It probably seems out of proportion to get in the car and drive 40 minutes for ice cream. But this is no ordinary ice cream.
My husband found out about the place on a drive to Moncton a year or two ago, when he saw their road sign and popped in for some vanilla. He remembered it favorably enough to mention it to me one Friday evening in July, when the subject of ice cream came up. He thought it was about 20 minutes away.
My reaction was, hey, if it's that close, let's jump in the car and go! James demurred. It was evening. They might only be open in the daytime.
We tried to find out the telephone number, so we could call and find out their business hours. There was no entry under the Yellow Pages category Ice Cream & Frozen Desserts—Retail. We tried the Internet. There were some forum references to McCabe's, but no web page and no business hours. Likewise, yellowpages.ca had no entry for McCabe's. This business was unlisted! Whether this was some strange oversight or the place simply had no phone, there was no telling, and nothing to do but go there in person. But not that evening, especially since Google Maps' directions indicated that James' estimate of the distance was off by 100%: not 20 minutes, but 40.
It had to wait until Sunday. In the interest of pretending that this was not just an unusually long ice cream run but a whole day trip, we did some research on the area. Cambridge-Narrows is the closest town. Its tourism web page consists largely of a well-nigh unreadable scan of their brochure, 14 Things to Do in Cambridge-Narrows. At least it had a tourism web page. And a lake, so possibly there would be swimming. I threw a bathing suit, towel and cooler (in case they sold pints and we wanted to take some home) into the trunk, and off we went.
MCcabe's might not have a web presence, but their highway presence is more than adequate. The big sign at the side of the road is hard to miss, with its flashing yellow lights in the shape of an arrow. James pointed this out to encourage me, as I'd spent a substantial part of the drive fretting about the fact that it was Sunday, and things tend to close on Sunday in New Brunswick. Try going to Saint John, one of NB's biggest cities, on a Sunday. Almost nothing will be open. "How do I manage to forget this every time?" I'd lamented. "We'll have driven 40 minutes for nothing," etc., etc.
"Look, the arrow's flashing," said James. "That means they're open."
A further aid in guiding drivers is a red balloon, floating high in the sky above the spot.
After the sight of the giant sign and balloon, it felt incongruous to round the corner and see the tiny beige house. Outside, it didn't look like much. Inside, they offered a tiny selection of seven flavours. The menu was divided into regular flavours—vanilla, strawberry and chocolate—and the more expensive gourmet—coffee, mocha, raspberry and maple cream.
I mulled over the gourmet options but since none of them appeared to contain chunks of things, I chose that old standby, chocolate. James chose vanilla, the same flavour he'd had the last time.
I tasted my ice cream. OK, I thought, worth the trip. Maybe that's as much a comment on Fredericton ice cream parlours (or should I say ice cream parlour?) as it is on McCabe's. But my scoop was creamy with a rich chocolate flavour.
But I hadn't tasted nothin' yet. James offered me his vanilla, and then I knew I was in the presence of greatness. There was an explosion of vanilla bean on my tongue.
Honestly, I've never had a vanilla ice cream to equal McCabe's. Not Haagen Daaz. Not even Ben and Jerry's. And I still hadn't tasted nothin' yet. But more on that later.
The place is run by a smiling elderly lady with an accent that I couldn't place. I never found out her name, so I will take a chance and call her Mrs. McCabe. I asked Mrs. McCabe about pints. They don't sell them. If I wanted to take some home, my only option was two scoops in a styrofoam container.
I decided to get gourmet flavours, since we hadn't tried them yet: one scoop of mocha and one of maple. As Mrs. McCabe excavated our scoops, I asked about hours. McCabe's is open from 9:30 in the morning til 7 at night, seven days a week, from Victoria day to one week after Thanksgiving. Mrs. McCabe remarked that some of their customers buy a whole vat of ice cream, of the sort that the scoops come out of in the shop, so that they can have ice cream all winter. I have it on good authority from my ice-cream-fanatic father that those are three-gallon vats. One vat costs between 70 and 80 dollars, depending on the flavour, and requires a chest freezer. It's a special ice cream that inspires such devotion.
We also found out that they do not, in fact, have a phone number for the business. When I asked, Mrs. McCabe said with obvious reluctance that she could only give me her personal number. I could not in good conscience make such a request. They do have an email address though: homemade at auracom dot com.
Mrs. McCabe also wanted us to know that they had another location, on the road to Fundy Park. We'd actually come across that other address during our web searches, much to our confusion. This other location, she told us, was run by her husband. Here was a couple as devoted to their business as the vat-buyers are devoted to the ice cream. For their entire ice cream season, spring to fall, they get no days off, and they work miles apart from each other. I wonder what they do in the winter. It would be nice to imagine that they spend it taking a well-deserved vacation, but I fear it may not be the case.
Noting my interest in the business, Mrs. McCabe gave us a postcard gratis with our ice cream, though a sign on the counter said they were a dollar each. She also assured us that the ice cream is made from all natural ingredients. That was obvious. You can't get that intensity of flavour from anything but.
We put the ice cream in the cooler with a couple of cold packs, and set out to explore Cambridge-Narrows. We had lunch at Holiday Restaurant, a diner-type place just past the bridge. They do a pretty good hamburger and a surprisingly elegant salad, with a cucumber rose. Unfortunately, the dressing selection is the usual French-Ranch-Italian.
I asked the waitress if Cambridge-Narrows had a downtown. "Honey," she said, "this is it."
The centre of Cambridge-Narrows is a cross-roads. Signposts give the direction of places of note: the library, the post office, a winery. We visited the library, the wharf and the winery, Motts Landing, where they offer a delicious Chantilly.
It appears that the locals are not aware of the greatness of the ice cream in their midst. I mentioned to one woman that we'd come into the area for McCabe's ice cream. She got an odd look on her face. "I've wondered about that place," she said. "You drive by and that Cadillac is sitting there, and there are no other cars, and it makes me wonder if they really sell drugs or something." I assured her that there had been plenty of other people buying ice cream when we were in there; indeed, there was a lineup most of the time. "Well," she said, "that's good to know."
As we headed home, I noticed the time and began to fret. I'd read somewhere that a good cooler or thermos keeps its contents cold for three hours. More like four hours had elapsed. Were we going to end up with ice cream soup?
There was a fair quantity of soup, some of which had leaked into the cooler. As for what was still in the container, it maintained a small island of slushy solidity in the centre of a pool of melt—a testament, I thought, to the efficacy of my cooler, given how much time had elapsed. The slush even retained some degree of separation between the mocha and the maple, so we were able to taste them separately. Both were delicious. We put the ice cream in the freezer to harden it up again. Ultimately, though, we ate it all before that could happen. It was even better than the vanilla.
The McCabe's location that we visited is at exit 347 off the Trans-Canada highway, heading east. The other location is at exit 211 off Highway 114, heading to Fundy, as illustrated on the back of the postcard.