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Giffords Ice Cream and Candies


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Discussion on the Polonez thread has sparked my memories about Gifford's Ice Cream and Candies.

Gifford's started out in Sliver Spring in the late 1930s and opened right on Wisconsin in Bethesda (may not have been their original Beth. location) shortly thereafter.  Both locations closed in, gosh, the mid-80's, maybe.  

These were both classic ice cream parlors.  I remember the Bethesda one best:  huge glass windows and the old-fashioned soda fountains.  Those in the know entered by the side door which was closer to the counter.  They had wrought iron furniture with marble tops at the Silver Spring shop, even then probably to simulate an old-timey parlor feel.  They had racks of glasses next to a water fountain with a long spout, you'd take a glass from the rack to drink water from the fountain.  

No occasion was complete without Giffords for dessert; Thanksgiving, Birthdays, Christmas.  The best of all were summer evenings when it was still light out after Dad got home from work and we'd had dinner.  Often it would be the good humor truck ringing its bells that would cause someone to say "Gifford's?"  That was all it would take to get everyone outside into the evening air filled with the sound of cicadas and into the car for the quick trip to ice cream heaven.    

Thanksgiving always had O'Donnell's turtle soup (served with a splash of sherry) to start and pumpkin pie with Giffords for dessert.  

A digression on O'Donnell's turtle soup.

My grandfather ordered it for Thanksgiving every year for decades.  Eventually, they removed it from the menu.  Sometime during that span I remember being given the task to order it one year and being told that they didn't have it anymore.  I then heard a voice saying "Wait!" in the background.  Someone older got on the phone and asked to whom they were speaking.  When I identified myself, he said they would have our family's soup ready for me when I went to pick it up.  I never knew if it was just that this person (the chef? the manager?) knew my grandfather's name or whether there were other Washignton families for whom O'Donnell's snapper soup was a tradition and it was something they made off-menu.    

O'Donnell's Seafood Restaurant was never a great eatery by any means, but it was kind of an institution with two Washington locations that closed, a later Bethesda location that eventually closed, and, I'm told, a new location out in Gaithersburg - all run by the same family over three generations.  Our family tradition changed somewhat with the passing of my grandfather, I wonder if they still have the old recipe for turtle soup - if they do, and if I was still in the area, I'd cheerfully return their loyalty by driving to Gaithersburg for it.  In fact, next Thanksgiving, I think I'll find out.

End of digression, back to Giffords

The classic Giffords ice cream flavors were Chocolate Chip, Coffee, White House Cherry Vanilla, Butter Pecan, and Swiss Chocolate.  There were the other usual suspects, and some unique ones, including one with almonds, but those are the ones that I remember best.  Three scoop banana splits with the works were a house specialty - served in heavy glass dishes.  They had lots of candies, but the caramels are what I remember.  The caramels were large (two bites or more) soft and chewy at the same time.  Some had nuts in them, some were chocolate.  They came wrapped in yellow wax paper twisted at the ends.  These were regular components in Christmas stockings (along with Hannukah gelt for some odd reason my mother never really explained - I suspect it was because she bought it one year on a whim while at Wagshall's Deli without knowing the Jewish implications, and it just stuck).  

I remember going with the family for a final visit to the Bethesda Giffords before it closed.  I had my favorite, swiss chocolate.  Dad had a banana split and a long face.  I remember him saying remember how this tastes because you won't have anything like it again.  

How great when the revived location opened in that awful parking lot location.  It was not the same as a destination - it never felt like a place you wanted to while away an hour eating ice cream, drinking water, laughing away a summer evening, and then going back to the counter to buy candies for later.  The ice cream, however, was still great.  Handpacked pints and quarts have once again become a staple for family occasions.  Swiss chocolate, that unique, creamy, very delicate chocolate flavor that I thought I'd never taste again is once again more than just a sense memory.  

I hope the new location will revive Giffords as a destination and revive the caramels.  Those old ice cream recipes are great, Gifford's has always credited its high butterfat content.  The handmade quality seems to still be there.

Another great institution was the University Pastry Shop on Wisconsin and Macomb, two doors down from the old Zebra Room pizza joint / bar, and next to a flower shop (in the approximate location of the present Cafe Deluxe (the bar side)).  My mother grew up near there and worked at the UPS during Summers from high school and when she commuted to college at Catholic U.  Mr. Andrewchuk was the baker (patissier somehow doesn't fit).  Rows and rows of cookies including the specialty, chocolate leaves, along with cakes, pies and sweet rolls.  Chocolate leaves were very thin cookies in the shape of oak leaves and coated with dark chocolate on one side. They were about as big as your palm but long and thin rather than round.  They also sold a few flavors of ice cream, the best being a very yellow french vanilla (in retrospect, this was pretty commercial stuff).  

Once when our grade school was having its annual fair shortly after Easter, Mom bought a cake in the shape of an egg and gave it to weatherman Willard Scott, in front of the UPS to promote the fair on TV.  It never occurred to me then, but she was really promoting the UPS for Mr. Andrewchuk and using her PTA duties as an excuse to kill two with one.

My sisters and I would walk in there with Mom, usually after a visit to Dr. Lang, the dentist up the street on Wisconsin who was Mom's childhood dentist too.  Why visit an ice-cream and pastry shop after visiting the dentist?  Because Dr. Lang was no idiot, he had a deal with UPS, a deal made in the tooth fairy's version of hell no doubt.  After every dental visit, he'd give you a gift certificate to UPS good for one free cone.  The certificate was the same color as the french vanilla, do you need further proof of the hand of Satan in this?  

My mother's father died when she was young.  But the neighborhood was a very close, and surprisingly diverse, community back then.  Mr. Andrewchuk had been running his pastry shop since before my mother was born, he knew her, and all the neighborhood children, like his own.   Mr. Andrewchuk was an old man when I knew him, he would greet us with smiles and hugs (he smelled like flour and sugar), give us our cones (french vanilla of course after staring at the oxymoronic yellow bravery certificate for the two blocks on the way over there) and slip us each a chocolate leaf that inevitably melted all over our grubby hands despite the tissue it came in.  

The shop closed soon after Mr. Andrewchuk died, I can't remember if he owned it, but he was its heart and soul.  Dr. Lang started giving away toys he'd buy from Sullivan's Toy Store across the street.  While a plastic paratrooper with a working chute or a styrofoam delta wing plane launched via rubber band made you the hit of the Annunciation School playground for a few minutes, I'd have traded twenty of both for one of Mr. Andrewchuk's chocolate leaves.

How about it? Any other Washington traditions come to mind?  I've got memories associated with so many places from my hometown, but here are a few names that may spark some conversation.  

M.E. Swings coffee shop

Reeve's restaurant and bakery on G Street

Ben's Chili Bowl

Sherrill's Bakery

The Roma Restaurant

The Tune Inn

Wagshall's Deli

Market Lunch

Florida Avenue Grill


Hot Shoppes (gone)

University Pastry Shop (gone)

DGS grocery stores

Heller's Bakery

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Wow, what a great post. I've only lived here 6 years and I bemoan the lack of some of those classic places which I have heard so much about.

I used to eat at Reeves periodically when I worked on-site at the FBI. I like that they make their own mayo. And the strawberry tallcake is a cardiologist's dream. The women who work there seemed like they'd been there for decades. I liked the table with a million dessert plates of pie slices begging to be ordered in the downstairs dining room. Trying to get through that bakery upstairs around Christmas was totally futile. Made BreadLine look like a funeral home!

Since I live in Takoma and often run errands in Sil Spring, I've seen Crisfield Seafood. But I've never eaten there. What's the schtick, should I check it out?

You are making me want ice cream and a chocolate leaf. Bad.

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Reeve's is not the greatest in terms of food, but it is a classic dowtown lunch joint.  The waitresses and the strawberry pie, as you rightly observed are the heart of things.

Malawry, I am enjoying our private conversation on the public message boards! :wink:

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WOW!  What a great post. Now I will have to make a trip to Giffords.  I love ice-cream and like you Damian, was taken by my mother to get ice cream after my monthly dentist visits.  I had cavities after cavities.  Loved candy and ice cream and any and all things sweet.  I still do.  But now I floss and do all the bad stuff that keeps me out of the dentists reach.  But I make several trips and pilgrimages for ice cream.

Your post is wonderful and so evocative of times past and also emotions that everyone must have experienced.  Thanks for this great post.  And share more of your favorites with us across the site.

I will be experiencing Giffords this summer for sure.

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Suvir, we should go on a sugar-blitz tour of DC together. It'd be fun! And, see, it really isn't a private conversation if Suvir's pitching in.

Meanwhile, my mother must not love me since she NEVER took me for ice cream after the dentist. And the only prizes I got were from the toy chest, and being a girly girl I usually chose a paste ring.

Damian, I adore Swing's coffee. They sell it at the Coffee Espress, which is around the corner from the office I worked in until last Wednesday (it's at 20th and L). The best French Roast I've had...far superior to the stuff they carry in chains like Starbucks and Xando.

I think I've mentioned my adoration of Ben's on this board before. Their veggie burger with veggie chili is a delightfully sloppy treat. I like their milkshakes, too. Walking into that place is like walking into an entirely different world, one that's long passed, one where people watch one anothers' backs and where the guy behind the counter actually looks glad you came in for a bite.

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Well, you two are the ones who don't live here.  :sad:

Let me know when you come into town and we'll get together.

I think my heart would plotz if I ate at Ben's and then went on a sugar blitz. I mean, one or the other is bad enough in a single day. The fact that the chili burger is vegetarian doesn't make it much more virtuous.  :biggrin:

For what it's worth, Edemuth and I did hit both Ben's and the new bakery Cakelove in a single lunch break a few months ago. I ate my chili veg burger and a ginger-caramel

crunchy foot" after I returned to work. Oh man was that a good lunch!

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I still want to go to that gelato place in Vancouver that Mamster's posted about.

But that has nothing to do with a DC and DelMarVa discussion. Suvir, let me know when you want to come down and I'll be ready for our sugar blitz.

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I'm in on a sugar blitz.  Re: Cakelove, I've met Warren on a few occasions through mutual friends he probably would not remember, he is a fasinating guy.  I've sampled his cakes at a couple of those occasions and was suitably impressed.  I wasn't aware he had a store until you mentioned the place and I looked it up.  I figured it was his upon hearing the name and approximate location.   Sounds like it is taking off, good to hear.

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I've often heard of this other Gifford's, but never tried it.  I'd like to, their site looks great and makes the ice cream sound terrific.  Seems like the Maine version of Gifford's ice cream was founded in 1980 using older family recipes.  The Maryland Gifford's has been in operation since the 1930s.  MD Gifford's is much more of a boutique operation and does not sell, and never has sold, to retail outlets outside of its own ice cream parlors as Gifford's of Maine appears to do.  Interesting coincidence of names however.

Not sure if I posted this before, but here is the link to Gifford's in Bethesda.


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Alas, Sherrill's Bakery is also gone.  There's a Ritz Camera there now.  I eat at Market Lunch periodically.  I tend to avoid the crowded weekend rush and go for midweek breakfast or lunch.  I don't think I've ever gotten food at The Tune Inn.

I haven't been in the area long enough to remember Giffords, I guess, but dc.dining has had a recent thread on it as well.

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There was a documentary made about Sherrill's about ten years ago.  I can't recall the name.  That was a local joint.  The food at the Tune Inn is nothing special, greasy spoon stuff at best.  Something about the old-school nature of that place with the trophies on the wall etc. reminds me of old Capitol Hill.  The one item that the Tune used to do pretty well was its burgers, haven't had one in years so can't attest.  

The best part of the Tune Inn was that at about 1:30 on a weekend night, after everyone had gone out somewhere else, you could always a friend or two from the Hill neighborhood there.  It was, and probably still is, just a classic place to get a beer.

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Cakelove does a great job with what it's trying to do, if the cupcakes and crunchy feet I sampled are any indication. I especially recommend the ginger crunchy foot with caramel topping. Sticky crunchy cakey goodness. This isn't a formal cake type bakery, it's where you go for a birthday cake for a grownup or a kid with good taste. And Warren is incredibly personable and down to earth for a guy who's as sought-after (yes, he really is as cute as his picture, and I know he's been on lots of top-ten bachelor type lists).

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I had a meeting in Bethesda yesterday, so of course I had to go to Gifford's afterwards since we've been discussing it recently. I ordered a one-scoop hot fudge sundae with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry. I got coffee chip for my ice cream flavor. It kicked ass: rich, creamy, cold, and the fudge hardened where it sat against the ice cream like it's supposed to do. I also purchased caramels and brought them home. They only had the vanilla kind (they said they'd get chocolate caramels in shortly), which was ok by me. The caramels are sticky, soft, and a little gooey. They're not as hard as Amernick's caramels. They're very good, very fresh tasting.

The new location is around the corner from the Bethesda location of Jaleo, at the same intersection as Thyme Square Cafe, Mon Ami Gabi and Barnes and Noble. It's tucked between Mon Ami Gabi and the new movie theatre back there, and I had a little trouble finding it. The space is very modern and clean and Ikealike (looks a lot like F&B in NYC, only more lighting).

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  • 1 year later...

this is a very old post (but since i'm still kind of new here) i'm reviving it out of nostalgia

parkway deli (where i still go when i'm back home). dr. brown's before you could get it everywhere, yummy egg creams, corned beef, free pickles and potato pancakes from the gods

snider's market - my mom and i went every week - mel used to give me gum. is he still there? sandy hair - he was the manager for years. excellent onion rolls, corned beef and sometimes - sublime chicken salad

posins - cinnamon sticks, meat knishes and pigs in blankets.

tastee diner - bethesda & silver spring. i went to bethesda more in HS - right next to champion billiards - a haunt i frequented at 16. the food is definitely better in SS and parking is easier, but there was something about flying across the street by the bethesda locale.

highs on brookville road. i used to get slush puppies there. it burned down when i was about 6. we came back from cape cod and it was just gone.

shanghi egg rolls. this place is/was in silver spring - across the parking lot was another chinese-ish restaurant that always changed hands. the woman who owned and ran shanghi with her son knew us - the egg rolls were big and fat, laden with chunks of sweet pork and plump little shrimp. perfection. my dad used to buy $100 worth at a time and freeze them. i heard a daughter is running the show now and it's not the same.

the rib pit...i think on 14th? insanely good ribs - bullet-proof glass money carousel only added to the fun.

pheasant's eyes (chocolate thumbprint cookies) from the old old bakery in the bread and chocolate space on connecticut avenue.

the gum/carpet/newpaper smell in higgars

bagels that don't taste like shoes.

having lunch with my dad as a little girl at the palm and having shrimp salad and chocolate mousse pie...showing my sister the bigger pieces of chocolate that were in my pie.

the honeysuckle on my street.

my first creme brulee with my dad at the mayflower. first time i'd ever had raspberries either.

mama leona's (that's not right....mama something though - i think. owned by two italians sergio and etore - etore was also a barber... mama regina's?) a dark, dumb place that i loved because they gave me shirley temples and my dad drank sambucca and let me chew the coffee bean. i was always weird.

from overheard in new york:

Kid #1: Paper beats rock. BAM! Your rock is blowed up!

Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

--6 Train

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The Hill has not been the same since Sherill's closed. Or the Ice Cream Lobby for that matter.

Mel's. I miss Mel's huge bowl of chicken soup. And the Matzoh Balls. And all the people who where famous but only in DC. And Mel.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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The Roma! And the old, original Zebra Room... and O'Donnell's and Heller's Bakery and Crisfield's and Hot Shoppes. And, of course, the Tastee Diner (my preferred location was Bethesda). I remember Sherrill's too, and Swensen's, which wasn't a Washington institution, but I was sad to see the one in Tenleytown go.

I went to Stone Ridge in Bethesda, and grew up in Upper Northwest. The Tastee Diner was the preferred hang out in high school; by the time I was in junior high, places like O'Donnell's and Hot Shoppes were already "Old Washington" -- of my mother's generation (she grew up on the Virginia side).

Crisfield's (two of them -- quite different from each other) is still in Silver Spring. I ate at both about two years ago, when I was staying up that way during a family emergency. The old, original divey one was as phenomenal as I remember it being. The nicer of the two was good too, but the dive atmosphere seems necessary to the enjoyment of the total experience.

Oh god, and I just remembered. I know these two places are around -- they're such classics.

A-V Ristorante (is it as good as I remember? Is the calamari really that yummy?) and its sister restaurant, Fio's. I always preferred the food at Fio's, but the atmosphere at A-V. A-V is like every Italian restaurant in Jersey -- what's not to love?

Edited by MichelleW (log)
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Oh god, and I just remembered.  I know these two places are around -- they're such classics.

A-V Ristorante (is it as good as I remember?  Is the calamari really that yummy?) and its sister restaurant, Fio's.  I always preferred the food at Fio's, but the atmosphere at A-V.  A-V is like every Italian restaurant in Jersey -- what's not to love?

Fio's has been gone for a while now - last time I was up that way it had been replaced by a South American restaurant of some sort. I used to live in that building, and it was awfully nice to be able to pop down to Fio's on a cold evening. I was addicted to their garlic bread.

"Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cookbook! Little Red Cookbook!" --Eddie Izzard
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Oh, that's so sad. I've been back to A-V quite a few times and I've asked after Fio's (and was always told it was around by friends and acquaintances), but never made it over... Fio's was a rare neighborhood restaurant.

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Fio's: The CityPaper did an excellent cover story on why Fio's which was much-beloved was closing, which ran about a month before they shuttered. I bet you can get a copy of this article by calling the CityPaper and asking about their archives. It was a great story...addressing who did and didn't eat at Fio's, what the Woodmoor (that's the name of the building, right?) residents thought of the restaurant, and more.

Babka, some high schoolers still visit Tastee Diner after midnight on weekends. I've seen them at IHOP and such too, late at night. :hmmm:

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