BENNINGTON, Vt. -- All across America, dairy bars are a timeless summertime tradition that bring together all the best feelings of the season, from the sunny, comfortable weather to childhood memories of summers off from school. Everyone's a teenager when they're at their favorite dairy bar -- the stresses of daily life briefly melt away, bad moods are cured and, most importantly, the calories don't count.
The dairy bars of Southern Vermont remain some of the longest-running businesses in the area, allowing local residents to keep their warm weather traditions alive summer after summer. After dinner or in the afternoons, local favorites like Tastee Freez and Billy T's Northside Dairy Bar in Bennington, are crowded with families, Little League baseball teams and all varieties of ice cream lovers waiting for their cones, sundaes, shakes, burgers and fries. Dairy bars become the center of the community during the summer months, and they represent everything we look forward to throughout the region's frozen winters.
Now open for its 53rd season in downtown Bennington, Tastee Freez has become a treasured piece of local culture over the years and its loyal customers have kept the roadside ice cream and burger stand busy since 1961.
Still in it's original location at 344 North St., across from the Vermont Veterans' Home and the Veterans' Home Deer Park, Tastee Freez has outlasted the railroad line that once ran right behind the building.
Owner Lisa Rogers said their soft-serve ice cream machine uses a vanilla base and an array of flavor extracts to create the 35 flavors posted, and the ability to combine flavors gives them a nearly unlimited selection of different soft-serve tastes. Tastee Freez also serves milkshakes, including the Vermont Shake with local maple syrup, and its hand-cut French fries were named best in the area by Banner readers in the 2014 Reader's Choice awards.
"Generations have come through here," Rogers said, and each generation has left their mark on the business. Sitting at the red picnic tables surrounded by the array of vintage and modern food advertisements in the windows gives Tastee Freez customers that unmistakable feeling of summer warmth, with The Drifters' summertime pop classic "Under The Boardwalk" coming from the outdoor speakers.
Across town, Billy T's Northside Dairy Bar, 217 Northside Drive has a different feel, with its painted outdoor furniture, shady eating area and vast variety of interesting new menu options (along with the standard favorites).
Billy T's is now celebrating its 20-year anniversary. Billy Thomson opened the business in 1994 and has since passed it on to his daughter, Brooke Thomson Drew, keeping the business family owned and operated. Northside offers several flavors of soft-serve, as well as 35 flavors of hard ice cream, including toasted coconut, peanut butter caramel cookie dough, and sweet and salty chocolate pretzel. It is also well-known for its locally themed sundaes, like The Battle of Bennington, which pairs any flavor ice cream with cheesecake chunks, strawberry sauce and chocolate sauce. The food menu also includes interesting options, such as chicken cordon bleu bites, fried pickles, black bean burgers and lobster rolls.
"This is always my go-to place," said Emily Bird, a longtime regular customer at Northside, who now works at the dairy bar during the summer.
Beyond Bennington, there are also much-loved dairy bars north of town along Route 7A and to the east along Route 9, including Snow's Arlington Dairy Bar in Arlington and Wahoo's Eatery in Wilmington. With its roadside food stand painted red and styled like a classic New England barn, Snow's is a favorite stop for locals and travelers along Route 7A. With it's classic menu and rural setting, a meal at Snow's becomes it's own mini-summer vacation.
Located on the eastern edge of Wilmington on the edge of Beaver Brook, Wahoo's complements its selection of hard ice cream flavors with fruit smoothies and a handful of non-dairy fruit sorbets.
No matter where you are, what your favorite ice cream flavor is or whether you prefer rainbow or chocolate sprinkles, dairy bar season is one of the best times of the year -- and we're right in the middle of it. Be sure to check out some of these favorite Vermont spots soon though. The leaves will be changing and dairy bars will be closing for the season in a few short weeks.