Ferchoff, son of founder Betty Ferchoff, sometimes
pitches in behind the soda fountain at Ferch's Malt
Shoppe and Grille in Greendale, Wis.
call it ice cream.
you’re in Milwaukee. Not if you don’t want to be
ridiculed as rude, clueless, a rube.
Wisconsin’s largest city take their signature dish
seriously — no offense, cheese curds — and consider it
an insult to confuse their rich dairy dessert with
ordinary supermarket ice cream.
find frozen custard stands scattered across the Milwaukee
metro area. So many that tourism bureau Visit Milwaukee
claims it’s home to the world’s largest concentration,
making Milwaukee the unofficial “Frozen Custard Capital
of the World.”
But ask 10
natives to name the best spots and you can expect to get
10 different answers.
your own favorite, you could set out with a short list
from Visit Milwaukee or book a tour with Milwaukee Food
& City Tours and get a sprinkling of frozen custard
history and anecdotes as you ride a bus between tastings
on a Sunday afternoon.
Caitlin Weitzel gave us the scoop on frozen custard vs.
ice cream. Both are made with milk, cream and sugar, but
frozen custard adds egg yolk. The Food and Drug
Administration weighs in with a regulation: Frozen custard
must contain 1.4% egg yolk solids and at least 10%
difference comes down to something called overrun, the air
that gets pumped into the creamy concoction in the
production process. A dish of soft-serve ice cream might
have an overrun of 100 percent, meaning it’s half air.
Frozen custard averages 15 to 30%.
freeze machine that makes the stuff — so massive it’s
nicknamed an “iron lung” — churns out thick,
delicious swirls about 8 degrees warmer than ice cream.
Grab a cupful or cone and eat up. See if you don’t agree
that it’s denser, richer, smoother and has a silkier
texture than ice cream.
local fame, frozen custard did not originate in Milwaukee.
Weitzel said recipes calling for egg yolks in ice cream
date to 17th-century France, and Thomas Jefferson is
responsible for the first recorded recipe in the U.S.
early 1900s, ice cream vendors at New York’s Coney
Island amusement park began adding egg yolks to ice cream,
and their frozen custard quickly became a favorite
carnival treat. A stand at the 1933-34 World’s Fair in
Chicago popularized frozen custard in the Midwest. It
spread north to the Dairy State and took root in
frozen custard tastes especially great on a hot summer
day, most establishments in the city and suburbs stay open
year-round and also serve sandwiches and other fast-food
stop for a burger at the ’50s-themed Miss Katie’s
Diner, Milwaukee Food & City Tours’ custard crawl
begins at the city’s oldest surviving frozen custard
opened Gilles Frozen Custard in 1938 on Milwaukee’s west
side. Weitzel said at least 50 romances between Gilles car
hops and customers resulted in marriages. Gilles’
brother, Tom, and Tom’s future bride, Doris, were among
them. Sadly for Cupid, Gilles no longer has car hops. The
restaurant, remodeled in 2017 by owner Tom Linscott, has
inside seating and a pickup window. Along with cones and
dishes, it serves shakes, malts, floats, a mind-boggling
variety of sundaes and novelties including pies, cookie
sandwiches and a log roll. On the tour, you usually get a
sundae often served by the new owner, Linscott’s son,
Greendale, Ferch’s Malt Shoppe and Grille claims more
than a million flavors of frozen custard thanks to the
magic of mix-ins. Shelves hold an array of brightly
colored bottles of extracts in 44 flavors. Add one to your
frozen custard and watch a muscled worker hunker over a
marble counter to mix it with your choice of candies,
nuts, fruits, cookies and other goodies. Ferch’s opened
in 1987 but has a ’50s feel with booths, a jukebox and
party room. Ferch’s also has a seasonal location at
Grant Park Beach in South Milwaukee.
stand outside or sit in the tour bus to stuff your face at
walkup-only Leon’s Frozen Custard. It serves four
flavors — vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan and a flavor
of the day — in cups, cones and fountain creations. Leon
Schneider, a cookie salesman who went on to run a frozen
custard trailer at carnivals, opened this old-school stand
in 1942. Customers love to take Instagram-worthy shots of
its vintage neon sign.
social media, Leon’s starred in a photo on a Twitter
post by singer Harry Connick Jr. in May 2016: “during
milwaukee show last night, 2 ppl volunteered 2 buy me
frozen custard. came back with ice cream. so custrating. #needsmesomecustard.”
Connick got his frozen custard fix the next day at
Leon’s when, in a skit for his now-canceled TV talk
show, he donned the Leon’s uniform, walked up to the
order window and began engaging with customers. He and a
Leon’s employee were eating custard in the parking lot
when the photo below was snapped and tweeted.
frozen custard stands enjoy a friendly rivalry, Weitzel
said. Leon Schneider, for example, schooled Elsa Kopp in
frozen custard-making before Kopp’s Frozen Custard
opened in 1950. Although it’s not on the tour, Kopp’s
is worth a stop at one of the suburban locations in
Greenfield, Brookfield and Glendale. In 1981, it won a
blind taste test during a black-tie affair in Milwaukee
dubbed Custard’s Best Stand, and it’s become one of
the “trifecta” of major Milwaukee-area frozen custard
shops along with Leon’s and Gilles, Weitzel said.
Kopp’s is credited with coming up with the idea for
flavors of the day and now offers two in addition to
vanilla and Swiss chocolate.
A few more
Bombers: Bar and burger restaurant that’s one of the few
places serving frozen custard in downtown Milwaukee; known
for concrete concoctions and boozy shakes; also in
Porgie’s Burgers & Custard Treefort: Indoor seating
and heated patio at Oak Creek location; also in Mount
Pleasant; known for its thick blitzes, where the frozen
custard is mixed with a choice of one of the 25-plus
Oscar’s Frozen Custard & Sandwiches: Sundae and
shake of the month; noted for homemade waffle cones; in
West Allis, Franklin and Waukesha.
Osgood’s: Vanilla, chocolate or swirl served in cups,
cones and fountain creations inside or at a double
drive-thru window in Wauwatosa.