Maple Leaf Dairy
Maple Leaf Dairy is one of those classic old-school ice cream parlours. Now, I don't mean old-school in the way a new spot on Queen West might salvage a vintage wooden bench and offer straws from a throwback dispenser. I mean a bona-fide, hasn't-seen-a-renovation-in-decades-type of old-school spot, complete with a cheesy exterior slogan and mint green floors. And regulars love Maple Leaf Dairy for it.
Hard to miss near the corner of Danforth and Dawes in the east end, Maple Leaf Dairy makes its statement even before customers enter its front doors--"May All Your Days Be Ice Cream Days." Well said, Maple Leaf sign, well said. Trouble is, this ice cream parlour is actually only open seasonally, seriously hindering the public's ability to "ice cream" every one of their days. Hinder, but not prohibit. The Maple Lead ice cream shop sits adjacent to its very own factory (dubbed St. Clair), which supplies the parlour with its flavours and also offers customers tubs to take home.
I enter the shop and am greeted by two staff scoopers, who fill me in on the history of the business. Open since the 1930's, they tell me the factory got its name for its original location on St. Clair, but the current owner wanted to keep the name and facade the same. Maple Leaf Dairy only serves its own ice cream, with about 40 or so flavours in store at any given time. The entire roster of ice cream varieties is displayed on the shop's wall, with green stars indicating which flavours are currently in stock.
The vibe, as I've said, is utterly traditional. This place is strictly cash-only with really basic ice cream options. Essentially, you can opt for a milkshake ($4.75), sundae ($5.75), or kiddie ($2.25), single ($3.00), double ($4.75), or triple ($5.75), with the choice of either a cup or cone. The uniqueness of the flavours doesn't rival those of Greg's or Ed's with their beer and marshmallow, but instead the parlour sticks mostly with the classics — the rocky roads, mint chocolate chip, and classic strawberry varieties. That said, I did spot a few divergent options such as red bean and green tea, but for the most part, Maple Leaf sticks with the tried and true.
Though I'm told that maple walnut is a favourite among Maple Leaf Dairy customers, I've always been partial to fruit flavoured ice creams. Cautious about Maple Leaf's reputation for humungous servings, I opt for a kiddie scoop of mango ice cream. And lo and behold, I can't finish it. When I ask the staff about scoop size rules of thumb, I'm told that kiddie scoops are supposed to be the size of tennis balls and single scoops the size of softballs. "But actually, they end up being a bit bigger," Maple Leaf staffer Travis says.
No kidding! I'd wager that my "kiddie" scoop was actually the size of a softball, packed to the brim of a little styrofoam cup. The ice cream had a superbly smooth consistency and was not overly sweet, which is always a good thing when it comes to a frozen treat. The mango flavour was a little more modest than I was expecting, though I should note that I have been on a gelato kick of late. Generally speaking, ice cream doesn't pack the same intensity of flavour as its milk-based cousin, so the shyness of the mango in this case can be forgiven.
And the price simply can't be beat. Though staff tell me of decades-long customers who recount when they could grab a cone for $0.25 at Maple Leaf, I think a too-big-to-finish scoop for a couple of dollars is amazing all the same. Leave it to the old-school parlour to get it right.
Photos by Morris Lum