Ice cream has an uncanny ability to transport one across the dimensions of space and time. A scoop of fresh gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato might whisk you away to Florence, while a taste of frozen custard at the Shake Shack may, ever so briefly, have you thinking you’ve landed in St. Louis. And then there are those places that work like time machines, taking you back instantly to a lost era. Jahn’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant in Richmond Hill, Queens, is one of those places. (Another, for the record, is Eddie’s Sweet Shop in nearby Forest Hills).
Jahn's Hillside Avenue location, which opened in 1923, is the last remaining branch of a small chain of ice cream parlors founded in the Bronx, at 138th Street and Alexander Avenue, by "Papa Jahn" in 1897. Step inside Jahn’s today and, save for some wear around the edges, the place looks nearly as it must have more than 80 years ago. Red booths and carved wood inhabit the darkened space, which feels more like a bar than any modern ice cream operation (or faux retro ice creamery for that matter). The room is illuminated only by amber sconces and stained glass fixtures advertising old-school soda brands like Moxie.
The menu is filled with original artwork and ephemera, including an egg cream how-to and this loving ode to "The Romance of Soda Water": Youth as it sips its first glass, experiences sensations which, like the first sensation of love cannot be forgotten, but are cherished to the last.
There are "Tummy Ticklers" -- sundaes small and large -- with titles and captions like "The Tree" ("This one grows in Jahn’s not in Brooklyn"), "A Shissel" ("If you can’t eat it – use it for washing"), and the "Brooklyn Kibbitzer" ("Shut up and eat"). The showstopper, of course, is "The Kitchen Sink," the shop's signature giant dessert. The mother of all sundaes serves eight for the sum of $42.65.
In an age when we are witnessing the some of New York's most indelible food institutions close up shop (R.I.P. 2nd Avenue Deli), Jahn’s soldiers on as the living ghost of New York's ice cream parlors past. The ice cream at Jahn's may not be the world's finest, but it's the sweetest way to travel back in time.
Jahn’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant, 117-03 Hillside Avenue, Richmond Hill, New York (718.847.2800).
For more information about the 2006 Independent Food Festival and Awards, visit tasteEverything. In 2005, The Food Section presented the award for Best Thing to Happen to Rice Since Sake to Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale.