Hometown Hungers: Best Frozen Custard Outside of Wisconsin

No need to depart for the Dairy State if you’re craving frozen custard. These top spots across the country offer their own creamy spins on Wisconsin’s signature treat.

Photo By: Evan Sung ©Evan Sung

Photo By: Iowa Photo Co.

Dairy Delight

When winter finally gives way to warmer weather in Wisconsin, the frozen custard stands that crisscross the state come alive once again, with aficionados lining up for the creamy treat well into the autumn months. After all, New York may lay claim to being the first city where frozen custard was sold commercially in the United States, back in 1919, but the treat really took root in the Midwest after being served at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Nowadays, Milwaukee alone reportedly has the highest concentration of frozen custard shops in the world. Despite its similarity to ice cream, frozen custard is richer and creamier (by law, it must contain 10 percent milkfat and 1.4 percent egg yolk solids). For those who crave the silky treat but can’t make the sojourn to America’s Dairyland, these Food Network-approved spots across the country are slinging classic takes on the recipe.

IzzyA’s Frozen Custard, Lafayette, Calif.

The freshest of flavors shine through in the frozen custard creations that Tom and Tina Tankka serve from their mobile food truck. They start with a base sourced from the 100 percent-certified-organic Straus Family Creamery, then add in very fresh, mostly organic ingredients with no stabilizers. The husband-and-wife team bring to the mix both a deep-rooted love of the dessert (Tom is a Milwaukee native who grew up eating frozen custard) and professional training (Tina attended Penn State’s ice cream school). It is proving to be a winning combination for the California-based duo, who are cultivating a fan base with appearances at various food markets along the West Coast.

Go to: IzzyA’s Frozen Custard

Fog City, San Francisco

Fog City keeps its flavor selection classic, with the choice of vanilla or chocolate frozen custard. But this treat is far from basic: The impeccable ingredient list includes Straus dairy milk and cream, which is churned with a special machine that doesn’t fold lots of air into the custard. That process — along with the high milkfat content — creates a dense, chewy, flavorful treat. Fog City steps up the decadence by offering an egg yolk caramel topping, which is made without heavy cream. It’s light in color but rich in flavor.

Go to: Fog City

Rita’s Italian Ice, Ammon, Idaho

Though Italian ice may be featured in the name of this chain, the frozen custard served at Rita’s locales deserves equal billing. Made with real milk, cream, sugar and eggs, the dairy ingredients used in Rita's custard come from dairy cooperatives with a specific mission in mind: They have pledged to provide milk and cream from cows that have not been treated with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH and have been grass-fed whenever possible. You can satisfy your frozen-custard cravings at Rita’s locations in virtually every corner of the country, as the operation that began in Philadelphia can now be found in more than 30 states.

Go to: Rita’s Italian Ice

PierBurger, Santa Monica

Few settings are as idyllic for indulging in frozen custard as California’s bustling, beachside attraction known as Santa Monica Pier … and that’s exactly where PierBurger stands. From its perch above the Pacific Ocean, this tiny joint slings frozen custard that’s made fresh throughout the day. So authentic is PierBurger’s take on the classic dessert that it uses dairy sourced straight from Wisconsin, which is blended thick at high speed using a traditional Stoelting machine. Options include chocolate, vanilla and the flavor of the day, which can be ordered unadorned or dressed up with toppings. One particularly indulgent choice is the Route 66: chocolate frozen custard studded with chocolate chunks, Oreo cookies and M&M’s.

Go to: PierBurger

Shake Shack, New York

When Shake Shack was transformed from a seasonal hot dog cart into a permanent food kiosk in New York City’s Madison Square Park back in 2004, founder Danny Meyer added a taste of home to the expanded menu in the form of frozen custard. Meyer hails from St. Louis, and the popularity of frozen custard there made for fond childhood memories. So when the impulse to add something unique to Shake Shack’s offerings took hold, Meyer soon realized that the traditional Midwestern treat perfectly filled the bill. Shake Shack’s frozen custard base is the real deal. The impeccable ingredients include only real sugar (no corn syrup here!) and milk from dairy farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones.

Go to: Shake Shack

Anderson’s, Buffalo

A longstanding fixture in Buffalo, Anderson's first began producing frozen custard back in the mid-1940s. The original owner worked with local companies to create a soft-serve machine capable of delivering frozen custard directly into a cone without losing the creaminess. The classic flavors include pistachio, black raspberry, butter rum, banana, strawberry, cinnamon, and of course vanilla and chocolate. Anderson's has added flavors to the signature lineup over the years, punching it up with fresh variations that have included lemons & cream, Kahlua, chocolate raspberry, mint, cake batter and even French toast.

Go to: Anderson’s

The Pig & The Lady, Honolulu

Frozen treats are a perfect fit for Hawaii, where the tropical temperatures often have locals and tourists clamoring for a cold dessert to cool them down. But despite the popularity of that sweet and refreshing regional specialty known as shave ice, The Pig & the Lady is the only restaurant on the island offering frozen custard. The flavors veer toward the nontraditional, with an ever-changing, eclectic lineup that has included sweet basil lime, fennel vanilla bean, Thai tea and caramel coffee. But the creamy “soft serve” custard is as classic as can be.

Go to: The Pig & The Lady

Snoqualmie Ice Cream, Snohomish, Wash.

Simple ingredients are transformed into a silky treat at Snoqualmie Ice Cream, where the frozen custard is made from farm-fresh milk and cream, eggs and berries all sourced from the Pacific Northwest. This extra-velvety version of the classic treat features cream and eggs aplenty and very little air, to ensure an ultra-rich result. The creation process involves vat pasteurization, which slow-cooks the ingredients, never scorches the cream and enables each flavor to have its own distinctive recipe. Though Snoqualmie has only one scoop shop (which is open seasonally), devotees can stock up at a multitude of stores throughout the Pacific Northwest that carry the brand.

Go to: Snoqualmie Ice Cream

David’s Famous, Tipton, Iowa

The mind behind David’s Famous sticks close to the classic recipe for frozen custard, but makes it much creamier by substantially upping the ratio of one crucial ingredient: eggs. While all frozen custard must include at least 1.4 percent egg yolk solids, David Gott’s version made from a tweaked family recipe contains a whopping 4 percent. The resulting treat is richer and silkier than the standard variety. Even in tubs, this frozen custard stays soft and creamy. Gott started off by serving his frozen custard at gatherings with family and friends. Coffee was the first flavor, but soon after came others, including lemon, butter mint, sea salt caramel, vanilla and rhubarb. An overwhelmingly positive response convinced Gott that he had a recipe for success, and his frozen custard is now stocked in numerous grocery stores throughout Iowa.

Go to: David’s Famous

Tommi’s, Grants Pass, Ore.

Tom Greiner spent 20 years in a state where frozen custard was commonly available and fell in love with it. His obsession only intensified when he moved to Oregon, where the dearth of the dessert drove him to take drastic measures. Frustrated by the lack of frozen custard in the region, Greiner decided to tackle the challenge of getting on the market a product virtually unheard of in Oregon. He is slowly but surely winning over the locals with his ultrapremium product that is made fresh daily in small batches. Greiner offers the classic options of chocolate and vanilla, as well as a rotating rainbow of fresh flavors (think peach mango, toasted coconut and lime).

Go to: Tommi’s

DeNucci’s Soft Serve, Fernandina Beach, Fla.

After trading in the frigid winters of Wisconsin for the year-round sunshine of Florida, native Midwesterners John and Sara DeNucci realized there was something cold from their home state that they actually missed: frozen custard. In 2010 they opened DeNucci's Soft Serve and set about convincing many locals that their frozen custard is actually a richer spin on ice cream and not pudding (which is a commonly held misconception about the dessert). DeNucci’s frozen custard contains 10 percent butterfat, which qualifies it as a “true” ice cream by FDA regulations. The treat’s top-notch ingredients include real cream and sugar, as well as egg yolks to add that distinctive custard taste.

Go to: DeNucci’s Soft Serve

Vintage Frozen Custard, Atlanta

Husband-and-wife duo Malik and Kelly Wilder may have named their operation Vintage Frozen Custard, but there’s nothing antiquated about the equipment they use to turn out their nostalgic treats. Both their mobile food truck and their brick-and-mortar location have been outfitted with specialized machines that make ultra-rich renditions of frozen custard, which can be ordered in the classic style (sans toppings) or customized with a slew of mix-ins that are made in-house. Options include fresh fruit compotes, shortbread cookies, coffee caramel and other unique add-ins that take this old-timey treat into the modern world.

Photo courtesy of Howard Jerome Photography

Go to: Vintage Frozen Custard

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