First it was Paris, then London, then Bordeaux and the Dordogne. On each of our recent trips to Europe, I’ve blogged daily, zeroing in on specific places and spaces to capture the essence of the cities and towns we’ve seen. But what about when we’re not on a trip, but just living our lives in Florida or Illinois? Today, I’m making a new effort to encapsulate a bit of life at home.
“When you’re dead, you’re dead. And until then, there’s ice cream.” –The Mentalist, spoken by the character Patrick Jane, 2011
”Celebrating Our 69th Year” says the sign drilled into the orange corrugated metal wall. What a coincidence! So am I! Well, I won’t be celebrating until July, but no matter. Nokomis Groves, a side trip off the Venice main drag, need not be for a special occasion.
Back in ’49, only citrus orchards flanked Albee Farm Road – was it even paved then? — and farm vehicles, not SUVs, rumbled along. Today a smattering of condos and ranch-style homes have cropped up. Not far away, cars zip along I-75 and Publix and McDonald’s are a stone’s throw away on Tamiami Trail, the pretty name for U.S. 41. Still, this is definitely the outskirts of town – no stop lights or traffic jams.
The parking lot paved with crunchy shells led us to the cheery orange metal building with the hand-painted mural of an orange-picker on its north wall. I poked my head inside. The citrus packing paraphernalia wasn’t in operation, but the store itself bustled with looky-loos. Center stage, a big Easter bunny was perched on top of a red tractor. Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines were piled high for the picking, and a hand-lettered sign pointed to fresh pies in the dairy case. Florida tchotchkes of all sorts were on display … the usual seashell plaques, starfish dish towels, and plastic dolphin figurines. Jars of marmalades and jellies in glistening shades of amber, ruby, and garnet lined long shelves. Above them hung a row of framed replicas of vintage orange growers’ advertisements – Juice King, Blue Heron, Golden Sunset. Neon colored tee shirts proclaiming “I survived the ice cream line at Nokomis Groves” dangled behind the register, tempting the tourists.
But, we didn’t come for the honeybells or valencias or a day-glo tee shirt. We came for the ice cream, and we weren’t alone. Out front two long lines of snowbirds trickled back from two windows labeled “Place orders here” and “Pick up.” Ahead of us, a small flock with Cincinnati twangs weighed their options: Orange? Pineapple? Large or small? They eyed the other folks at the pick-up line to see what looked best. Mike and I, aficionados of the stuff, had already made up our minds.
The wait wasn’t so long, and we were in the shade. Our turn at the window: Orange and vanilla swirl for him, a lime and chocolate swirl for me –in a cup, please. Who needs to waste calories on a cone? Moving into the pick-up line, we waited only a minute or so before a teenage boy reached out over the counter and handed us our concoctions.
Under the building’s overhang, Florida-garbed visitors savored their treats while roosting on the two rows of well-worn benches. We scored a spot and joined them, happy to start scooping. How does one describe Nokomis Groves ice cream? The tangy lime, the subtly sweet chocolate harmonize sublimely. If the swirls of goodness were musicians, they might be Simon and Garfunkel, or Sonny and Cher, or Peaches and Herb. Mike’s sunrise orange and snow white vanilla swirls were just as luscious. His plastic spoon scraped the bottom of his cup all too fast. I took my time and concentrated on getting a swath of lime and a swath of chocolate on every spoonful. Oh my!
Indulge yourself! All season, Nokomis Groves churns up a cool blast from Florida’s past. What could be sweeter?