I may have mentioned a few times on this blog how much I and my offspring love ice cream. And although we certainly eat our fair share of it at home, while we’re traveling it can often become a part of our daily routine, kind of like brushing our teeth only much more caloric. It’s kind of fun actually – I’m usually the bad cop, but the kids know that when we’re on the road they can pretty much always count on me to say yes when they ask for ice cream because I want to get some myself.
Since our summer 2009 road trip took us to so many places in the Midwestern United States, where many of my blog’s readers live, I decided that it would be downright neglectful of me not to sample as much local ice cream as possible so that I could report back on the findings. In that neck of the woods, local ice cream means local frozen custard, which has all the glorious benefits of ice cream only with eggs added for extra richness (and it’s not for the faint of heart – we’re talking about 10 percent butterfat here people).
All this was strictly in the name of research of course.
Most frozen custard purveyors offer some form of mix in, which may or may not go under the unappealing name of “concrete” or “cement.” This simply means the custard is mixed with one or more toppings so that rather than simply being scattered on top, you ideally get cookie dough, or chocolate chips, or whatever you have chosen throughout your serving. I am a big fan of this approach, which permits me to combine my love of ice cream with a passion for say, Heath bars, Oreos, and nuts, just to name a few mix-in items.
In Matt’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin we had custard at Luke’s. Actually we had dinner there as well on our way home from the Brewer game. The great thing about Luke’s in my book is that it offers local food in a town dominated by chains, like so many across the United States. The difference is obvious – walk into Luke’s and the eponymous owner is standing in the kitchen frying burgers and chatting up the customers. There is a long counter where regulars read the paper and even some stocked bookshelves, an invitation to sit a spell.
They roast their own turkeys and use them to make huge wrap sandwiches and they make their own soups as well. The custard is homemade and every day offers a different featured flavor. We tried Jamocha Oreo, which had a very good ration of custard to cookie (although I’m not really sure it had a strong mocha flavor).
In Kansas City, we went to Foo’s, which has a huge seating area that is very inviting for families. A good part of one wall is covered in chalkboard paint and there are comfy sofas and tattered picture books. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in my German chocolate concrete. Although the custard was rich and delicious, my concrete was light on both the chocolate and the pecans. On the other hand, Tommy’s mix-in, which he invented and which included the unlikely combination of hot fudge and maraschino cherries, was very tasty.
Foo’s also sells artisanal Christopher Elbow chocolates, which are gorgeous to look at and full of unusual combinations like banana curry and lavender caramel. We bought a box and they are as tasty as they are pretty. And Foo’s definitely gets the prize for the best t-shirts – I very nearly purchased one that said “Just Foo it” and had a picture of an ice-cream scoop below the words where the customary Nike swish would appear.
But my hands-down favorite for frozen custard on this trip had to be The Custard Station in Kirkwood, Missouri. Not only was the texture of the custard phenomenal, they offered a ton of mix-ins in great combinations. I unfortunately didn’t write down the name of the one I ordered but it had something to do with cappuccino, contained coffee syrup and caramel, and was an unctuous delight. Best of all, I was trying to be ascetic and ordered a “mini” only to discover that it is actually huge! I can’t imagine what a full-sized one is like. It’s also possible to order a child-sized ice-cream sundae, which actually is smaller yet eminently satisfying for those with less greedy appetites than my own.
And the pièce de résistance is that the Custard Station is right next to the train tracks. While we were eating our ice cream two freight trains went by; they were so close that we could have easily bummed a ride.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I should note here that the night we went to the Custard Station, three of the children with us chose to get sno cones at the Tropical Moose, which is right up the street. As you can see from their sign below, they offer dozens of flavors as well as free Nerds to top off their creations. Tommy tried Wedding Cake, which I don’t recommend unless you like the taste of white cake made from a mix. In fact, although the sno cones were tasty, I just can’t see ever bypassing custard in favor of them.)
I know you are grateful and relieved to read that sampling local ice cream is an activity I intend to continue doing and writing about. I may have to start a separate blog!
Luke’s Custard & Deli
1219 Mount Zion Ave
Janesville, WI 53545
Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard
3832 West 95th Street
Leawood, Kansas 66206
The Tropical Moose
Kirkwood Farmers’ Market
Taylor and Argonne
Kirkwood, MO 63122
The Custard Station
140 W Argonne Dr
Kirkwood, MO 63122