Dekoven Drive in Middletown is a quiet two-lane road on the edge of the town. It runs parallel to Route 9, and as you travel 9 past the city, you can look at Dekoven and see a few billboards, a couple apartment buildings, some former industrial buildings, and a business or two as you go by. One particular building stands out in a quietly unobtrusive way; a single-story red brick storefront nestled between two larger white structures. There's a sign over the door - Vecchitto's Italian Ice - and a couple of neon signs in the window. It's easy to drive past, but if you're paying attention you can take Exit 15 off of Route 9 (the sign says "66 West, Middletown, Marlboro,") hook a quick right after you get off of 9, and wind up right there at the door of Vecchitto's. Do this, and you will find frozen happiness in a small paper cup. Do this not, and you will be poorer for what you have missed.
The Vecchitto family have made and sold Italian Ices in the summer since 1930, here in Middletown and at another location at Sound View. (The shops are only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.) At one time the family drove a vending truck through the streets, summoning children to the curb with a bell announcing that ices had arrived, but these days the customers come to the shop. The Vecchittos are old friends to many of their customers, some of whom had enjoyed ices as children and are now bringing their own children and grandchildren there.
The store is a humble place. Behind the counter is a long freezer chest with doors in the top, and there's a cash register at one end. On the right is another long freezer chest. By the front window is a single small table and a few chairs. Most customers don't sit inside, though, they bring their ices outside to enjoy with the breeze from the Connecticut River as they slurp their frozen treats and watch the cars whiz by on Route 9. There's a sign listing the flavors currently available, but if you have a special flavor in mind, just ask - sometimes they have a variety or two that hasn't made it to the board.
I took the family to Vecchitto's on opening day - this year, it was Saturday the 28th. We got there about 1:30 in the afternoon and there was a steady stream of customers, though no lines or long waits. As the summers deepens, it gets crazier near the shop with lines of people waiting for their ice fix and cars parked up and down the shoulders of Dekoven. We ordered a variety of different flavors to sample across the boards and every one of them was completely awesome. Chocolate, rich and impossibly fudgy, almost like a slushy Tootsie Roll; Coconut, clean and smooth and fantastic; Blue Raspberry, fragrant with berry flavor and vanilla; Watermelon (one of Vecchitto's most popular flavors,) like a scoop of frozen fresh fruit; and Grape - remember the full-bodied Concord grape flavor of Welch's juice or Mountain Dew's Pitch Black? Yeah, like that.
Really, there is no Italian Ice anywhere that can compare to Vecchitto's. You would totally make your own day if you took a few minutes to stop by on your way through Middletown, but it is equally worthwhile to drive to Middletown just to get a scoop at Vecchitto's.
You can even make it an awesome day trip if you want. We made the ride special by driving to Middletown "the back way" - rather than taking I-91 south to Route 9, we got off 91 in Hartford and picked up Route 2, then traveled up scenic Route 17 to 17A (Main Street in Portland) and over the Arrigoni Bridge into Middletown. On the way home, we detoured off of 17 in Glastonbury to Route 160, and took the ferry across the river to Rocky Hill, where we caught 91 North and came home again.
That ferry is the oldest continually-operated ferry crossing in the US. It started as a private enterprise in 1655 and was taken over by the State of Connecticut in 1915. Today, the Department of Transportation will bring your carload of people across the river on a ferry platform powered by a small tugboat, and all it will cost you is a drive through some of the prettiest scenery in the state and $3.00 for the fare (which is a bargain.)