Getting the Shakes

Sippin' Your Sundaes Through a Straw

What's not to love about a milkshake? Done right, it's a kid's dream on so many levels: creamy, sweet, thick, and cold. A shake (or malt, if that's your preference) is the perfect complement to a burger dinner and doubly so during long, hot summers. We all know the recipe by heart (nine scoops ice cream, two ounces milk, three cans Hershey's syrup, blend to taste) and for many, it's the first time that Mom let us near her kitchen appliances.

Whether made at home or impulse ordered with dinner, the lasting allure of the milkshake lies in the fact that it is dessert cleverly disguised as a beverage; a sundae sucked through a straw.

Most kids clue into this fact the first time they make a milkshake at home. After raiding the icebox for the forbidden frozen carton and gallon o' milk, they quickly shovel half a gallon of ice cream into a three-cup blender. Add a little milk, put on the top, and, with one push of the "liquefy" button, the result is either a thick, calorie-laden treat or the acrid smell of burning electrical circuitry.

Mothers generally turn a blind eye toward shakes, even when their offspring mix fudge/raspberry ripple to skim milk at a ratio of 30:1. The battle over milkshakes barely seems worth fighting -- it even lets the little urchins think they're getting away with something. Most moms will concede a little gratuitous sugar intake if it means their kids will also ingest a little calcium. At least they're not singing those damned Barney songs....

As modern health trends push lower cholesterol and constant fat gram vigilance, it's tough to sell a homemade shake to anything but hyperkinetic schoolkids (who will actually burn off 3.3 kilos of butterfat before they're finished eating it). Still every once in a while, for culinary nostalgia or seasonal overheating, few things beat a cold shake on a summer day. Smoothies and non-fat yogurt be damned. Here are a few classic Austin shakes to tide you over when the urge strikes.

Dirty's -- The Drive-In Shake

2808 Guadalupe

Many older folks have a hard time thinking about burgers or shakes without thinking about carhop service. In the days before the drive-thru revolution, people used their cars as stationary dining rooms and the milkshakes were an integral part of drive-in culture. Even today, you can still park in front of Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak Place on Guadalupe and summon a carhop by simply switching on your headlights. (That is, if you can survive in your car during the summer heat.) Order a milkshake or malt, and minutes later you'll get a styrofoam cup, heavy for its size and topped with whipped cream and a bright red cherry slice. The Dirty's shake comes with two utensils -- straw and long-handled iced tea spoon -- both of which will be required to finish the shake. If you were inside to watch your shake being born, you'd see the hard ice cream dipped from freezer to steel canister, the addition of chocolate syrup and a little milk, and the whole shebang hooked up to an industrial-sized Hamilton Beach Power Mixer. Minutes later, you're enjoying the newly-decorated treat in the comfort of your own car. Just like the old days, with better air conditioning....

illustration by Lisa Kirkpatrick

Nau Enfield Drug --
The Soda Fountain Shake

1115 West Lynn

Even though the shakes at Nau's lunch counter come served in standard-issue wax soda cups, the texture is just what you'd expect from an old-school soda fountain -- so thick that you might as well just use the spoon. The good ladies who work the counter go through their paces in plain view -- from cooking notable burgers to mixing soda-fountain vanilla Cokes. The shakes start out with hand-scooped Blue Bell, two ladles of milk, and several squirts of the appropriate flavor syrup (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cherry, or pineapple). The metal-collared cup goes under the trusty blender and minutes later, you have a dense portion of nearly-solid shake stuck with a double-wide straw for easier sipping. Shakes are good for function, but if it's stylish presentation you crave, opt for a handmade root beer float or ice cream soda, which come served with all the traditional trimmings (towering frosted soda glass, mound of whipped cream, and mandatory maraschino).

Amy's -- The Ice Cream Shop Shake

3300 Bee Caves Rd., 3500 Guadalupe, 10000 Research, 1012 W. Sixth

When it comes to frozen variety, ice cream shops have a distinct advantage due to their constant pursuit of new and experimental flavors. Locally made, high in butterfat, and 16 tubs deep, the selection of flavors at Amy's could keep the most jaded of shake lovers busy for a long, long time. Aware of their extended palette of options (flavors, crush-ins, fresh berries), Amy's scoopers can either create a shake to your specifications or make one up on the spot. Two recent "chef's choice" visits resulted in a PBC shake
(2/3 peanut butter ice cream, 1/3 dark chocolate) and the now-infamous Mexican Coffee shake (thick Mexican vanilla shake with a teaspoon of ground coffee added).

Hillbert's -- The Drive-Thru Shake

5340 Cameron Rd., 3303 N. Lamar

While some may argue that convenience killed the true milkshake (as evidenced by pre-mixed fast-food mixes), sometimes the urge for a shake hits while in transit. When there's no time to make one yourself and no time to hit the fountain, you just gotta drive through. Hillbert's shakes fit the bill perfectly: a no-frills affair that fits snugly in your car's cupholder. Machine-pumped custard is diluted with a hint of milk, generously flavored, and blended for just long enough to make it mostly liquid. After poking through the plastic top, the biggest challenge is sucking the viscous treat through straws designed for water-based sodas. The natural impulse is to concentrate and inhale heroically -- which is great until the pressure buildup starts to make you light-headed. Nothing left to do but fish the spoon out of the bottom of the bag and hope for a good, long stoplight.

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