By Dan Verner
When the humidity hangs so thick in the summer air you could slice it with a knife and it’s hot enough that snakes are taking flying lessons, many Prince William residents and visitors alike start to, yes, scream for ice cream. (Don’t we all?) And they’ve found that one of the best and most enjoyable ways to beat the heat is with a cone or dish of soft serve ice cream. Fortunately, the county boasts of several places that offer not only ice cream, but also a chance to gather and greet others.
Tom Carvel, founder of the Carvel brand, “accidentally” invented soft serve ice cream in 1934 when his truck broke down and the ice cream inside began to melt. He took advantage of the mishap and sold the softened ice cream to passing vacationers. He sold his entire supply within two days and went on to build a store where his truck broke down. (For the record Dairy Queen claims to have invented soft serve in 1938.)
Kline’s Freeze on Route 28 north of Manassas, the sentimental favorite of many local residents, has been dishing out the cold stuff and other edibles for 51 years. Manager James Croushorn said, “People come and bring their children and grandchildren because they visited us when they were kids, and the ice cream is refreshing. It keeps people coming back.”
Long-time residents may also remember Kline’s Drive-In on Route 28 south of Manassas near the present-day Target. The Kline family owned that store as well, which for decades featured indoor seating and a wider choice of food and ice cream selections.
Swirlies Ice Cream on Pennsylvania Avenue in the City of Manassas is another popular choice for a cold treat on a hot day. “Customer service and our fresh, top-of- the-line products draw people to our shop,” Manager Bret Antenen said. “In addition, it’s a friendly gathering place.” Swirlies also hosts regular Car Cruise Ins on the Swirlies/Burger King parking lot, featuring classic cars that draw car buffs and others who just appreciate the fine lines and bright colors of these machines from a bygone era.
Soft serve from Campbells Frozen Custard in Woodbridge comes from a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, according to Tim Wise, who bought the store 10 years ago. “Our shop is family run, and we have a friendly staff, not to mention the fresh frozen custard that causes people to flock to the store.” One of the people who flocked to the store, Amanda Causey Baity of Manassas, said, “They are great people and their custard is delicious!”
Soft serve lovers sometimes wait in a lines for half an hour to sample the treats at Nathan’s Dairy Bar on Mathis Avenue in the city of Manassas. Owner David Hutton said, “It’s a good place for people to enjoy some of our creations. While they’re sitting at our tables, they can enjoy each other’s company as well.” In addition, Nathan’s can go mobile with Nate Jr., an ice cream bus emblazoned with the company’s signature cow logo. The bus is available for weddings, birthday parties, picnics and other special events. Leslie Reckner of Manassas noted that “Nathan’s also works to place animals in great homes and makes sure the elderly have free ice cream and a smile on their face when they visit them.” They support a number of other charities as well.
Of her shop, Baylor’s Soft Ice Cream in Dumfries, owner Penni Graves said, “We create a fun environment by playing pop music from the 70s, 80s, 90s and today, and having a grassy area where kids can run around and play. Our servers take care of our customers in a friendly and efficient manner.”
“We have a variety of choices on our menu, including toppings and flavors, and we take special orders,” Graves added. “Our customers say they feel like they’re not in Dumfries or even Virginia when they visit.”
All these shops open in early spring and stay open through late fall although Nathan’s is open a little longer, through the first Saturday in December, which is also the day of the annual Manassas Christmas Parade. Check with each shop for hours they’re open.
Baylor’s Soft Ice Cream 17986 Main Street in Dumfries 703-445-8887
Campbell’s Frozen Custard 4125 Merchant Plaza, Woodbridge 571-285-1711
Frostie Moose 2581 Milstead Way, Woodbridge 703-680-7777
Kline’s Freeze 8200 Centreville Rd., Manassas 703-368-2013
Nathan’s Dairy Bar 8948 Mathis Ave., Manassas 703-335-9051
Swirlie’s Ice Cream 9901 Pennsylvania Ave., Manassas 703-361-3830
Dan Verner (email@example.com) is the author of several books and was named “Best Writer in Prince William County (Virginia) for 2014 and 2015 by readers of Prince William Today newspaper. Find out more about him at danverner.com.