Hometown Heroes: Indiana's Top Ice-Cream Spots

Twelve of our favorite mom-and-pop ice-cream purveyors.

Whether nestled within a quaint town square or bordering a bustling highway, these treasured ice-cream haunts stand the test of time.
Frazier’s Dairy Maid
Open daily noon–9 p.m., 3311 Main St., Anderson, 765-644-5406

A city skirted with every chain eatery imaginable, Anderson doesn’t boast many homegrown spots to appreciate—except Frazier’s Dairy Maid. This 60-year-old community darling prospered when the economy boomed with the arrival of more than 20 General Motors factories and endured when every last one of those plants left town. What’s more, its Main Street location and family ties have never changed. Bob Frazier devoted several years of his life to making his small business thrive, and when he died in 1998, his son, Brian, took over. So when it comes to the Dairy Maid, Andersonians see the glowing pink and green lights as more than just a place to get the beloved Crunch Cone—dipped in peanut brittle and sprinkles—or the Super Bowl, packed with vanilla soft serve, brownies, and bananas and drizzled with strawberry syrup. They view it as an emblem of pride: Something worthwhile finally stuck around.
Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor
Open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m., 329 Washington St., Columbus, 812-378-1900
Zaharakos just turned five years old—which might seem odd, considering it first opened more than a century ago. Started by three Greek brothers in 1900, a Golden Age of ice cream and soda palaces, the grandly appointed Columbus landmark persisted under family management until 2006, when, sadly, the last of the original line of owners closed up shop. And by then, much of the gilded-era splendor had faded.
Mercifully, Columbus businessman Tony Moravec purchased the establishment the following year and embarked on a painstaking two-year restoration that, when unveiled in 2009, rivaled the glory of Zaharakos’s early days. The stunning marble counter and onyx soda fountain, the dazzling stained-glass Tiffany-style lamp, the intricate mahogany woodwork—all now gleam like new. Moravec even tracked down and purchased the “orchestrion”—an automated, byzantine pipe-organ music box—that entertained Zaharakos customers as far back as 1908 before being removed. It now fills the vintage parlor with whirling, old-timey circus music.
But remarkable as those features are, the main attraction is still the ice cream, which, as in days of yore, is homemade—rich, custardy, and sweet. It stars in all of the incarnations you’d expect, from fresh-baked waffle cones to floats to milkshakes to banana splits, and in a couple of particularly extravagant desserts: the Big “Z,” a family-size serving of five scoops with three toppings of your choosing (from a selection of goodies too numerous to name here), and the Brownie Sundae, with two vanilla scoops plopped onto a warm, gooey chocolate-chip confection. You’ll need to spoon up that last treat quickly before it melts, even if the sump-tuous environs invite you to linger.
The Chocolate Moose
Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m., 401 S. Walnut St., Bloomington, 812-333-0475
The shoebox-sized ice-cream stand that once hosted John Mellencamp during the filming of his 1982 music video for “Jack and Diane” is still dishing out homemade varieties like Moose Chocolate (a gussied-up version of chocolate chip) and Sweet Cinnamon to an adoring fan club of IU students and locals. Originally opened as the Penguin by the May family in 1933, the cherished Bloomington spot has seen its fair share of change, relocating from a nearby building to a freestanding hut in the ’50s and switching to The Chocolate Moose moniker in the early ’80s. But no matter how the Mays package it, committed regulars queue up in a winding line the length of the parking lot, for at least 10 minutes, to get their fill of the beloved Chocolate Dream—laden with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—or lemon custard so yellow it’s nearly fluorescent. If you want to order like a seasoned pro, ask for a Grasshopper (mint Oreo) shake or add a hot-fudge ribbon to the Brown County Coffee, made with grounds from a Nashville shop. After receiving your creation, enjoy it on the hood of your car for the best people-watching in town. The eclectic crowd—ranging from toddlers to fraternity brothers to decades-long Moose enthusiasts—can’t help but put on an entertaining show.
The Old Custard Stand
Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m., 9270 E. 141st St., Fishers, 317-776-3800
Fifteen years ago, Kay Harvey and her daughter Tiphany Leppert wanted to branch out from their roots in the construction industry. Inspired by their hometown haunt (Logansport’s Sycamore Drive-In), they opened The Old Custard Stand, a walk-up brown-brick building situated on a corner of a busy Fishers intersection. Housemade vanilla, chocolate, and butter-pecan frozen custards are daily menu standards, while others have a designated slot: Blue Moon is served on Mondays, Saturdays feature a strawberry-centric variety, and Sundays mean mint chocolate chip. You’ll find traditional shakes  and malts as well, but specialty sundaes flaunt toppings you don’t always see at an ice-cream stand—light-and-airy cereal and sweet marshmallow syrup on the Rice Crispy Treat sundae do justice to the gooey snack, if more in taste than in texture. Come peach season this summer, Harvey will peel each piece of fruit that goes into her cobbler, garnished with scoops of vanilla custard. Outdoor seating lets customers savor their treats under the stars, though we admit that the scenery of strip malls and traffic zipping by isn’t quite ideal. But once you dig into your smooth, creamy custard, the bustle won’t be all that noticeable anyway.
Ice Cream Paradise
Open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m., 1416 W. South St., Lebanon, 765-482-4558
It’s easy to imagine Ice Cream Paradise as one of the few draws on Lebanon’s South Street, a busy thoroughfare just off of I-65, when the spot opened 30 years ago. Now sitting amid fast-food chains and gas stations, the retro charm may have dissipated, but its appeal has not. Visit the squat white hangout during peak time, and you’ll likely find yourself standing in line—which, given the number of menu choices to ponder, is probably a good thing. Do you go for one scoop or two of the creamy, hand-dipped butter pecan? A classic banana split? Or one of several specialties, like the hot caramel parfait or the strawberry shortcake? Homemade is king, whether it’s the waffle cones pressed fresh each day, fluffy chocolate and yellow cakes that sometimes serve as bases for sundaes, or the ice cream—the traditional favorites are here, as well as kid-centric ones like bubble gum and the curious-sounding Smurf berry. Still undecided? It’s hard to go wrong with the turtle sundae—vanilla ice cream topped with caramel and hot-fudge sauces, a healthy dose of pecans, and a bright-red cherry. Take your treats to one of the green picnic tables out front or to the adjacent Paradise Playground, where the kids can swing, slide, and climb while you work on your ice-cream headache.
Jimmie’s Dairy Bar
Open daily 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m., 7065 Indiana 67, Pendleton, 765-778-3800
Madison County Historian Stephen T. Jackson admits that he doesn’t know much about Jimmie’s Dairy Bar in Pendleton—“the one on the highway,” as he calls it. Customers have been queuing at the window to order simple treats since 1954, but this little place doesn’t make a fuss about its roots. “I don’t even know who Jimmie was,” Jackson says. “But I know you can’t drive by there without seeing customers.” In the summer, hordes of kids in softball and baseball uniforms wouldn’t think of heading anywhere else to celebrate, and they usually go straight for the signature tangerine soft serve. It’s the same not-quite-ice-cream, not-quite-sherbet concoction Jimmie’s dished up to pin-curled and pompadoured teens back in the day—although now it’s even better, according to current owner Sherry Richwine. She and husband Terry, an Indiana State Police officer, bought the retro-style stand from the founder in 1977, and by the time they added a dining room with orange booths and stained-glass ice-cream-cone windows, they’d elevated the tangerine recipe to something creamier and fruitier, skyrocketing sales of the blend to 10 gallons a day. The unique texture is still hard to classify, but it’s a safe bet that customers at the original two walk-up windows or new picnic tables don’t even think about that when they’re trying to decide between a twirl of vanilla topped with Krunch Kote—a blend of nuts, peanut brittle, and sprinkles—or “the orange stuff” that out-of-town disciples order in bulk and take home in coolers.
The Big Dipper
Open daily 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m., 902 Mill St., Crawfordsville, 765-361-1829
Let the lines form at Dari-Licious, a bombastic red barn with all the subtlety of a birthday-party clown. The unassuming Big Dipper has a lesser following in Crawfordsville, but that’s partly because the low cinderblock shack closed down for a while before reopening under new ownership in 2006. It’s definitely not a reflection of quality: The Dipper mixes up a thicker shake and twirls a more-pert soft-serve than its nearby rival with a similar, well-rounded menu, and its banana split served in a Big Gulp–sized cup incites wide-eyed customers to ask a stranger clutching the mountainous dish what in the heck that thing is. Regulars linger in the blacktop parking lot, at picnic tables, or on a small deck (there’s a drive-thru but no indoor seating). Those who go big with the double-dog-dare banana split might want to excavate the thing in adjacent Milligan Park, the city’s largest. It’ll take the length of a healthy stroll to unearth scoop after scoop of vanilla pocked with chocolate, strawberry sauce, bananas, pineapple, and cherries underneath a whipped-cream crown speckled with nuts. Showier places might offer a T-shirt for finishing a dessert this preposterous. The Big Dipper, though, knows how to play it cool.
Kelainey’s Ice Cream Shop
Open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m., 904 Park Ave., Winona Lake, 574-267-2860; 105 E. Center St., Warsaw, 574-269-5724
With its Victorian eaves and wide porches, the Village at Winona looks like a Norman Rockwell Main Street of yore, complete with a throwback ice-cream shop, Kelainey’s, featuring fanciful chalkboard menus, cheery servers, and spare but homey decor. Even the place’s name—a merging of the monikers of owners Jim and Patti Thompson’s two daughters, Kelsie and Laine, evokes an innocuous vibe.
Then there’s the ice cream. Java Chunk bursts with bold espresso flavor, Candy Play Dough emerges blue with hunks of brightly colored sugar-cookie pieces, and the must-have Traverse Bay Cherry is no-frills excellence: a rich amaretto chock-full of fudge and cherry morsels. Kelainey’s in the Village, just off of Winona Lake and a block from the original Cerulean, has 21 of its downtown-Warsaw sister location’s 48 ice-cream flavors—the pick of the litter, according to the servers. The waffles and all other cone variations are made in-house, creating a sweet aroma that permeates the premises and lures nearby shoppers in the door.
Frosty Boy Drive-In
Open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–10;30 p.m., 40 W. Main St., New Palestine, 317-861-5433
Like the first crocuses, the opening of this New Pal hangout every year on March 1 is a harbinger of spring. Locals pop over to Frosty Boy’s sliding glass windows as soon as the blue-and-white magnetic sign lights up, and the quaint, covered patio is humming at all hours when warm days arrive. By mid-June, the tiny white-brick building is a party epicenter. Located on the main strip, the whole town gathers here to celebrate big events like high-school graduations or tee-ball victories. Outsiders flock to this charmer for a menu that teases State Fair–esque favorites including thick-breaded tenderloins, fries smothered in cheese sauce, peach malts, and blueberry sundaes. The beloved pineapple, strawberry, and orange whips rotate in and out, each getting seven days in the spotlight. Malts and shakes come in more than a dozen flavors; the extra-rich peanut butter or hot-fudge shakes are must-order selections for all new visitors, soon turned Frosty Boy fanatics. Ask for a chocolate malt with extra malt or a marshmallow Coke, and a bubbly high-schooler will push out your custom creation without batting an eye.
Mrs. Curl Ice Cream Shop
Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m., 259 S. Meridian St., Greenwood, 317-882-1031
A low-slung sidewalk-side attraction for more than 50 years, Mrs. Curl sports an all-American paint job and exudes the essence of summer in all its chocolate-topped glory. On warm, sticky nights, the chairs fill up with fans of the Bubble Gum or Blue Goo Flavor Burst cones (in which a stripe of flavored syrup is injected into vanilla ice cream) and lemon-lime Mrs. Sippy slushes. The Old Town Greenwood business is seasonal, which means you can only get your Butterfinger Razzle and blackberry sundae between the months of March and October. And when owner John Cassin, who has run the stand since the late ’90s, can get the outdoor karaoke machine to work, it’s a sing-along free-for-all on Saturday nights in the summer. Meanwhile, sunny weekdays bring out the occasional businessman for a quick snack-bar lunch, necktie flipped jauntily over one shoulder to avoid any spillage of homemade sauce—chunky with meat—that might tumble from a Coney dog chomped between sips of chocolate-marshmallow malt as thick as cement. It’s proof that you never outgrow the allure of an ice-cream stand.
Milky Way
Open Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m., 750 Washington Ave., Frankfort, 765-654-8831
When you’re standing at Frankfort’s Milky Way waiting to place your order, you might not think the building is anything special; it lacks the charming pastel palette and vintage signage that many ice-cream stands display. But what the 64-year-old local favorite lacks in charm, it makes up for in ingenuity; employees bob and weave around the postage-sized interior, whipping up homemade ice cream, sherbets, and even craft-soda syrups. Want blue-raspberry Coke or a green-apple Sprite? This is the place to make your wildest flavor combinations come true. All of the old-fashioned shakes are blended to the perfect consistency: not so thick that you’ll go to war with your straw. Tasty picks include the refreshing black raspberry or the decadent butter pecan. There’s a wide range of flurries to induce a sugar rush, each bite chock-full of M&M’s, homemade brownie bites, or Nerds. Though passersby can take advantage of the outdoor seating, visitors should follow locals down the block to devour their ice cream at Frankfort’s TPA Park. There, a petting zoo and an Olympic-size swimming pool provide the perfect backdrop for indulging in frozen treats—like a towering tangerine cone or a banana split heaped with chocolate sauce, strawberries, and pineapples—all summer long.
Frosty Boy K
Open Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., 19 E. Main St., Knightstown, 765-345-5656
A critic driving down U.S. 40, along Knightstown’s main drag, might see the hand-painted “Frosty Boy” sign—the one with the cartoon kid holding an ice-cream cone—and succumb to the temptation to pull in for a treat on a summer day. That same critic might stroll in and note that the wood paneling and brown booths in the tiny parlor look dated. He might stand perplexed before the busy letter-board menu and wonder how one little restaurant could dish out not only hand-dipped cones, sundaes, parfaits, and malts, but also chili-cheese fries, pizza, tacos, and baked spaghetti. He might scoff at the slushies, Coney dogs, and floats and think to himself—with a concealed smirk—that it’s really just the same old stuff he used to get from the lakeside snack bar as a kid. He’d probably order the “Banana Boat” and note that it’s really just a banana split, and he’d probably be disappointed that he was only able to load it with chocolate-and-vanilla-twist soft-serve, a scoop of hand-dipped strawberry, whipped cream, chopped peanuts, hot fudge, and peanut butter—and none of those exciting new flavors like black currant or maple bacon or Thai curry or whatever else those big-city ice-cream places are dreaming up these days. Indeed, the critic might observe all of this and arrive at the obvious conclusion that the Frosty Boy K is nothing fancy. Which is true. Then again, if he were from around here, he’d know that’s what folks love about it.

More tasty ice-cream coverage from around Central Indiana appears in the July 2014 issue of IM, including an Indy fro-yo roundup.