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Mid-Century Roadside Food

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There are plenty of places to grab a bite on Central Avenue, but nostalgia looms large for a couple of kitschy roadside joints that dated back to the ’50s and ’60s and were more American Graffiti than American Nouveau. While they may have sown the seeds for franchises that are still going strong, the original Central Avenue locations—with all their mid-century charm—fell victim to the march of progress within the past decade.

Let’s start with dessert: Everyone enjoys a nice soft-serve cone on a hot summer day, but few know that soft-serve was—like most food innovations—an accidental discovery. Tom Carvel’s ice cream truck broke down on Central Avenue in Hartsdale way back in 1934, and he discovered that people actually liked the ice cream a little on the mushy side. He continued to sell his soft-serve creations on that spot, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the original Carvel location—an “ice cream supermarket,” as Tom Carvel called it—took on the distinctive glass-front, pitched-roof look that became the Carvel signature. Sadly, the property was sold to investors who didn’t think the building was the good kind of throwback, and, in 2008, it was torn down to make room for a restaurant. There is still a Carvel on Central Avenue (419 Central Ave, Hartsdale 914-761-3863; www.carvel.com), but it’s not in the original spot, and it’s missing that Willy-Wonka-ski-chalet vibe. 

Unlike Carvel, Westchester wasn’t home to the first Nathan’s—Coney Island famously lays that claim—but we were close; the Nathan’s that took up residence on Central Avenue in Yonkers in 1965 was only the franchise’s third location. When it was built, the neon lights of the 10,000-square-foot space beckoned to everyone who drove by with promises of hot dogs, fries, and video games in an attached arcade. Though a Nathan’s still exists in that location (2290 Central Ave 914-779-0700; www.nathansfamous.com), the fast-food joint closed in 2012, ditched the arcade, and reopened in a renovated space with a much smaller footprint so—of course—the plaza can accommodate more storefronts.

Who knows if half a century from now people will feel the same way about the boxy shopping centers that have sprung up in place of Carvel and Nathan’s.             

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