North Deering is a slice of Portland that never made it to the off-peninsula culinary growth chart.
Inundated by chains salivating at drive-through possibilities, this outlying area of Washington Avenue/Auburn Street and Allen Avenue is heavily traveled and oft-overlooked. Although the Old Port is 10 minutes away, locals are grateful for the trifecta of restaurants many grew up with and still call their favorite watering holes.
Not discounting the food, think prime rib at Parker’s on Washington Avenue, killer eggplant at Bruno’s on Allen Avenue, and Portland’s best wings at Samuel’s, located at beautiful Morrill’s Corner on Forest Avenue. After 25 years of living within walking distance, each is worthy of its own column filled with tales of great meals, happy hours and inappropriate behavior (mine, of course).
But this week belongs to Lib’s Dairy Treats, center of the North Deering universe.
Little has made me as happy going about my business as I was Saturday, Feb. 1, seeing the usually hibernating Lib’s, snow piled high, open for business with a line of customers mirroring a July day. I was anxious to make it to the bank, Shaw’s, post office, dry cleaners, car wash, pet store and a consignment shop by 1 p.m., but all my plans vanished at the sight of people dressed for the season and eating ice cream at a spot synonymous with summer.
Lib’s, on an Auburn Street triangle with parking and picnic tables, represents everything good about North Deering, traditions and family.
Owner Tim Pawloski, 37, is third generation and runs the operation very much like his grandparents and mom, Brenda, did.
“We’re a local staple, and like to keep it looking old and nostalgic,” Pawloski said. “It was built in 1964 as a Dairy Queen and my grandparents bought it in 1969. My mom wanted to add blueberry topping and Dairy Queen corporate said no. My grandparents’ last name was Libby, so that’s why we named it Lib’s in 1992 when we dropped the franchise.”
Primarily serving soft serve ice cream with many creations and flavors, the product line increased to include hard ice cream in 2019.
“Arland Gifford approached my mom many times about adding his ice cream, and we did. We’ve also added doughnuts from Tony’s and want to keep incorporating local products,” Pawloski said. The goal is admirable since the average purchase at Lib’s is $7 and keeping the product affordable is non-negotiable. Lib’s also offers a dog dish served with homemade, bone-shaped treats; 100 percent of the revenue is donated to local shelters.
Pawloski’s wife, Megan, 39, worked at Lib’s as a teenager and is the brains behind bringing it to the next generation. She handles marketing, and it was her idea to open the business on National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.
“I know other places open in the winter, but it’s new for us. We have seven dogs and we each work other part-time jobs off season,” Pawloski said. “We were blown away by how busy we were this past Saturday. We intended to stay open until 8 p.m., but ran out of ice cream around 5. We completely underestimated it. And really, the best part was seeing all the familiar faces and people I’ve known for years with their own kids who have grown up in line here.”
Lib’s will be open again Saturday, Feb. 8. The weather forecast is 32 degrees and sunny, so bring sunscreen along with your scarf and hat.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].