You'd think the city's oldest ice cream parlor ― a place that's been in the same storefront on 24th Street since 1918 ― would be packed at dinner with families reveling in nostalgia as they lap up old-school ice cream creations. You'd think wrong. On evenings when 2-year-olds and their parents are lined up nearby at Humphry Slocombe for double cones of peanut butter curry and Jesus Juice, our girls have the vintage counter at St. Francis all to themselves.
Even without the ice cream, St. Francis would be an easy sell for little ones. The full breakfast menu's available all day, along with a greatest hits of kid staples like burgers, fries, and mac n cheese. Though the smallish children's menu is insanely cheap (it tops out at $3.25 for a grilled cheese or PBJ with fries), the portions are smallish (perfect for kindergartners or younger), so my 8- and 10-year-olds typically split an adult-size cheeseburger ($8.75 with choice of side) or a bacon, cheddar, and onion omelet ($11 with hash browns and toast).
As is often the case, our kids rate the sides highest. The Stoufferesque mac and cheese is "awesome," and the crunchy hash browns better than the gold standard (well, in my girls' reckoning) at Bagel Twins near grandma and grandpa's in Boca. The St. Francis staff is beyond nice, always providing a sharing plate and a sharp knife sans attitude.
There are plenty of distractions to keep kids (including me) amused. The retro powdered soap dispenser in the hot-pink bathroom makes for nice dinner conversation. Old fashioned straw canisters are good for a few minutes of entertainment before a quick turn on the rotating counter stools, a game unto itself. Then there's the candy case loaded with vintage goodies, including Wacky Packs, Gold Rush gum, and Three's Company trading cards. Nothing mortifies our girls more than when my wife and I loudly impersonate Mr. and Mrs. Roper. Oh Stanley!
Our 10-year-old got turned on to Ratatat here a few years ago and now begs me to Shazam the St. Francis sound system during every visit. Does she really think I'm so lame that I can't identify The Strokes or Broken Bells? Um, yes.
But who are we kidding here? Suggesting St. Francis Fountain for a family dinner is really just a poorly disguised ruse to pig out on ice cream. This is the place to introduce your kids to the classics, all made with local favorite Mitchell's. We usually go big, slurping monstrous, super-thick milkshakes ($5.75) as appetizers and finishing up with a couple of three-scoop hot fudge banana splits ($8.25), also mammoth. Ruthless gamesmanship is imperative for maximum dessert consumption. My wife and I suggest the girls go wash their hands or feed the meter (even though it's after 6 p.m.) so we can get in a few uninterrupted spoonfuls of whipped cream.
If they have to learn the ropes, it might as well be at an ice cream parlor.
St. Francis Fountain: 2801 24th St. (at York), 826-4200.
Other outings in this series: