Don’t call it ice cream. In Milwaukee, locals love – even in the dead of winter – a delicious dessert called frozen custard.
Richer, creamier, denser yet lighter in texture than regular ice cream, what makes this chilly treat different from ice cream is the extra egg yolks and the way it’s made. Instead of a standard ice cream maker, the base ingredients are blended then poured through a refrigerated tube. As the mixture freezes, blades scrape the creamy goodness off the walls, and it flows out into giant vats, from which it’s served.
Milwaukee is the unofficial capital of frozen custard, and each resident tends to argue over which stand is the best. The three top contenders are Kopp’s on the North Side, Greenfield and Brookfield, Leon’s on the South Side, and Gilles on the West Side. Kopp’s has the most locations, Leon’s is the one many believe Arnold’s emulated in Happy Days, and Gilles is the oldest, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. All three are open year-round, and if there’s a thaw in the snow, the queue runs out the door.
In summer months, though, Northpoint Custard becomes a favourite, as it’s the only stand located downtown and on the lakefront.
All four stands sell what custard lovers expect – vanilla, chocolate and a flavour of the day. Flavours of the day can be pedestrian – butter pecan, strawberry or chocolate chip cookie dough – but more often than not, they’re extravagant sugar fests, especially at Kopp’s.
Think Sugarplum Fairy made to celebrate the Nutcracker performances of the Milwaukee Ballet – blackberry-strawberry custard dotted with marshmallow clouds and sparkling sugar gems. Or the equally celebratory Nutcracker – butter rum custard with pistachios, almonds, pecans, cashews and a butterscotch swirl. Or Lemon Raspberry Shortbread, which is exactly as it sounds.
At Kopp’s, there’s also a shake/malt flavour of the month and a sundae of the month. In December, the shake is eggnog, and the sundae is Christmas celebration – three scoops of vanilla topped individually with mint hot fudge, Amaretto marshmallow and rum caramel sauce, finished with pecans, cashews, peanuts and chocolate flakes.
If frozen custard seems a bit like overkill, there’s always Babe’s Ice Cream. This Bayview ice cream parlour serves up vegan and sugar-free varieties, along with some pretty scrumptious ice cream cakes.
And if you like ice cream with a gourmet sandwich, head to Love Handle, which makes flavours like Taleggio and cinnamon.
Header photo: Leons Custard © Milwaukee Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Visit Milwaukee
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Have you been to Milwaukee recently? Did you try frozen custard when you were in town? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Written by Jeanette Hurt
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About the author: JeanetteJeanette Hurt
Award-winning author Jeanette Hurt writes about food, wine and travel for a variety of publications, including AAA Living, Wine Enthusiast and The Four Seasons, and she's also a food and beverage correspondent for Milwaukee NPR affiliate WUWM's Lake Effect show. When she's not writing about food, wine or travel, she can be found enjoying Milwaukee's lakefront bike and with her husband, their son and their dog.