NEEDHAM - She's lived here for 27 years, but no one would mistake Mary Pat Dauria for a New Englander. "I still can't get rid of the Rochester accent," she says, ringing up another sale at Abbott's Frozen Custard, her shop here. Both Dauria and the cash register have been quite busy since the store opened in June, serving an influx of customers hooked on the cold treat.
Thick frozen custard has inspired a devoted following, especially residents of Rochester, N.Y., the site of the original Abbott's on Lake Ontario. Frozen custard, made with eggs, buttermilk, and cream, and churned slowly in a custom-made machine, is denser than traditional ice cream. "I missed Abbott's," says Dauria. "Every time I went back to Rochester the first thing we did was go there." So five years ago, the former buyer for Filene's hatched a plan to open an Abbott's Frozen Custard franchise here, the first in New England (others are located in New York and Florida.)
It wasn't long before transplanted Rochestarians found it. "I absolutely grew up on Abbott's," says Norma Greenberg, 76, waiting in line at the tiny storefront. She points to a 1939 photograph of the original Abbott's on the wall. "I could be in one of these pictures!" The Newton resident heard about the new Abbott's from a Needham friend. She rushed over that day and reminisced with Dauria about custard and all things Rochester.
Dauria has had many similar encounters since opening, and has a two-page list of local Rochestarians who have visited. She's witnessed reunions of people who hadn't seen each other since their school days in the snowy city, and has fielded requests for other Rochester treats, like white hots, a type of a hot dog eaten in the area.
Rochester residents were first introduced to frozen custard in 1902, when Arthur Abbott started flogging the confection at local fairs. He open a permanent location in 1926 in the Rochester neighborhood of Charlotte (pronounced "Shar-LOT" or, if you are from Rochester and have the signature flat twang, "Shar-LAAT"), which still exists today. Dauria points to an old photograph of that shop, showing a procession of people - as far as the eye can see - waiting for a custard. "It's still like that," she says. "They have to get extra police every summer in Charlotte to deal with those lines."
The Needham location has its own queues to contend with, a fact that didn't escape Annette Doolin, a University of Rochester graduate who drove from Swampscott to taste nostalgia. "I almost feel like jumping behind there and helping them out, I'm so committed to this custard," she says. Doolin, 40, who was introduced to Abbott's by a classmate who had grown up in Rochester, made a habit of indulging in chocolate custard once a week while living there.
Flavors are limited as the custard is made fresh daily and each batch takes 20 minutes to churn. Vanilla, chocolate, black raspberry, and coffee are some flavors most often available. On this night, Greenberg chooses vanilla, which she shares with her daughter, Susan, who is visiting from Durham, N.C., and has been whisked to Needham to taste her mother's childhood.
It lives up to the hype. "There was a lot of build up," says the younger Greenberg, "but it is very, very good."
Abbott's Frozen Custard, 934 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-9908, abbottscustard.com.