Cold, Cold, Cold: Snow cone or snowball? Ian traverses the metro area to solve the mystery.

Aug 13, 2008 at 4:00 am
"Welcome back, Ian."

Thanks, Doc. And thanks for fitting me in. I know it's been a while since our last session.

"Almost a year."

Right. Sorry about that. That copay is a pain.

"The last time we spoke, it was about the heat."

Well, it's back. Not as bad as last August. Not yet, at least. But bad enough.

"I've noticed. If I remember correctly, last year you were angry at yourself for reviewing a restaurant that specializes in soup during the peak of the heat wave."

Not one of my better moments. I've learned my lesson, though. I just spent the past few days driving around St. Louis, eating snow cones. Let me tell you, when the heat index passes 110, there isn't anything better than a cup full of ice. Snow cones and snowballs. That's where it's at.

"Snow cones. Snowballs. I've always wondered why some places call them the former, others the latter."

Two different things.


I had no idea, either. Growing up in Baltimore, I called them "snowballs." Everyone did. Period. If anyone had a snow-cone stand, I didn't know it. The only snow-cone stand I knew of was Snoopy's.

"Who was Snoopy?"

The dog, Doc. Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Peanuts. When I was a kid, they sold a toy, Snoopy's Snow Cone Stand. You put a couple of ice cubes in it, turned a crank and — voilà! — you had crushed ice. Then you mixed some of this Kool Aid-like stuff, which you dispensed from Snoopy's head over the ice. I was obsessed with the thing.

"You had one."

My parents wouldn't buy me one.

"How did that make you feel?"

Let's stay focused, Doc. So snowballs are a huge part of Baltimore culture. Stands and trucks, the snack bars at pools. I had a friend whose father sold them out of this beat-up conversion van he'd painted a sickly shade of green. I'd usually get sky-blue flavor.

"What on earth is 'sky-blue flavor?'"

It' I guess you had to be there. So I just assumed everyone everywhere ate snowballs in the summer. Then in college I was dating this girl from New Jersey. One weekend she visited me at my parents' house. I suggested a walk to the nearby snowball stand. She looked at me like I was from another planet. Turns out snowballs are pretty much exclusively a thing in Baltimore and New Orleans.

"And elsewhere they are called snow cones."

I told you, Doc. Two different things. But it's easy to get confused. Especially because several of the snow-cone stands I visited this week advertise "New Orleans-style" snow cones. Never "Baltimore-style," of course, but that's beside the point.

"But if they were truly New Orleans-style, wouldn't they be called snowballs?"

Exactly. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. So the first place I stop is Tropical Moose, next to the farmers' market in downtown Kirkwood. I ordered a small, orange-pineapple snow cone. Listen, Doc: It was almost Proustian. The ice was shaved fine — but not too fine. You needed a spoon to eat it. And there were no tooth-cracking ice chunks. The syrup was good, too. Sweet, but not overly so. It didn't taste like fake orange and fake pineapple. And just like when I was a kid, I ate it too quickly. Serious brain freeze.

So at this point I'm thinking the whole snowball-vs.-snow-cone debate is just regional, like whether you say "soda" or "pop." Because my Tropical Moose snow cone was just as good as any snowball I remember from Baltimore.

But later that day I visit Cup of Sno, a stand in the parking lot of the Family Video in Maplewood, just off Big Bend Boulevard. A standard prefab stand, looks like a backyard shed. This is one of the places advertising New Orleans-style snow cones.


In this case, no. The ice was thicker, more crushed than shaved. I had to chew my way through the top of the snow cone. It was a momentary incovenience, though. Once the snow cone melted a little, I had no trouble slurping it down.

I thought maybe this was an aberration. The next day I went to Southern Sno, near the entrance to Memorial Park in Brentwood, on Strassner Drive, just east of Brentwood Boulevard. This is another prefab shed, and a little sign near its parking lot advertises — guess.

"New Orleans-style."


I wasn't sure which flavor to order. In some ways, flavor choices are universal. Fruits, piña colada and other "mocktails," oddities like "fireball."


I wish. Though several places advertised blue-raspberry, which would at least have the same effect on your tongue. I did notice more sour flavors than when I was a kid. So I ordered a sour apple snow cone from Southern Sno. The syrup was mildly tart, like a green apple, but not especially sour. The ice wasn't quite as coarse as at Cup of Sno, but it was nowhere near as fine as Tropical Moose's.

Next I went to D&M Sno Cones at the corner of Hampton Avenue and Eichelberger Street in St. Louis Hills. I ordered a watermelon snow cone — and, again: chopped ice, not finely shaved. I have to credit the flavor industry, though. The fruit flavors seem a lot more authentic than the ones I remember from childhood. The watermelon didn't taste as watery as a real watermelon, but it was a close approximation.

So now I think I have it figured out. "Snowball" refers to finely shaved ice. Snow cone refers to ice shaved or chopped not quite as fine.

"That seems like a very fluid definition."

Funny, Doc. But that's the problem, isn't it? I mean, we're talking about ice. Whether chopped or shaved or crushed, it's pretty damn refreshing when it's 100 in the shade.

I'll tell you, though, there was one thing I saw that I've never seen before. Cream snowballs. I had one at Glaciers, in the parking lot near the Sappington Farmers' Market on Watson Road in Marlborough. You make a hollow chute in the ice, fill it with a cream mixture and then add the syrup and top it with whipped cream. I couldn't bring myself to order a vanilla ice-cream snow cone or something like that — just didn't seem kosher, you know? — so I tried the peaches-and-cream. It wasn't bad, though I noticed the whipped cream more than the cream inside the snow cone. But it certainly wasn't as refreshing as a good old-fashioned snow cone.

"Or snowball."


"Anything else bothering you?"

Just one thing. When I was at Glaciers, a big group of kids was in line in front of me. A daycare or summer camp or something like that. More than a dozen snow cones. I drove around for fifteen minutes, and the little brats still hadn't finished getting their snow cones. And then, on a $40 order, their chaperone tips a buck. One measly dollar. It would have been less insulting not to tip at all.

"Ian, are you really angry at those kids and their chaperone? Or are you angry at your inner child?"

Doc, I think our time is up.