The REAL First Day of Spring

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Spring may be arriving this year on Sunday, March 20. But here in rural northeast Ohio, the “REAL” first day of Spring will be March 15th. That’s because everyone’s favorite summertime hangout, the Dalton Dari-Ette, will be opening for the season!

The Dari-Ette has been a fixture of the village of Dalton for almost 60 years, and its popularity has never waned. Even after Subway, Domino’s Pizza and Wendy’s, among other restaurants, came to our little town, the Dari-Ette remains THE place to go for lunch, supper and of course – ice cream.

Every area family has a bit of history with the Dari-Ette, and mine is no exception. My grandmother (now 86) was good friends with the original owners and she worked there soon after it opened. My aunt (her daughter) works there still (she’s an excellent grill-cook). My sister worked there in high school and would come home smelling strongly of fried foods (not an unpleasant aroma to me, but it was to her). It’s almost a rite of passage for area teenagers to learn how to swirl the perfect soft-serve cone behind the Dari-ette’s screened walk-up windows.

The Dari-ette Drive-In still looks almost like it did on opening day in 1957.

The Dari-ette Drive-In still looks almost like it did on opening day in 1957.

When I was growing up, the Dari-Ette was the ultimate treat and we looked forward to tasting our favorites each spring, getting our fill during the summer and celebrating the bittersweet closing day in the fall. We rode our bikes to the Dari-Ette as a family countless times from our house a couple of miles away (my health-conscious father’s philosophy was that ice cream and fried food were fine occasionally, as long as you got your exercise on either side of eating them). Each time I had to get a tooth pulled at the dentist (and I had several, to make room for braces), a mint-chocolate milkshake from the Dari-Ette was the perfect balm to soothe my Novocaine-numbed mouth.

In high school one of my girlfriends and I got brave enough to try the famous “specialty,” The Deluxe Nightmare – a burger topped with everything but the kitchen sink, including a slice of fried ham. (Incidentally, I haven’t had it since, but it’s still on the menu!)

My 16-year-old sweetheart (now husband) and I spent many summer afternoons sipping chocolate malts as we held hands across one of the establishment’s picnic tables. We recently discovered that as kids, not knowing each other at the time, we favored the exact same treat – Swiss Chocolate Almond ice cream on a sugar cone. It proves we were made for each other, don’t you think?

And of course, one can’t forget the famous french fries! My sister, who now lives three hours away, has dreams about them and couldn’t wait to have her new husband taste them for the first time. Sprinkle them with salt and splash them with vinegar…okay, now my mouth is watering.

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Photo from Dalton Dari-Ette website.

Now that I have my own children, it’s been a pleasure to introduce them to the Dari-Ette’s offerings, just as my parents did to me years ago. Our oldest daughter favors the “slushies,” essentially a snow cone in a cup, and the hot dogs, which are served on buttered, lightly toasted buns. Our son has now become a pro at licking “all the way around” the chocolate-vanilla twist ice cream cone before it drips onto his fingers. And our youngest excitedly requests a “rainbow sherbet cone with sprinkles” every time we drive past (even in the winter). Me, I still love those old-fashioned chocolate malts. And so does my hubby.

Doesn’t every little town have its own, beloved ice cream place, burger joint, mom-and-pop grocery – or something like it? And doesn’t the fact that these places keep on keepin’ on, summer after summer, year after year, remind us of the absolute best things about life, celebrating springtime and relishing the little treats that make life so sweet?

Some things truly never change – and the Dari-Ette is one of them, thank goodness.

Note: The Dalton Dari-Ette is located at the intersection of SR94 and US30 in Dalton – just a few miles from Lehman’s in Kidron.