If you’re driving through Upstate New York and need gas, there’s a good chance you’ll end up at a Stewart’s. Its 350 locations cover a fairly small geographic area, which means that in that area, it feels like they’re everywhere.
It’s technically called Stewart’s Shops, and it doesn’t identify as a gas station. It identifies as a shop. Still, the vast majority of its locations have gas pumps out front, and if you stop there for gas, you might not think to saunter inside. But I implore you to saunter. And I implore you to order some ice cream.
Although you would never know it by looking at the outside of a Stewart’s shop today, it actually started as an ice cream store. Its first location was opened in 1945 by the Dake family, who still run the company. It evolved into a convenience store and, at most of its locations, a gas station. But ice cream has remained at the core of its identity. Which I’m grateful for, because eating Stewart’s ice cream is at the core of my identity.
When you walk into Stewart’s, you’re going to be hit with the smell of coffee and food. Scan the place visually to locate the main event: the ice cream counter.
That counter has a few key components. A menu with all of the available ice cream flavors that day. A bunch of bananas hanging out in case someone orders a banana split. And numerous containers of chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, marshmallow, pineapple, rainbow sprinkles, and mini M&M’s, all for the taking.
Although you can order hot fudge sundaes and similar creations here, you can also just order a scoop of your favorite flavor and then pour on whatever toppings you like, free of charge.
Don’t have time to stop for a make-your-own sundae? That’s okay. Stewart’s also makes incredible milkshakes, which are the perfect road trip snack.
In addition to the ice cream counter, Stewart’s has an aisle-long cooler filled with half gallons of its own ice cream flavors to buy and take home.
Though their inspiration is hyperlocal, the names of Stewart’s ice cream flavors rival Ben & Jerry’s in ingenuity. They include Adirondack Bear Paw (“sweet praline cashews surrounded by gooey caramel swirls on a panorama of vanilla perfection”); Crumbs Along the Mohawk (inspired by the film Drums Along the Mohawk, described as “graham cracker flavored ice cream holds together tasty graham cracker pieces and a caramel swirl”); and Kaydeross Kreme, named after the Kaydeross Creek in Greenfield, New York and containing an orange vanilla swirl.
My personal favorite Stewart’s flavor is cherry vanilla, which is vanilla ice cream studded with maraschino cherries. It’s the only ice cream I know of that involves cherries but doesn’t have a cherry-flavored ice cream base and doesn’t use black cherries. And it is a WIN.
If for some reason the maraschino doesn’t appeal to you, Stewart’s does also have black sweet cherry as a flavor option.
If Stewart’s ice cream is superior, then so are its seasonal flavors. For the holidays, you can select from classics like eggnog, peppermint stick, and pumpkin (which is called “Pumpkin To Talk About”).
And although it’s available year-round, you could argue that Fireworks, a vanilla ice cream base with pop rocks in it, is decidedly a holiday flavor (that holiday being the Fourth of July, of course).
You can also order a root beer float at Stewart’s. And with this mention of root beer, here’s where we need to uncover an elephant in the room: Stewart’s soda.
You may have been thinking this entire time that Stewart’s Shops is the same as Stewart’s soda, a national brand that is now owned by Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc. It is not the same Stewart’s! That Stewart’s was started in 1924 in Ohio by a man named Frank Stewart; it’s distributed nationally and the portfolio now includes spiked seltzers flavored like the sodas. Despite the similar font used on the packaging for those drinks and at Stewart’s Shops in Upstate New York, the two aren’t related. Go figure!
Look, I think you should go to Stewart’s and get the ice cream. But Stewart’s dependably has a lot of other food too, including doughnuts, hot dogs, pizza, breakfast sandwiches, and a hard roll with butter, which I think might be a regional New York breakfast item that should really be nationally known—but more on that some other time, because we’re here to talk about ice cream. And you can grab some whenever you need a fill-up.