Back when I was a carefree kid growing up in Sioux City, Iowa, my friends and I spent countless lazy summer afternoons at Lewis Pool, a social hotspot.
After hours of splashing around, flirting with boys and lounging on towels, exchanging the latest fifth-grade gossip, Shari Kay, Sherri Georgen and I — sometimes with annoying little sisters in tow — would collect our belongings and begin a leisurely saunter home.
Before embarking on that two-mile-long trek, we would spend hard-earned weekly allowances on concession stand treats. My favorites were sticky taffy wrapped in a long, crinkly package and a Snickers bar frozen so hard my teeth had difficulty chiseling through the layers.
By the time we hit the Dairy Queen on Morningside Avenue, we would be ready for our second course of cool comfort. Bunches of swimsuit-clad friends gathered outside the popular DQ next door to Jerry’s Pizza, sipping grape- and orange-flavored Mr. Misty slushes, joking about brain freeze and hoping our dinner wouldn’t be spoiled.
But it was summer. The air was perfumed with Coppertone and the days soaking up the sun’s rays seemed endless. Special treats were not only acceptable indulgences, but required for maximizing the fleeting summertime fun.
Earlier this summer, acquaintance David Hayden, Kansas City’s well-known hospitality guru, was on the radio show I co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile Jr. After the interview, we chatted about the heat wave and our personal recipes for staying cool.
Hayden suggested we check outTropical Sno
in the 13400 block of Holmes Road, across from Jack Stack Barbecue in Martin City.
“It’s one of the best stands in town,” Hayden assured us. “Trust me — the service is unusual.”
Never one to shy away from intrigue, I pulled into the gravel lot in front of the humble hut last week. It was late afternoon and a sprinkling of people devoured brilliantly hued and towering shaved ice creations.
Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” blared from loudspeakers. As I walked up to order, a whiff of Coppertone mixed with a syrupy-sweet scent from the Tropical Sno stand transported me right back to the summertime of my childhood.
The menu posted on the front of the small building was extensive — exotic concoctions like Pineango, Pinkleberry, Peach Razzmatazz. Flavor options like Passion Fruit, Red Raspberry and Tutti Frutti, among others, started my taste buds dancing.
And as if on cue, Adam Branson and Joseph Bricker stuck their heads through the window, asking my shaved ice pleasure.
I was stumped, and these cone-istas knew it.
“Maybe you’d like to try a LeAn Limes?” queried Branson. “Blue raspberry, blueberry and a dash of lime.”
Branson cleared his throat, interrupting my intense menu scan.
“It’s not there,” he said, his voice morphing into an unidentifiable accent. “It’s my creation.”
Peering through the window, I watched Bricker expertly manipulate layers of shaved ice tumbling from a whirring machine into a beehive-like formation.
Branson took over, drizzling multiple syrups over the pristine ice before sticking a spoon in the middle, slipping a plastic spill stopper onto the cup and proudly handing it to me.
“This,” he said, “is not a snow cone. It’s a Tropical Sno.”
The Tropical Sno stand on Holmes has a distinctive personality, thanks to the merry band of sno-making thespians hired by co-owners Seth Golay, a local actor and Jason Kralicek, managing director at the Unicorn Theatre.
It’s sno-and-a-show, repeated hundreds of time each summer day.
Burgeoning actor Bricker, 17, a senior at Blue Valley North, and Branson, 32, an actor familiar to American Heartland and New Theater audiences, join the likes of Jessalyn Kincaid, an acclaimed KC actor, and a handful of others making Tropical Snos.
“It’s more difficult than it looks,” said Bricker, in his second month of summer sno-making mania. “When I finally got the hang of making one I went home and screamed, ‘Mom, I did it! I made a Tropical Sno!’”
Branson, Bricker, Kincaid and the other Tropical Sno elves dish out an extra treat for customers: different accents, good-natured jibes and even the opportunity to order a Yolo.
“That’s our choice of shaved ice,” said Branson.
Sometimes they even politely heckle customers emerging from Jack Stack across the street.
“Tropical Sno, the best in KC, right here, perfect after a barbecue dinner,” barked Bricker over the loudspeakers to a group exiting the restaurant.
“Ah, good, we got a reaction,” Branson said. “One smile, one dirty look. But sometimes people cross Holmes and join the party.”
Finished with my LeAn Limes, sufficiently sugared up and luxuriating in my summertime buzz, I request a Rainbow — Blue Raspberry, Red Raspberry and Pineapple. Branson dazzles in his no-time-flat preparation.
“This is a pretty one,” he said, admiring the shaved ice art before relinquishing it.
I linger for a minute at the Tropical Sno stand, letting the delicate ice melt on my tongue, syrup slipping down my throat, remembering a thousand summer afternoons from my childhood.
“Thanks guys,” I murmured to Branson and Bricker, who are still in character, still offering up a good time.
The only thing missing from my Tropical Sno adventure today are Shari, Sherri and those irritating little sisters.
Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.