There is no concession stand for the brave souls who perch on scorching hot bleachers on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to watch their friends and family play softball at Stude Park. Here, the patchy fields slope gently towards White Oak Bayou as dust kicks up in the summer wind, momentarily pausing the games while the players wipe sweat and dirt away with bandannas tucked in back pockets. It's brutal in Stude Park at high noon, and even hotter as the sun begins to set, bathing the bleachers, the park, all of it, in the kind of intense heat that is one step removed from the violent solar energy that disintegrated the Icarus II and its crew in Danny Boyle's beautifully disturbing Sunshine (sorry; spoiler alert).
But Stude Park doesn't need a concession stand. It has Mango Beach.
It's easier to miss Mango Beach these days as you cruise past on White Oak Drive. In previous years, its neon green-and-yellow facade was a cheerful antidote to the dreary, worn-down Skylane Apartments that lurked behind it and the grim exterior of the incongruously named Little Buddy gas station next door. Lately, however, Mango Beach lives increasingly in the shadow of Elan Heights, the 10-story midrise that's being built on the site of the former Skylane Apartments. But to those in the know—especially those who seek out an icy raspa after a softball game across the street at Stude Park—Mango Beach is an oasis.
Unlike the more well-known Mam's House of Ice a few miles away, the snowcones and raspas here are a little grittier, their ice not shaved quite as finely, but they hold their flavors and they take a while to melt. To my mind, this is the most important facet of a snowcone. I can take or leave a delicate texture; all I care about is that the raspa sticks around long enough to allow a more-than-momentary respite from the heat. Mango Beach also wins points in my book for offering both clear and sugar-free syrups for its snowcones, including my current favorite: clearly strawberry. This means no worrying about spending the rest of your afternoon with fruit punch mouth. Another bonus: Mango Beach offers a topper of sweetened condensed milk that takes a raspa from refreshing to decadent in two seconds flat.
But what would a de facto concession stand be without Frito pie? Mango Beach has that too, and a really terrific old-school version of it that's served in a paper boat with nothing but generous amounts of stadium-style nacho "cheese" and Wolf-brand chili on top. If you feel like getting fancy, well, you're at the wrong place, but you can consider stepping up your Little League game with a Flaming Hot Cheeto pie that simply swaps out the Fritos for the spicy cheese puffs.
If it's a little heat you're after—call it the hot weather version of the hair of the dog—I'd recommend going with the classic corn in a cup. The elotes here might be Mango Beach's best non-snowcone offering, the sweet corn topped with a thick blanket of crema and softly grated cotija cheese, finished off with bright flourishes of vinegar-tinged Valentina hot sauce and a few shakes of brick-red chile powder. And as is tradition at concession stands across the nation—excepting those bougie affairs in West U and at the Houston Polo Club—Mango Beach only accepts cash.
I stopped in for a single snowcone at Mango Beach this past Sunday evening and found myself instead sitting down to a full "dinner" of Frito pie and elotes at one of the rickety wooden benches that sits under an old oak tree, one of the few buffers between the raspas stand and the ever-growing midrise that looms larger every day. Soon, the oak tree won't be the only bit of shade here; soon, Elan Heights will cast its ample shadow across White Oak Drive and maybe the softball players across the street won't sweat as much during their summer games. Maybe they won't need the bandannas as frequently; maybe they won't even need a concession stand. Maybe they'll just grab a six-pack of beer from Little Buddy to enjoy at home. But on Sunday, the sun was still as fierce as ever, even at 7 p.m., sinking slowly back down to earth in a last, deliberate act of defiance. I squinted into it, watching the dust devils whirl spastically in Stude Park, eating the last few cool bites of my raspa to the ping and thud of softballs against aluminum bats until the game was over and only the dust devils remained.
Mango Beach, 2304 White Oak Dr., 713-900-7500, facebook.com/mangobeachonline