Once upon a time, 15 or 20 years ago, summer in Princeton meant a quiet, relatively empty downtown — and only two choices for families or friends in search of a cold ice cream cone on a hot day. You could go to Halo Pub, where a “tiny” size (half scoop) cup or cone would cost you just $1, or Thomas Sweet, famous for its “blend-ins” — ice cream blended with toppings.
Fast forward to today, and Princeton has shed its summer ghost town reputation and instead become a destination for tourists by the busload. As Princeton’s appeal has expanded, so have its ice cream offerings: six shops downtown now specialize in ice cream, gelato, or frozen yogurt.
Of course, some things never change: Halo Pub is still the least expensive option in town, with a “tiny” cup or cone now priced at $1.75 and a small (one scoop) at $2.25. At Thomas Sweet, where blend-ins are still the main attraction, a regular small is $3.25; blending in one topping brings the price to $4.50. Both will have lines out the door on a warm summer evening, but both also offer live music on weekends that entertains while you wait, and the line moves quickly.
In 2004 the Bent Spoon joined the ice cream scene in Palmer Square, offering a constantly changing lineup of ice creams and sorbets made on the premises. At peak times lines can stretch down the block, slowed by customers sampling one or more of the not-so-ordinary flavors. A small there, which can include two flavors, is $4.75. Cookies and cupcakes there are $2.50 to $3.
The most recent addition to the ice cream offerings is Dolceria, part of the Gretalia Hospitality Group that also owns Trattoria Procaccini and the adjacent Porta Via. Dolceria offers gelato ($3.75 for a small) as well as coffee and other baked goods. And if parking is an issue downtown, it has a second location at the Princeton Shopping Center.
Finally, for those who want to believe they are making healthier dessert decisions, Princeton Pi & Yogurt Cafe (a combination of the former Iano’s pizza and Twist) and Fruity Yogurt offer do-it-yourself frozen yogurt, where you help yourself to the flavors and toppings of your choice. Sweet concoctions at those spots are priced by the ounce.
Halo Pub, 9 Hulfish Street. Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily except holidays.
Thomas Sweet, 183 Nassau Street. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight.
The Bent Spoon, 35 Palmer Square West. Monday and Tuesday, noon to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.
Dolceria, 180 Nassau Street & 301 North Harrison Street. Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Princeton Pi & Yogurt Cafe, 84 Nassau Street. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Fruity Yogurt, 166 Nassau Street. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.