MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Gotta have a twist cone

When the mom-and-pop ice-cream stands open, happy days are here again.

Eating ice cream at Belts.

© Beth Gauper

April may be for lovers in Paris, but around here, it’s for lovers of soft-serve ice cream.

The best-loved drive-ins and stands have opened for the season, to the delight of their fans. In the Wisconsin town of Stevens Point, they pitched tents March 3 so they could be first in line when Belt’s Soft-Serve opened at 11 a.m. March 5.

Belt's is a find, for sure. When I stumbled on it one warm April day, it was mobbed. I got a $1.25 junior twist cone the size of an Olympic torch and watched people feeding free Puppy Cups to their dogs and eating flurries topped with peanut-butter cups the size of a brownie.

I look for these mom-and-pop spots everywhere I go; they were common, before the arrival of a certain franchise.

One fall, I found the mother lode in Merrill, Wis. – Briq’s Soft Serve, which calls itself “The Home of the One-Pound Cone’’ and serves sundaes and shakes with locally grown produce – fresh strawberries and rhubarb in early summer, raspberries later on and then (caramel) apples.

It turned out to be just one of eight northern-Wisconsin stands founded by Dan Briquelet, who loved Belt’s ice cream and asked Don Belt to teach him the business. Briquelet died in March, but not before passing the stores on to his daughter, Holly Briquelet Miller, and her husband, Kevin.

“We had a celebration of his life, and people asked if we closed the stores for it,’’ Briquelet-Miller said. “I thought, ‘Did you know my dad at all?’ ’’

I always stop, when I'm in the vicinity: at the Penguin Zesto in Winona, the Tip Top Dairy Bar in Osakis, Kurt N Jo's in Marathon City.

I’m still looking for new places. To see if your favorite spot is on my list, and to contribute new ones, see Seeking the best soft-serve.

  Last updated on March 6, 2013