The building is a former Hot ‘N’ Now, which means Twisters is designed
for drive thru service: Cold ‘N’ Now — bonus! Also, the serving size
was very large, making it another great value cone.

Twisters. 327 W. Waverly Road, Lansing. (517) 321-2271.

Arctic Corner. 4.1 out of 5
from when I came here as a child,” noted one of our judges. Recently
re-opened under new management (and a new name), Arctic Corner joins
Golden Harvest and Preuss Pets as a required Old Town family activity. The
fact that the lemon soft serve is made in-house impressed our judges,
as did the owner’s pledge that all the ingredients on every menu item
are Michigan based. We went with a strawberry-lemon twist,
which one of our judges noted as “nice and milky.” However, a couple of
judges thought they tasted ice crystals, which is a sign that the ice
cream is being stored too cold. The picnic table along Grand River
Avenue made for a pleasant view of Old Town on a Sunday.

Arctic Corner, 314 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing.

Tasty Twist. 4.2 out of 5
they have butter-pecan flavored soft serve. Negative: it was mostly
underwhelming. The clean new parking lot and the pleasant sitting area
far back from the road made this the best of the outdoor patios we
tried. They even have a bike parking lot, with little lines drawn on
the asphalt. You can’t really do too much better as far as people
watching than East Lansing, which lent Tasty Twist a social hub-like
vibe. Get that butter pecan flavor a little more refined, and you’ll
have some new regulars.

Tasty Twist, 1307 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing. (517) 332-2677.

Cones and Bones. 4.9 out of 5
and Bones has all the combined charms of a well-maintained doggy day
care and a ‘50s malt shop. Split in two so owners Jim and Joan Byrnes
can legally serve dogs and their people, the establishment is bursting
with character. The dog side is dedicated to all things canine,
including non-frozen treats and booths, where dog owners can sit
side-by-side with their four-legged friends. Even if you don’t like
dogs, the trip to Cones and Bones is worth it for two words: homemade
custard. If you’ve never had frozen custard, this is where you should
go first. Some samples of the judges’ comments: “WOW.” “Absolutely amazing.” “Insanely smooth.”
“5 !” “Heavenly.” “If silk could be turned into a dairy product.” And
so on. The serving size was huge, and because the custard is made
in-house from all fresh ingredients (egg, sugar, cream, and….that’s
all) it’s actually cheaper than ice cream. OK, it smelled a little like
dog, but it was not off-putting, and it did not diminish this guilty
pleasure one bit.

Cones and Bones, 412 Elmwood, Lansing. (517) 321-1520.

of a great soft serve cone we missed? Got ideas for an upcoming Food
Fight? Want to join us on our next Food Fight? Email us at to tell us what we overlooked, should be looking for, or for a chance to join us on our quests.