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DC Frozen Custard & Trip To Wisconsin & Elsewhere


Joe H
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I just returned from one leg of an annual driving trip for my business which this year allowed me to visit Michael's Frozen Custard in Madison, WI (known as Wisconsin's "best," source ((believe it or not)) the New York Times), Kopp's (voted Milwaukee's best ten or so years in a row by several sources) and then as a reference point, Cincinnati's Graeter's which I consider to be the best "store bought" ice cream in America, possibly even better than Paris' Berthillion. All three of these were within 48 hours. At Michael's I had three small cups of custard, chocolate, vanilla and cookie dough. I ate about half of each of the three. At Kopp's I had four small cups of custard, chocolate, vanilla, Kahlua Colada (Kahlua flavored vanilla with coconut) and Grasshopper Fudge (mint chocolate with swirls of fudge). I took a bite of the vanilla, a bite of the chocolate and most of the other two. At Graeter's-two visits-I had a total of five small cups: chocolate chip, strawberry chip, whiskey chip, chocolate chocolate chip and vanilla. I ate every bite of every cup, about 3,000 calories worth.

Michael's had the densest texture, tasted very much like a rich version of Fredericksburg's Carl's or Harrisonburg's Klein's. The machines that Michael's uses seemed to be similar to what Milwaukee Frozen Custard uses (from memory). Like Kopp's (and the original ElectroFreeze machines at Carl's & Klein's) these feature slabs of custard sliding down a long polished metal chute into a refrigerated tub from which the custard is scooped. Their machines are made by the owner of another Milwaukee custard emporium, Leon's, and visual dead ringers for the custard machines I vaguely remember from the Polar Bear on Georgia Avenue in the '50's. The cookie dough was interesting since it was basically vanilla custard topped with chunks of cheap, packaged cookie dough. I ended up scooping most of it off and throwing it away. The vanilla was outstanding, better than Kopp's. Chocolate was very good.

Kopp's is a legend, the "In 'n Out Burger" of custard considered by virtually everyone to be the benchmark for frozen custard anywhere in America. They also make a hamburger that, honestly, is 99% as good as a double double even to chopped grilled onions which melt into two slices of American cheese on the toasted bun. The gloriously good greasy grilled fresh hamburger which rests on this delivers the same spurt in your mouth satisfaction that I've found at In 'n Out. I've been three times before and everytime left after eating as much as two pints of their custard-and a double cheeseburger or two. Their custard is unusual in that it is 17% butterfat which is unheard of since most custard is 11 or 12%. The flavor of each that I tried was very good especially the Grasshopper Fudge. But for whatever reason the texture was not as dense nor even as "naturally" creamy as what I've had there before. It actually tasted like some kind of chemical additive had been included for texture which seemed to "fluff" the custard a bit. If this had been my first visit to Kopp's I would have left extremely disappointed. Michael's was clearly superior, although the two special flavors at Kopp's were intriguing. It is entirely possible that I just had the misfortunate experience of a bad "base" that had been prepared for the custard.

Graeter's is 18% butterfat ice cream hand churned two gallons at a time in a "French Pot" in their commissary. This, literally, is the Gifford's of Cincinnati, in business since the 1880's. The texture of all of their ice cream is the closest to home made of any "store bought" ice cream I have found anywhere. I was at Berthillion near Notre Dame three weeks ago, Toscanini's in Boston two weeks ago and am convinced that Graeter's, for its chip flavors (which have large chunks of chocolate made in house) is the best I have found in a store. Their strawberry chip is a Great flavor, one of the best I have had anywhere. The combination of sweet, creamy seemingly fresh (but not really) strawberry ice cream with sometime inch long, quarter inch thick chunks of good homemade chocolate is truly one of life's worthwhile excesses. For anyone going to Cincinnati, Louisville or Columbus this is worth seeking out. BUT have it hand dipped in one of their stores. And, if possible, invest calories in their "Swiss" sundae which is similar to Gifford's old Swiss sundae except that the fudge and heavy cream are whipped just before being dribbled on the ice cream.

The midwest is also known for "Turtle Sundaes." All three of the ones above have exemplery versions of this although Graeter's may be the most orgasmic. Homemade caramel, homemade fudge, heavy cream whipped in store and dense, extremely rich hand churned ice cream combine for a moaningly delicious and satisfying indulgence.

Two Amy's ice cream is better than Graeter's.

Better than Toscanini's, better than Berthillion, better than Florence's Badiani, Northampton's Steve's and Bart's, the former Robin Rose in Venice-better than any ice cream I have had in any restaurant or store anywhere. I've now had four different flavors over several visits to Two Amy's and am convinced that for their pizza margherita and any flavor of ice cream this is as good as it gets in a restaurant or store anywhere (excepting New Haven for the pizza). I also like Thomas Sweet but this is three or four steps below Graeter's and far below Two Amy's.

Neilsen's in Vienna will compare favorably to Michael's for both their vanilla and chocolate. I stopped by there today to taste their custard, coming so close to visits to the others. They are not as rich as Kopp's has been in the past but seemed on par with Michael's. Both are extremely smooth and creamy with excellent depth of flavor in their basics. Neilsen's does not have the variety of daily flavors that the Wisconsin stores do (not as big on chunks, they seem to pulverize everything they add to their daily flavors, a minus for me). But Neilsen's scored a lot of points with me. Michael's and Kopp's do not have concretes which may be Neilsen's best offering. I even prefer it there to Ted Drewes which invented it.

For all that everyone on various boards talk about frozen custard and ice cream we very well may have as good of ice cream as you will find in any store or restaurant anywhere on earth, right here at Two Amy's. For frozen custard, my guess is that if Kopp's, Michael's and Neilsen's were on their respective corners of a common intersection Neilsen's lines would be as long as any.

At Michael's, on Sunday night, there were over 150 people in line for custard in Madison. Even Carl's pales next to this! Neilsen's does not have the 1950's era ambience of Carl's or Michael's. But for me this Salt Lake City import is a welcome addition to D. C. putting us on par with anyone for their frozen custard.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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Love seeing Madison discussion on the DC board. Yes, Michael's is quite good, but after plenty of custard, I've turned to our ice cream here-- at the Chocolate Shoppe. It is 50 times better than any ice cream or custard I've ever tasted (though not better than the gelato at Capogiro in Philadelphia), and I highly recommend a stop at the Shoppe for those of you passing through town.

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Love seeing Madison discussion on the DC board. Yes, Michael's is quite good, but after plenty of custard, I've turned to our ice cream here-- at the Chocolate Shoppe. It is 50 times better than any ice cream or custard I've ever tasted (though not better than the gelato at Capogiro in Philadelphia), and I highly recommend a stop at the Shoppe for those of you passing through town.

This is the first time I have ever heard of "The Chocolate Shoppe." Where is it? I will go this weekend.

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Joe, have you had Christina's in Cambridge MA? It's way better than Toscanini's, close to the perfection of the now defunct Denise's in Somerville. If the Thomas Sweet ice cream served by SweetLicks on R street is representative of the stuff generally, I found it utterly flavorless by comparison with most Boston outfits, and rivaled only by the incredible shittiness of Larry's on Connecticut. In general I am very depressed about DC's ice cream - even the farmer's market stuff I've had is bad - but I will give Two Amy's a try.

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D. C. is not a great town for ice cream, certainly nothing like Boston or New England in general. I actually like Richardson's and another place (whose name I've forgotten) in Whitman, MA where I remember cows grazing in a field next to where I ordered the ice cream. There use to be a small amusement park called King's Castle Land across the street from it. I like Bart's and Herrell's a lot. But I think Two Amy's is superior to all of these. York Castle's base IS Gifford's old base. Their Swiss sundae, sodas, hot fudge sundae are the exact same as the original Gifford's which closed in the early '80's. I used to like Bob's on Wisconsin just south of Calvert before it became "Max's." Somehow, for me, it just hasn't been the same.

As for D. C. overall this city is just a shadow of what it once was for ice cream: Avignon Freres, Wagshal's, University Pastry Shop, Calvert Pastry Shop-all had excellent homemade ice cream. Weile's in Langley Park had huge imaginative sundaes which were truly impressive in appearance. Not in taste (they used Breyer's) but there this almost didn't matter with their virtual ovewhelming size. In the '50's D. C. had literally scores of custard stands offering real frozen custard similar to Carl's in Fredericksburg. Reindeer on Colesville Road in Silver Spring was the best of them. Today, they are all gone, even the Frozen Dairy Bar which once stood on route 50 and, for several years, in a nondescript strip shopping center on Lee Highway.

I haven't had Larry's and was just in Cambridge. Next visit will be in about a month and I will try Christina's. I do agree about New England, even Pennsylvania and Ohio, as having sources for ice cream that are overall better than D. C.

By the way, there is a great old fashioned dairy on route 100 just south of Allentown called Longacre Dairy. It is excellent. Forty, fifty years ago there were scores of places like this. (Here the original Martin's Dairy in Olney was outstanding and considered better than Gifford's by most.) Today, this is one of only a handful around the United States.

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York Castle's base IS Gifford's old base.  Their Swiss sundae, sodas, hot fudge sundae are the exact same as the original Gifford's which closed in the early '80's.

Joe,

Would you mind expanding on this? In no way do I see York Castle being the same as the old Silver Spring Gifford's - base, swiss sundae or otherwise. Perhaps it's because I used to get Gifford's swiss sundae in a tulip glass, with nuts on top, served at a temperature well higher than freezer-level; at York Castle, I get scoops to go in a paper dish with a plastic spoon, served invariably too cold, and having seemingly little in common texturally, sugar-content-wise, flavor-wise, or much of anything else-wise, with Gifford's of Silver Spring. I'm not saying it's worse, or better, just so distinctively different that I'm shocked that you're comparing the two. Please enlighten. Cheers, Rocks.

P.S. If you (or anyone else) have any thoughts on why Obelisk's ice-creams and sorbets are no longer living up to the standards of Two Amys, I'd be interested in hearing them. I always supposed Two Amys sort-of "got" their ice creams and sorbets from Obelisk, but my current hypothesis is that they flew the (s)coop, and took the good ice creams and sorbets with them.

Edited by DonRocks (log)
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Graeter's is 18% butterfat ice cream hand churned two gallons at a time in a "French Pot" in their commissary.  This, literally, is the Gifford's of Cincinnati, in business since the 1880's.  The texture of all of their ice cream is the closest to home made of any "store bought" ice cream I have found anywhere.  I was at Berthillion  near Notre Dame three weeks ago, Toscanini's in Boston two weeks ago and am convinced that Graeter's, for its chip flavors (which have large chunks of chocolate made in house) is the best I have found in a store.  Their strawberry chip is a Great flavor, one of the best I have had anywhere.  The combination of sweet, creamy seemingly fresh (but not really) strawberry ice cream with sometime inch long, quarter inch thick chunks of good homemade chocolate  is truly one of life's worthwhile excesses.  For anyone going to Cincinnati, Louisville or Columbus this is worth seeking out.  BUT have it hand dipped in one of their stores.  And, if possible, invest calories in their "Swiss" sundae which is similar to Gifford's old Swiss sundae except that the fudge and heavy cream are whipped just before being dribbled on the ice cream.

Joe - I was recently in Cincinnati and really enjoyed a black raspberry chip cone at Graeter's downtown. How do they keep the chips so soft? But, I have to say that my fav of all time is still Berthillion's armagnac prune.
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Graeter's is 18% butterfat ice cream hand churned two gallons at a time in a "French Pot" in their commissary.  This, literally, is the Gifford's of Cincinnati, in business since the 1880's.  The texture of all of their ice cream is the closest to home made of any "store bought" ice cream I have found anywhere.  I was at Berthillion  near Notre Dame three weeks ago, Toscanini's in Boston two weeks ago and am convinced that Graeter's, for its chip flavors (which have large chunks of chocolate made in house) is the best I have found in a store.  Their strawberry chip is a Great flavor, one of the best I have had anywhere.  The combination of sweet, creamy seemingly fresh (but not really) strawberry ice cream with sometime inch long, quarter inch thick chunks of good homemade chocolate  is truly one of life's worthwhile excesses.  For anyone going to Cincinnati, Louisville or Columbus this is worth seeking out.  BUT have it hand dipped in one of their stores.  And, if possible, invest calories in their "Swiss" sundae which is similar to Gifford's old Swiss sundae except that the fudge and heavy cream are whipped just before being dribbled on the ice cream.

Joe - I was recently in Cincinnati and really enjoyed a black raspberry chip cone at Graeter's downtown. How do they keep the chips so soft? But, I have to say that my fav of all time is still Berthillion's armagnac prune.

I had the armagnac prune at their store near Notre Dame about three weeks ago. I should explain here that I travel about 45 out of 60 days each year on business throughout the U. S. and Europe and use these trips to sample ribs, pizza, ice cream, etc. along with 18 hour days and endless driving. Sometimes food is the only redeeming feature of them-and long scenic walks to work off the calories.

This year I decided to focus on ice cream since I've been on an ice cream making "kick" with my hand cranked White Mountain freezer. Immodestly, I still believe I make the best ice cream I've ever tasted which is caramel pecan made with 2/3 Lewes heavy cream and 1/3 cream top milk along with making the caramel from scratch using Kay's butter as well as toasting the pecans in it. This is the recipe for anyone interested in making it:

http://www.chowhound.com/boards/general21/...ages/75763.html

I've made this for a number of professional chefs and I think, for better or worse, I have something of a reputation for it. Note: the length of time that it takes the custard to freeze in the ice cream maker varies depending on the amount of rock salt. This can be tricky.

Don: I haven't been to York Castle in about three or four years but it's owner (or at least the man who first opened it twenty or so years ago) use to make the ice cream for Gifford's in Silver Spring. When Gifford's closed he opened York Castle several months or so later using the exact same base. For years we would drive from Reston to Montgomery Hills for his Swiss sundae as well as peach and pumpkin ice cream in season. He couldn't advertise that he was making Gifford's ice cream since he didn't own the rights to the name. These were later sold. It is possible that today, with the expansion, York has changed. But he had the tropical flavors from day one along with using real heavy cream, making the swiss fudge and so forth. It is also possible that he sold it and the new owners now have a different base made for them along with abandoning some of the other time consuming things he did. I think we need to go back and find out if he's the same. Doesn't sound like it.

Edited by Busboy (log)
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Chocolate Shoppe has 3 locations--State St, Hilldale Mall and one on the East Side. They have a website.

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Love seeing Madison discussion on the DC board. Yes, Michael's is quite good, but after plenty of custard, I've turned to our ice cream here-- at the Chocolate Shoppe. It is 50 times better than any ice cream or custard I've ever tasted (though not better than the gelato at Capogiro in Philadelphia), and I highly recommend a stop at the Shoppe for those of you passing through town.

Thanks for the lead, Sara! I will be in Madison in early August staying near State Street. Any recommendations within walking distance of the Monona Convention Center, or should I take a cab somewhere in town? And if you have any suggestions for something not too fancy, like burgers or fish fries, please let me know.

(P.S. Been to Madison before, to State Street Brats)

Scorpio

You'll be surprised to find out that Congress is empowered to forcibly sublet your apartment for the summer.

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