There is no doubt that the East Bay needs more ice cream parlors. Indeed, other than Fenton's in Piedmont (which is impossible to get into on evenings and weekends), I don't know of any in this part of the East Bay. So it was with much glee that we learned of the opening of Knudsen's Ice Creamery in Castro Valley. It features Fenton's ice cream and toppings and a food menu very similar to Fenton's (it includes sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads) at similar prices.
The Ice Creamery, which opened in the space of a former ice-cream parlor, features a large room with separate ice cream and candy counters. The Knudsen's, the family who runs it, owned a candy factory in Hayward for many years. There are no booths but the wood tables are more comfortable and sturdy than Fenton's small, metal ones. The tables are covered with white formica. Mika had fun "cleaning" ours with a paper napkin she had dunked into her water glass. When we visited on a Friday night in June 2004 (about a month after it opened) around 8:30pm the place was in full swing, but there were several open tables. Unfortunately there weren't enough high chairs, so Mika had to sit on a regular chair. That was fortunate for her as it gave her the freedom to get up and run around. The place is large enough, and the tables far enough apart from each other, that she could do that and not get in anyone's way. Indeed, she spent some time spinning and still managed to not bother anyone. The room is extremely loud. Not only were there a lot of children there but there are no noise absorbing materials to speak of. A screaming child there might not even be heard.
The ice cream is Fenton's so if you've been to Fenton's, you know what you are getting. The ice cream is good, though not spectacular. Flavors tend to the traditional - the more "modern" incorporations are things like cookies'n'cream, Reese's and chocolate chip cookie dough - and they are creamy without being too dense. The toppings can be quite good, the caramel in particular is excellent.
The menu features less sundaes than Fenton's, but you'll find some Fenton's specialties such as the white-and-tan. Except for the Berry Berry, all the special sundaes include vanilla as well as another flavor; not a good thing for those of us who don't like vanilla ice cream. Unlike Fenton's, there is no "sundae of the month," though perhaps that will change with time. I was very disappointed that no "make your own" Sundae was listed on the menu. At Fenton's you can choose up to three flavors of ice cream and toppings. The Ice Creamery's menu has an "old fashioned sundaes" section that offers one and two scoop-sundaes but it says you can only chose one flavor ice cream and one topping. Fortunately we were able to order two two-flavor/two-topping sundaes (for the $6 each regular price).
The sundaes were quite good - again, Fenton's quality. I liked Mike's Butterfinger and Reese's with Hot Fudge and Caramel topping a lot. I liked my Reese's and Toasted Almond with Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chocolate toppings considerably less. A two-scoop sundae is truly huge and even with our little ice-cream fiend we ended up bringing some home. Next time I think we'll share one.
The place is only a month old and I suspect some of the wait staff has been working there even less. The place was quite disorganized. There was no one to greet you (just seat yourself) but an older man (the owner?) came to our table to welcome us and thank us for being there. Soon after, a busgirl appeared with water glasses - she was apparently new and couldn't answer our question about the two-scoop sundae. The waitress appeared some time after, quite apologetic for not having seen us before. She was very polite and later stopped to tell us that our ice cream was in the way.
We didn't try the regular food menu (will in the future), but can't imagine it'd be any better or worse than Fenton's.
In all, we'll probably make the Ice Creamery our regular ice cream parlor. It's not as nice as Fenton's (after the remodel), but it's closer and easier to get into.
Note. We have since returned a couple of times to the Ice Creamery during the day. It's generally quite empty at this time, and they have a high employee-to-customer ration. Still, the employees seem to not have been well trained. One time my sandwich sat on the counter for several minutes while all the waitresses were talking, and it wasn't until I gestured to one that I was able to get it (I was tempted to go and pick it up myself).
The food I've had at the Ice Creamery is very much like the food at Fenton's, not-great and overpriced. A fountain coke I ordered was expensive and had an off-flavor. The fries are quite good, though.
I've also bought some of the candy and it was OK but nothing extraordinary. I like See's better. Mika had a great time licking the chocolate off one of their chocolate-covered oatmeal cookies. You can see the results here
Knudsen's Ice Creamery
3323 Castro Valley Blvd
Castro Valley, CA