Sunday, July 15, 2012

Classic Southern New England: Del's Lemonade

Try to explain to someone who hasn't grown up in New England how wonderful a Del's lemonade is during the peak of the summer. It fails every time. "Oh, so it's Italian ice? I can get those at the grocery store." No, it's not Italian ice... well, maybe it originally started out as Italian ice, but has morphed into a texture a bit more unique. It's slush. It's different. It's not a slurpee from the local Seven Eleven. It's not soft serve. It's not a slush puppy. It's a Del's.
The Del's truck of my youth
It means that school's out for the summer. It means that the heat is warm enough to run down the street, b-line to the harbor and dive right in. I would hear the truck ringing a bell as it drove down the street, and watch as kid after kid seconds later careened out their respective screen doors with a handful of change. "MOM! MOM! THE DEL'S MAN! MOM, QUARTERS," cue the Chariots of Fire theme music, and off I'd go with the rest of the herd. The order would be a medium lemon, you'd hand over your change, and sometimes if got that extra nickle on you, you could get a pretzel rod stuck in the middle. There were also those special photo album worthy outings, where you might be out with your mom and dad at Colt State Park or finishing up a day at Buttonwood Park, and you'd spot the truck, parked what seemed like miles away. You'd put on those droopy kid "please parental unit" eyes and that regardless of whether mom said yes (because she always did), it was just a matter of whether you would get to the truck before it moved to a different location. All those good things of summer, and family, and sunshine and no school, wrapped up into a little wax cup with green and white stripes.
Del's in Warren, RI (next
to the bike path)
I've never let go of my love of Del's. We visited our parents this weekend, and scheduled a specific detour to one of my favorite spots in Warren, Rhode Island... where a tiny shack selling Del's is situated directly next to the bike path that you can ride all the way to Providence.
Each bin holds a different flavor,
but you should really try the
The slush is the same as it has always been. It's sweet, almost cloyingly so, to those who didn't grow up with the stuff. You walk into the little shop, and there's a collection of photos of past workers, and a teenager at the counter who probably wants nothing more than to escape the little town in New England where she grew up, but that I know will take pride in telling the stories of working at the local Del's to her grand kiddies decades later. The metal bins housing that delicious slush are set before her, along with a basket of what we used to call bakery pizza or pizza strips, a little glass showcase of hot dogs that have seen better days, and a menu of flavors on the wall behind. 
My favorite summer beverage
There's only one thing to order. You need to get the lemonade. It's called Del's Frozen Lemonade for a reason. There are little lemon bits, candied peel, and a sweet, cold slushy mixture... the consistency of melty spring snow. It's so sugary, and yet a hint of tartness is still front and center, more pronounced when chewing each little piece of the peel floating in the beverage. By my method, it's consumed by sort of squeezing the wax cup, and sipping the cold icy mixture through the triangular lip that you've just made. It's so sweet, and so cool, and just about the best way to tell if someone has experienced New England. You experience it by loving Del's. I don't know if I would trust someone from Southern Massachusetts or Rhode Island if they hate Del's. In fact, if they interviewed for a job with me, I might make that my first question: "Do you like Del's?" If the answer is "yes," you're hired. If not, may God have mercy on your soul... and get the hell out of my imaginary office.
So now you know. More than lobster rolls, more than fried clams, more than anything, Del's is special to the area of Southern New England where I grew up. I long for it when it's February, and I think butterflies and angels whistle a little Mongo Jerry every time I take a sip. There really is nothing like the first Del's of summer. (Devil's advocate... well, maybe stuffed quahogs...maybe.)

or visit
Del's Lemonade
65 Charles Street
Warren, RI 02885

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