When you think of Milwaukee Wisconsin, most people think of beer. It’s the home of great old names like Pabst, Schlitz and Hamm’s. These, along with Miller and Blatz, all date to the mid-1800s and have employed generations of Milwaukeeans. The city has literally grown up around them.
But as it turns out, Milwaukee has another strong foot hold in the culinary world that feeds our body and our spirits, and you don’t have to be 21 years old to enjoy it.
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The Frozen Custard Capital of the World
Frozen Custard. Milwaukee is home to dozens of independent little, mom-and-pop frozen custard stands. Any restaurant worth its Milwaukee business license serves locally made frozen custard.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Think the bigger picture of Wisconsin and you see cows. Dairy cows, in particular, and they produce a lot of milk. So you make cheese and yogurt and ice cream and custard.
It’s important to note that ice cream and frozen custard are NOT THE SAME THING!
Both use milk and cream, but frozen custard also includes egg yolks. The big difference, however, is that the machine used to make ice cream whips a lot of air into the mixture. Frozen custard does not have that air whipped into it. Frozen custard is much denser and creamier than ice cream. It’s also a loaded with a lot more calories.
But that doesn’t deter the people of Milwaukee from enjoying their frozen custard.
Notable Frozen Custard Shops in Milwaukee
The oldest frozen custard shop in Milwaukee is Gilles. Since 1938, they’ve been serving frozen treats and sandwiches at their shop on Bluemound Road. There’s another Gilles in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
But if you pass through Racine on your road trip through Wisconsin, give a little prayer of thanks for malted milk. It was invented here during the Great Depression as an inexpensive source of protein. They first called it “distoid,” (yuck) but now, malted milk in its dry form is a favorite topping on frozen custard at Gilles.
In 1942, Leon Schneider opened Leon’s at the corner of 27th and Oklahoma. Leon’s opens every day at 11 a.m., but you really need to go at night to appreciate the classic neon lights. And when you go, you have to order butter pecan. That’s the most popular flavor at Leon’s and yep, it’s pretty good.
Then, there’s Ferch’s Malt Shoppe and Grille in the Glendale neighborhood. The entire community is a National Historic Landmark, but Ferche’s is notable because they claim to have 1 million flavors of frozen custard. Create the weirdest mix you can imagine and then put a quarter in the juke box and enjoy the vibe this fun place offers.
Another famous frozen custard stand is the Northpoint Frozen Custard Stand right on the Lake Michigan shore. It’s notable because the author Amy Reichert wrote about it in the book “The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake.”
Arguing about Frozen Custard in Milwaukee
An Uber driver told us his favorite is a place called Kopp’s but we didn’t have a chance to go there. The hotel desk clerk mentioned a place called Mickey’s but one of her co-workers argued that Jessica’s is the best.
So the bottom line is Milwaukee has a lot of frozen custard stands. If you’re going to visit them all, and I highly recommend you should, you’re going to have to spend a couple of days in town. Be sure and share your thoughts on social media so we can best plan our next outing to Milwaukee.