The Other Depot… Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot

For me, the word “depot” conjures memories of Home Depot trips with my dad. While tools and home improvement supplies bored me, I always loved exploring the cavernous aisles with Dad. When it was just Dad and me, I was allowed to stand on the carts he pushed around the store. When he brought all three of us girls, Dad forbade such activities to avoid the inevitable sister squabbling over who got to ride. Wise man.

This past Sunday, I found a new Depot to love. The boyfriend and I were in Northern Virginia to visit a close family friend who is starting her freshman year at George Mason University. After walking around the massive GMU campus, we were famished and looking for a snack to tide us over until dinnertime. A quick Bing search yielded a few recognizable frozen yogurt chains nearby – and a place called ‘Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot.’ Hmm… I’d never seen “depot” alongside “ice cream” and was curious. Upon further reading, I learned that Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot holds the title of Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2011 ‘Best In Frozen Treats’ Winner. How did this place miss my radar? The Depot is nine miles west of the GMU campus (i.e. not on our way), but my obliging driver agreed to make a special detour to Clifton, Virginia. “It’s for the blog, after all.” 😉

The town of Clifton is definitely off the beaten path – but I’m glad that Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot provided a reason to visit. Old Town Clifton is teeny-tiny but packed with history and charm. According to Wikipedia, Clifton has a population of 282 (not a typo) and is the only town in Fairfax County that still has a railroad crossing. Notable residents include congressmen, computer scientists, professional football players, and writer Jeff Arch – who supposedly was living on Main Street when he wrote the screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle. Small world, eh?

When we pulled onto Clifton’s Main Street, we didn’t spot Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot right away. Unlike the Home Depot, the Ice Cream Depot is a small establishment hidden down a narrow, tree-lined alley. Just a small yard sign marks the entrance. From the numerous informative (and colorful) chalkboards that line the stony path, I learned that the Peterson Family chose “Depot” to pay homage to Clifton’s rich railroad history – not their love of Home Depot.


When we emerged from this shrub-lined alley, we found ourselves at the front register of Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot. We were the only customers (a rain shower had just passed), so the friendly staff was more than willing to explain the menus and share their favorite creations. I was surprised to see that Peterson’s serves a variety of “real food” as well. The specialty hot dogs, nachos, and french fries all sounded delicious. But I was here for ice cream. In true Depot style, Peterson’s boasts over 30 different milkshakes and malts, dozens of toppings, and 10 signature sundaes. The gal behind the counter clarified that Peterson’s uses its secret-recipe soft serve as the base for all dessert creations – and customers have the choice between vanilla, chocolate, swirl, and the “flavor of the day.”

My boyfriend was interested in sharing a sundae – so I scanned the board for something we’d both like. We are both big fans of coconut (thank goodness. I don’t understand how people can hate it), so Clifton Creation #7 caught my eye: 

#7  Jasien’s Almond Joy – “Ever eaten an Almond Joy candy bar? This is better (we think). Vanilla ice cream covered with almond slices and coconut flakes, then topped off with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry.”

We hadn’t eaten much for lunch, so the almonds sounded like a great idea (protein, right?). After placing our order, we moseyed on back to the seating area: a patio under a canopy of well-manicured greenery. A dozen high wooden tables with umbrellas provide shade from the heat. Moments later, our sundae was ready…

You won’t find this at Home Depot

The verdict? Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot knows good ice cream. The vanilla soft serve base was thick and delicious, but the best part of this sundae are the toppings. Generous layers of toasted coconut and slivers of almonds add texture and crunch. Thick, only-slightly-warm fudge lines the cup, ensuring that chocolate makes it into every bite. Frothy, light whipped cream and a cherry top everything off. The Almond Joy sundae is obviously handcrafted with care: a hidden layer of toasted coconut and almonds is found at the bottom of the sundae. Best of all? Portions are huge… so no fighting necessary while sharing 😉

The Stats:
Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot
7150 Main Street
Clifton, Virginia 20124
Open from mid-March thru mid-November

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