With the custard shops north of Portland already out of the running, sometimes the easiest thing to do is find the places that are nearby and in operation still. I’d had this spot in my sights for a while, but figured I’d go on my way back from Higgins Beach. Instead I got a soft serve Butter Pecan cone on a rainy dreary Sunday afternoon.
Red’s has been in South Portland since 1952. It actually was a Tastee Freeze for the first dozen years of its existence before Red Bolling broke from the franchise and made this spot his own. Red was a delivery driver for Hood and didn’t retire from that job until the mortgage on Red’s was paid off in 1967. They’ve provided the residents south of Casco Bay with soft serve ice cream and other confections every summer for over fifty years.
The shop used to have the look of a classic drive in, but somewhere along the way, they build a second story on the building that makes it take the shape of a barn. There is parking all around the building and it seems as though the place to attack your cone is from inside your car. Nearly everyone – aside from two kids zooming around the parking lot on razor scooters – made a beeline back to their vehicle after getting their ice cream. There wasn’t really anywhere else to sit and eat, so I wandered around the lot, and even checked out the house for sale adjacent to Red’s.
I’m sort of stunned that I hadn’t been to this spot before, but I don’t even recall driving past it until my friend Zack showed me where it was the day before as we were on our way to 158 for breakfast. It stands out from a block a way and as soon as I turned my head and saw it, it was unfathomable that I had missed it. Less than a block from my regular paths, sometimes you don’t know how close something you want really is.
I scanned the menu boards that coat the front of the barn and after deciphering at my options – since they are Mainers, what is called a Blizzard by DQphiles is referred to as a Nor’Easter here – I went with a simple butter pecan cone from their soft serve menu. There’s no hard ice cream here at all, but after the amount of time they have been here, they know how to make soft serve. While there’s no pecan chunks in this mix, it’s a perfectly blended smooth mix that has the right flavors.
It was actually the ad for the banana split that pointed me to the fact that this place had been here for as long as it has – “World Famous Since 1952.” This came to Maine in the first wave of soft serve joints. Red had seen that soft serve was catching on elsewhere and opened this shop right after the first Dairy Queen came to Maine. While other places have come and gone, Red’s is a fixture, and a great taste reminder of what can make soft-serve so good.
Cone – small $1.65 medium $2.30 large $2.90
Sundae – small $2.75 medium $3.55 large $4.65 extra large $6
Shakes – small $2.45 medium $3.05 large $3.75
Red’s Dairy Freeze
Fall hours: daily noon-9p