Monday, November 21, 2016

Custard fans rejoice! "Milwauke Frozen Custard" is now available.

I moved to Milwaukee many years ago to be a bookseller, but before I came here for keeps, I visited for a week. It turns out that I knew several folks with connections here, and just about everyone had one piece of advice for me in common - I had to try some custard.

Now like many people who had not been to Milwaukee, I didn't exactly know what they were talking about. We had frozen custard stands in New York. There was Carvel of course, home of Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss. And there was the independent stand that my dad and I visited regularly, when he filled up for gas. The store was Frozen Cup and it was a fixture of Bellerose Queens for decades.

But there was something different about the custard here. It was thicker and it scooped like ice cream, instead of funneling right into the cone or cup like Mister Softee. I thought, this is a completely different thing. But after reading Milwaukee Frozen Custard, the delightful new book from Kathleen McCann and Robert (Bobby) Tanzilo, I now know it wasn't as different as I thought.

Most of the iconic stands in Milwaukee use the continuous flow method, where the custard goes into a bin and is scooped out. And yes, East Coast stands, including Kohr Brothers*, which invented custard, use soft serve. But Bartolotta's uses soft serve method their North Point and Osgood restaurants.

And that does not determine custard. It's apparently the higher butter fat content and even more importantly the egg yolk solids. The minimum 1.4% but most local custards are closer to 5%. And that's the thing that makes the custard taste different though some would insist that Wisconsin companies use a higher percentage of butter fat than those New York ones.

What I didn't know is that the Carvel of my childhood is not the Carvel of today. After Tom died, the company was sold and they no longer serve what legally qualifies as custard. The Frozen Cup was torn down to build a motel.**

Milwaukee Frozen Custard does a great job trying to delve into why Wisconsin adopted this East Coast product and never let go. Interestingly enough, it's much like the Supper Club phenomenon, another East Cost food fad that wound up camping out here on its way west, surviving here after it pretty much died out everywhere else. And you have to read about the mix and the machines - fascinating!

Milwaukee Frozen Custard profiles not just the big three, but every stand that in the metro area, and some as far as Madison, Sheboygan, and Kenosha, even many that no longer exist, like Lixx, the stand that was on Downer Avenue for many years.*** If McCann and Tanzilo could find information about a stand, they documented it. This book is definitely going to make you want to organize a custard crawl. Just writing this up inspired me to have a scoop of tiramisu at Kopps on Friday.

Yes, I'm a flavor person, and I like the doodads that get mixed in. Perhaps you are a vanilla purist, or perhaps you go for that seemingly most popular of secondary flavors, butter pecan. My father liked a good fruit flavor, and when they visited me, I'd keep an eye out for things like raspberry. I don't think there was a cherry vanilla in rotation (which is odd, considering Door County cherries and all that) because if there was, I think my parents would have moved here.

Or maybe they would have opened a Culver's franchise, which is spreading all over the country. My sister just got one near her home in Phoenix. I should note that Shake Shack, a similar popular concept, is more inspired by the Ted Drewes custard stands in St. Louis than the Wisconsin stands. I visited one of the Drewes stands and if my memory serves, they don't do a flavor of the day. How purist!

Tanzilo and McCann (pictured here with Karl Kopp at our recent event) will surely be doing a number of events in conjunction with the book and we'd be remiss if we didn't tell you about ours, on Tuesday, November 22, 7 pm, at Boswell. Will there be slides? Yes. Will there be custard? Alas, not at this one, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's served at others.

*Originating in Brooklyn, just like one of the authors.

**Another thing the area around the custard stand had in common with Milwaukee was that it was city on one side, suburb on the other. Unlike 27th Street (which is a Greenfield/Milwaukee border), the street had different names, but I learned they renamed Jamaica Avenue to Jericho Turnpike above 225th St. More on the Forgotten New York site. The things you learn while you are preparing for book events!

***It replaced a Baskin-Robbins, by the way.

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