Sno in forecast for Dallas-Fort Worth

prod_shaveBy Gordon Dickson
Dallas Forth Worth Star-Telegram
June 09, 2009

A popular bumper sticker sold in New Mexico reads, “If God wanted Texans to ski, he would have given them a mountain.”

But while Texans as a whole don’t get many chances to play in the snow, they find plenty of time to eat it.

In the form of snow cones, of course. Or, depending upon where you’re from originally, your snowy treat of choice may otherwise be known as a raspado, piragua, shave ice, shaved ice, snowball, or (if you roll East Coast-style) Italian ice or water ice.

Whatever the name, the fundamentals are the same. Blocks of ice are crushed into granules or paper-thin shavings, leaving a mound of soft ice crystals in a perfect state to absorb a sweet liquid flavor of choice. One of the first machines built to simplify this task was patented in 1920 by a North Texan, no less!

Syrups have come a long way in recent years, and flavors now commonly offered at snow-cone stands across Dallas-Fort Worth include cinnamon, mango and even wedding cake. But ask a snow-cone artist behind the counter what the bestseller is, and more often than not it’s either a house specialty or an old standby such as blue coconut, cherry or lemon-lime.

Snow cones are not nutritious, as most aficionados realize. With ingredients such as artificial flavoring, food coloring, glycol and sugar, snow cones are among the foods that the cautious caretakers at the Food and Drug Administration say should be eaten sparingly. But they’re still a refreshingly cold treat on a hot day. Eating them is just plain fun, and — to quote the late, great Dr. Seuss — “fun is good.”

School is out for the summer in most area districts, so snow-cone stands are hitting their peak season. And these days, stand operators go to great lengths to make themselves stand out (forgive the pun) from a crowded field of competitors.

At the Snoball Corral in north Fort Worth, for example, customers don’t get ordinary straws. Instead, every snow cone that comes across the counter is garnished with an edible Sour Punch Straw. “One of our customers suggested it, and it has become our signature,” co-owner Lisa Flores said.

At an Ace Hardware parking lot in far north Fort Worth, customers at a SnoBiz stand can spend an extra 25 cents to add extras including gummi bears, sour gummi worms or an insanely sour dill shot.

SnoBiz owner Jerrie Spraggins has operated a snow-cone stand near Basswood Boulevard and North Beach Street for more than eight years — at first outside a nearby convenience store before moving down the street to Ace Hardware. She credits her success to customer-friendly employees and experimentation with flavors that has led to house specialties such as the “sunset” (cherry and passion fruit) and “sea turtle” (pineapple and kiwi).

“I have customers who used to ride bicycles to get snow cones when they were kids, and now they’re bringing their kids to get snow cones,” she said.

Billy Joe Gabriel loves strawberry snow cones. The publisher of the Stockyards-centric monthly Fort Worth Gazette buys one of the electric-red treats during the sixth inning just about every time he attends a Fort Worth Cats baseball game.

“Most of the snow-cone stands buy the pre-made syrup with a chemical taste to it, but what I like is the places that mix their own flavors,” Gabriel said. “The ones that are most successful are located deep in the heart of the neighborhoods. You don’t find them on the main roads. They do a lot of different things to separate themselves from the competition. They add milk or cream or jazz it up with a sour straw. A neighborhood place is friendly and convenient.”

Frosty research
Kids are mesmerized by the taste of icy treats and by the brilliant colors and the zany environment at many stands.

During the past two weeks, I visited snow-cone proprietors across Tarrant County with my 14-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. We searched for not only the best-tasting icy desserts, but also the most enjoyable overall experience from both the adult and youth perspective.

Here’s what we found:

4400 Basswood Blvd., Fort Worth

The look: A little refrigerated trailer in an Ace Hardware parking lot. Most customers linger for a while after placing their order, sitting at one of several picnic tables under a cloth canopy. A duo of friendly young women takes orders and operates the shave machine, and the place is a constant buzz of activity, quite an accomplishment, considering that there are frozen-treat vendors on seemingly every block of the Park Glen/Summerfields area.

Frozen fare: Perfectly shaven bowls of goodness are served here. Do yourself a favor and order the rainbow (blue coconut, banana and cherry) or one of the house specialties, which all feature combinations of tropical flavors such as guava, pineapple and green apple. (OK, maybe the last one’s not tropical.)

Cost: $4.50 for three smalls

Dad’s verdict: I’m biased because this is my neighborhood place, and their shave ice is instantly-melt-in-your-mouth thin. The place just has an overall good vibe. Teenagers often hang out and sometimes challenge each other to 25-cent dill-shot drinking contests. Plus, owner Jerrie Spraggins doesn’t skimp on quality. She recently dropped a syrup supplier that wanted vendors to pull blue coconut from the menu — blasphemy! — and wanted her to charge customers extra for printed cups.

The kids: They’re also biased, because this is the place they drag me to every couple of weeks during the summer. After visiting places all over the county, my 14-year-old daughter says, “I think they’re still my favorite.” My daughter likes to get a handful of sour gummi worms in her snow cone for an extra 25 cents.

Hours: 1-10 p.m. daily

Read complete story