TOLL GATE ICE CREAM 1569 New Scotland Road Slingerlands

Section: Preview,  Page: P18

Date: Thursday, March 17, 2005

True story: I went on five dates with my future wife before I kissed her.

Come to think of it, she had to kiss me.

I'll get to the restaurant in a moment. First, a little context.

It was 1991, the age of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill and gender-dividing televised hearings. Donna and I were co-workers at the Times Union , seeing each other on the q.t. We were outed weeks later by a 2:30 a.m. car crash with an Albany police cruiser involved in a high-speed chase (it was not our fault, and we weren't the ones being chased), but that story is for another restaurant column. Anyway, I was taking it slooooooow; I couldn't be sure I wasn't being diabolically sucked into a career-ending sexual harassment lawsuit. It was a strange time, kids.

But on that great fall day, I took the top down and doors off my Jeep (no, I didn't always drive a minivan), and cued up "Linus & Lucy" on a mixed tape. We drove to Thacher State Park.

There she finally turned and kissed me. It was a perfect kiss, like the one at the end of "The Princess Bride," only better, and not narrated by Peter Falk. I remember it like it was only 13 years, two apartments, two houses and a pair of kids ago.

And, no, she hasn't sued me yet.

After that perfect kiss, we descended the Helderbergs and traveled down Route 85, stopping at an ice cream shop/diner on the outskirts of Bethlehem. We've been going back ever since.

Toll Gate Ice Cream seems locked in 1949, the year the Zautner family that still operates it opened the restaurant. It appears not much has changed in its 56 years.

The wood booths are as worn as the tile floor. The wallpaper is from the Lucy-and-Ricky era, and some of the leather stools around the counter are ripped. A dusty American flag is tacked to the wall. You can buy bubble gum cigars (how wonderfully un-PC) for 28 cents plus tax.

Yes, it's worn - but it seems to add to the charm. You fully expect Wally and the Beav to be seated in a back booth, trying to figure out how sore Dad is going to be when they get home.

The food is basic burger/fried seafood fare, with generous portions. (Kids love the popcorn chicken.) The priciest entree is an Angus strip steak meal ($12.50). I had the cheeseburger club ($8.50). The sandwich was solid, but I didn't even finish it.

That's because you have to save room for the homemade ice cream. Simply, it's some of the best you will have in the Capital Region - or anywhere else, for that matter.

The stuff can get pricey: One concoction is the $15.75 Double Sizzle, featuring 10 scoops of ice cream, strawberries, pineapple and whipped cream. But it is worth it. It's what keeps you coming back.

(You can also buy takeout ice cream, ranging from $2.95 per half-pint to $7.85 a quart.)

You'll find a lot of families at Toll Gate (dinner and desert for two adults, two kids and an infant ran $51.79 plus tip). But the restaurant is also popular among high schoolers and, especially, those on a date. In fact, this may be the perfect first-date destination.

Especially if the date goes well. Then you might find yourself coming back for years and years.

Big hit: The homemade ice cream. Pick a flavor - any flavor. Even peanut butter and jelly ice cream is not as icky as it sounds.

Needs work: The interior could stand refurbishing - and $3.75 for French fries is way out of line.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Details: Bring cash! Toll Gate does not accept credit cards. (There is a Trustco ATM right next door if you forget.)

Info: 439-9824

- Mark McGuire