Even when you’re well past the days of three-month-long school breaks, there’s something about summer that makes you want to indulge like a kid. And while endless hours by the swimming pool may have given way to nine-to-five careers, you can still relish the simple joy of a red-white-and-blue firecracker pop on a hot July afternoon. Across the South, there are those timeless family-run institutions that make you forget you ever learned what a calorie was. If you’re traveling this summer, check out five of our favorite nostalgic sweet spots.
Carl’s Ice Cream
With its Art Moderne exterior and iconic neon signage, this curbside ice cream shop in Fredericksburg is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1947, the Sponseller family has been serving up their homemade ice cream here, and it comes in just three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, though you can order floats, shakes, malts, and sundaes in any combination of the three. Carl’s is closed the Sunday before Thanksgiving through President’s Day weekend for hunting season. Any other time of year, however, plan on a bit of a wait. It’s worth it.
Mayo’s and Mahalia Jackson’s Fried Pies & Chicken
A hand-painted sign on the side of a bright yellow singlewide on Jefferson Street advertises fried chicken (“leg quarters and gizzards”), barbecue, fish sandwiches, hot dogs, and fried pies. The half-moon shaped pockets of fried dough are famous with in-the-know natives. Thankfully, when the current proprietor Erika White bought the place a few years ago from the original owner E.W. Mayo, she inherited Mayo’s mother’s legendary pie recipe. The grab-and-go sweets come in three flavors—apple, peach, and sweet potato. (You won’t find any canned filling here.) And at just over a dollar a piece, you can order one of each.
Britt’s Donut Shop
Carolina Beach, NC
Order a sack of a dozen to go and a hot one fresh from the fryer just for yourself at this North Carolina culinary landmark on the boardwalk in Carolina Beach. There’s only one flavor—classic glazed, and each pillowy ring is made by hand. The airy confections are so good you won’t miss the sprinkles, icing, or fancy fillings employed by other operations. Founded in 1939 by Harvey L. Britt (Britt sold the place to longtime employee Bobby Nivens in 1974), the shop is open every summer from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day.
Rudy and Isabelle Muth founded this Louisville landmark in 1921. Having survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the mass exodus of surrounding businesses to the suburbs during the seventies, the neighborhood around the candy shop’s East Market Street location is suddenly trendy again—full of art galleries and restaurants. But Muth’s has stayed wonderfully, deliciously the same. Locals wouldn’t have it any other way. Vintage wood and glass displays cases hold trays of handmade caramels, chocolates, brittles, and brightly colored taffies. The signatures, though, are the boozy bourbon balls and the creamy Modjeskas, a Louisville-invented treat of caramel covered marshmallow.
New Orleans, LA
Cups of made-to-order shaved ice doused in flavored syrups are a Crescent City summertime staple and there are dozens of stands scattered across town, each with a devoted following. Hansen’s, in a yellow cinderblock building on Tchoupitoulas Street, is one of the originals. In 1934 Eric Hansen, a machinist by trade, invented (and patented) an ice shaving machine he called the Sno-Bliz. Before this, ice was shaved by hand. He and his wife Mary sold the original sno-balls for two-cents a pop. Today, their granddaughter Ashley runs the business and still makes all of the syrups by hand daily. Flavors range from classics like blueberry, orangeade, and root beer to more sophisticated syrups such as ginger and satsuma.