Monday, July 28, 2014

Ice Cream Chronicles (Pt. 6): The Velvet Funner-ground

Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I learned pretty early on that we're pretty good at jam-packing our itineraries when we go on trips. At times, this has led to some epic days. One day-long leg of an Oregon state trip we made a few years back covered 350 miles from Bend to Portland and back to Bend (via Salem, the state's capital.) Oh yeah, did I mention we stopped by Voodoo Donuts in downtown Portland, a brewpub in Tigard for dinner to meet up with my spouse's uncle, and sneaked in eight miles of hiking on a rainy Mount Hood to see the absolutely gorgeous Ramona Falls?

Even if future trips don't match the epic nature of that trip (thank goodness!), we've always hunted for things to do along the way for our excursions together. On a recent trip into the Cleveland area for various family and friend meetups, my spouse had suggested taking the scenic route through Holmes County to get at least a glance of this state's biggest Amish area. I was all up for that, but since we weren't going to actually stop for any significant time there (we'll save that for a later trip) we searched something else both along the way that could be a fairly quick stop.

I noticed Utica as one of the cities and that proverbial light bulb went off in my head. "Hey, dear, isn't Velvet Ice Cream up somewhere near Utica?" Sure enough, it was, and being somewhat of a last-minute get, we just simply noted their address to plug into our mobile phone GPS and had no clue about what to expect.

Evoking the past with Ye Olde Mill
As it turned out, Velvet Ice Cream's location in Utica is a blend of entertainment and history topped off by, what else, ice cream. This blend appeals to thousands of adult and children visitors yearly, and reminded me a bit of what visitors get when visiting the Jelly Belly Factory in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, we ended up picking a momentous time for our first visit, as we got the pomp and circumstance of the 100th annversary celebration (the company was founded by Joseph Dager, a Lebanese immigrant, in 1914.)

The company, which is now run by the fourth generation of the Dager family, bought the Ye Olde Mill property in 1960. After a fire hit the third construct of the mill in 1986, Velvet found it could not salvage that building and rebuilt the structure to what visitors to the site see today.

Several exhibits can be found on the property. In the middle of the parking lot, a barn-like structure holds the Viewing Gallery, with benched seating (for what I imagine are more formal organized tour groups,) a television playing pre-recorded snippets of the company's history and various company-oriented product exhibits. When we dropped by, a table with what looked to be home-baked goods was set up next to the building manned by Amish vendors.

Everything you wanted to know about the company, catered to all ages
Elsewhere, the Ye Olde Mill Museum has a Buckeye tree grove surrounded by a grassy area and small pond for people, allowing weary adults to sit back and let their children run around and burn off some calories. In addition, various ice cream manufacturing artifacts and equipment from the historic mill can be found throughout the property both inside and outside the main building. A collection of mill equipment can be found also in the Milling Museum space nearby the milling wheel. The building section closest to the main road are Velvet's production facilities, where one can grab a glance at some of the modern equipment used to produce ice cream behind windows (tours are offered but availability by day varies; please call ahead to inquire.) Numerous factoids and other information are found at each station, so it's worth it to slow down and take a read to digest it all.

The production facility, plus a couple of company informational postings
The culinary center of Velvet's complex is the ice cream parlor, which essentially shares the same space as the facility's Wheel Room Restaurant. The latter offers a select menu of soups, salads and sandwiches at what seem to be reasonable prices (nothing over $9) plus the whole gamut of ice cream and related novelties from its parlor. As for us, though, there was only one thing on our mind: the ice cream and choosing from the more than 40 flavors available.

Numerous flavors; PLENTY of ice cream
As we did not know Velvet's history too well, we were nicely surprised by the more unique flavors mixed in with the classics. With that in mind, my spouse went with the Honey Caramel and I went for a two scoop bowl of their Peach Cobbler and a variation of what's become a standard for me on these sampling, their Southern Butter Pecan, which is most likely their Bourbon Pecan under a different name.

Perhaps we had gone in with a little bit of prejudice that since this was more of a mass-marketed brand of ice cream, they could not be as good as some of the smaller gourmet ice cream producers that we have encountered. In terms of this visit, we got our money's worth both in terms of quantity (yes, that is their "two scoops") and the ice cream holds it own in terms of quality. Their bourbon-laced take on butter pecan was probably the our favorite out of our sampled three flavors.

But then again, perhaps this quote we found prominently displayed on the Viewing Gallery building speaks to the fact that we shouldn't have been surprised at all.


Velvet Ice Cream is pretty darn good, and it is better than a few others that I've tried. I'd probably add a corollary to this quote as well: figuring out which ice cream is better than others is about as good as it gets.

Velvet Ice Cream
Ye Olde Mill
11324 Mt Vernon Rd
Utica, OH 43080
(740) 892-3921
Website

Velvet Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

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