RED BANK: ICE CREAM & A MOVIE

The Gracie and the Dudes ice cream stand in Riverside Gardens Park is the place to be a sultry summer evening. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

Riverside Gardens Park, sandwiched between West Front Street and the Navesink River in Red Bank, is a hive of activity on warm summer nights. Swarms of kids stop by to view the boats on the river, catch a glimpse of the sunset and maybe enjoy the weekly entertainment put on by the folks at the borough Parks and Rec department.

Enticed by the aroma of fresh baked waffles being shaped into cones, PieHole finds a place in line to see what everyone is ordering at the Gracie and the Dudes ice cream stand there.

  Tina Conrad and her children grabbed seats on the brick wall surrounding the park. Below, an order of  cookie dough ice cream covered in hot fudge sauce. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

Restaurants and bars might be key to nightlife in Red Bank, but on a Tuesday evening, it’s the ice cream and the G-rated movie that bring hordes of locals outside. Some show up looking for a sweet dessert, unaware of the free film.

Gracie and the Dudes, owned by Michelle and Brian McMullin, opened in Sea Bright in 2009 (there are now four locations), and took over the rarely-opened snack bar in the park last summer.

On a recent night, Middletown resident Tina Conrad brought her kids out to enjoy the weather and grab some ice cream. “Oh, is there a movie tonight? We came to the park for the ice cream,” she said, sitting on the brick wall next to her kids who opted fora scoop in a cup with chocolate sauce.

A large group of eighth-graders from Thompson School in Middletown tell us that they congregate here “whenever we can,” and don’t just take up space on the sidewalks and in the park.

“We like the ice cream,” one of the kids said. “Mint chocolate chip is the best, but we also like their milkshakes. Yeah, the milkshakes are really good.” Interrupting that train of thought, another kid decided that it’s the root beer float that’s the best.

Floats, shakes, specialty sundaes, cup or cone; the choices are mindboggling. In addition, there are 19 flavors of hard ice cream on the menu board, some with a gourmet touch, such as zagnut, cake batter, old fashioned donut, and amaretto biscotti. Additionally there’s a selection of Italian ice flavors such as lemon, cotton candy, blackberry, plum and chocolate. Soft ice cream and gelato? They have that too.

A banana split listed under the specialty sundaes will set you back $7.95, and a small cup or cone costs $3.60.

Gracie and the Dudes in Riverside Gardens Park opens at 3 p.m. daily and takes cash only.SUSAN-ERICSON

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