It’s getting hotter -- and hotter, according to Al Gore. Time to turn up the AC, plan more trips to the beach, and grab yourself a seriously cool milkshake.
A real shake, that is -- not the synthetic kind handed to you from an anonymous drive-thru window. A shake with fabulous ingredients, made on the spot just for you, and presented on a real counter instead of in a cardboard drink holder.
And there are some fabulous counters serving shakes these days. You can go retro, with old-school soda fountains such as those at South Pasadena’s Fair Oaks Pharmacy or Watson Drug and Diner in the city of Orange. Or for the nautical minded, how about a shake aboard the Queen Mary?
Or you can go ultra cool and check out the new Hollywood spots, where chefs are taking shakes as seriously as they take their consomme. Consider 25 Degrees, where you’ll find amazing shakes using macerated farmers market strawberries, Valrhona chocolate and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. Or down the street at Lucky Devils, where the owner, who makes a killer toasted pecan shake, comes in early just to play with his ice cream machine.
But the fun doesn’t stop with Bourbon vanilla. You can go even more exotic at Mashti Malone’s in L.A., where saffron-rose water or orange-blossom ice cream go into fabulous shakes, or at Fosselman’s in Alhambra, where a taro root shake cools you right down. These days a milkshake might star mulberries or lemon verbena or peanut-butter cappuccino -- or even vegan cookie dough or Russian Imperial stout.
Whether your taste in shakes is experimental or purist, a good milkshake follows the same basic tenets: high quality, freshly made ice cream (it mustn’t stay too long in the freezer or it deflates and crystallizes), and the right ratio of milk to ice cream. Too thin, and the shake becomes diluted, thinning out and breaking down faster than the Greenland ice fields. Too thick, and you’ll find yourself in need of a spoon -- which defeats the purpose of the shake. The amount of flavoring, syrup or fresh fruit, also must be right. The equation is simpler than it sounds, and as crucial as the quality of the ingredients.
So grab your shades, get in your hybrid car, and click your iPod to Bobby Darin -- or the Arctic Monkeys -- and combat global warming in a very cool way.
25 Degrees. At this ultra hip “burger and wine bar” on the first floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, owner Tim Goodell and chef Michael McDonald (also Goodell’s chef at Dakota) take the classicist’s approach, serving up only chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. But they take those flavors seriously, making the ice cream for each on the premises. The chocolate shakes and malts use a house-made Valrhona syrup, like a thin ganache. The ice cream that goes into the vanilla shake is made with vanilla beans steeped in simple syrup and a little rum to bring out the flavor. And the strawberry shake is based on a compote made with fresh strawberries and again, a dash of rum. Sidle up under the chandeliers to the dark wood bar (imagine if Karl Lagerfeld designed saloons) and order up. Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 785-7244, www.25degreesrestaurant.com. Shakes, $5; malts $5.50.
Pazzo Gelato. For anyone who thinks gelato doesn’t make for good shakes, just check out this new Silver Lake hot spot, which is designed like an Italian gelateria, with huge glass doors and an inviting espresso machine. One sip of a shake made from the incredible chocolate-espresso gelato, and you’ll wonder why Dean Martin drank martinis instead of milkshakes. The four owners, all Silver Lake natives, get their fruit from local farmers markets, and they promise a mulberry sorbet before the berry’s short season ends. And two of their chocolate bases -- chocolate-espresso and white chocolate-lemon -- are specially made for them by Michelle Myers’ chocolatiers at Boule. Served in a tall plastic cup, with an enormous crown of whipped cream, it’s a shake you can take outside -- with a demitasse of their fabulous espresso -- and enjoy at tables along Sunset Boulevard. They’ll make shakes from any flavor on offer: strawberry-tarragon, litchi nut, or the astonishingly rich chocolate-Martini -- made with Valrhona chocolate infused with Grey Goose vodka. Now that’s a flavor Dino would have approved of. 3827 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 662-1410. Shakes, $4.25; malts, $4.75.
Lucky Devils. Just east a few blocks on Hollywood Boulevard from 25 Degrees, former actor and model (think Diet Coke) Lucky Vanous is busy whipping up his own ice cream at his recently opened, upscale burger joint, Lucky Devils. His toasted pecan shake is extraordinary, deep and rich without being cloying, made with a Madagascar Bourbon vanilla-infused custard base that he runs through his ice cream machine every day. The chocolate shake is flavored with a cake made from Scharffen Berger chocolate. It’s dense and laden with bits of cake. There’s also a hot fudge malt whipped up with house-made Valrhona fudge. Be sure to check the board: Vanous likes to experiment. Lately, he’s come up with a Black & Tan shake, the product of lacing his vanilla custard with a Russian Imperial stout. And when he opens for breakfast in another month, he says he’ll be getting in Montana huckleberries, which he’ll serve on pancakes -- and make into huckleberry milkshakes. 6613 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 465-8259. Shakes, $4.25 to $4.50.
Fair Oaks Pharmacy. On the old Route 66 in South Pasadena, you can find one of the few soda fountains that’s actually inside a working pharmacy. Which is handy, if your craving for a malted happens to coincide with a need to fill a prescription or pick up a roll of film. With 15 ice cream flavors from which to choose, terrific retro malts and Cole Porter tunes playing, you’ll be happy sipping your shake from an old-fashioned fluted glass with whipped cream and, if you order chocolate, swirls of syrup around the inside. 1526 Mission St., South Pasadena; (626) 799-1414, www.fairoakspharmacy.net. Shakes, $4.60.
The Land of Fruits and Nuts. No, this isn’t an organic food store; it’s an amazing shake stand aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Pull up a tall chair, or better, wander around the historic ship while you drink your date shake (a Southern California classic), or maybe a cashew-caramel or pistachio. But don’t rule out the chocolate and coffee shakes: Try the chocolate-raspberry, made with Ghirardelli chips, or a toffee-coffee shake -- choose from about two dozen varieties. Aboard the Queen Mary, 1126 Queen’s Highway, Long Beach; (562) 499-1611, www.lofan.com. Shakes, $4.50 to $6.95.
Scoops. Hidden in an obscure corner of Silver Lake, this ice cream shop, open for about a year, is an experimentalist’s delight. Forget chocolate and vanilla shakes: Try peanut butter-cappuccino or lemon poppy seed. Or vegan chocolate-hazelnut. Or combine them. “Some customers mix four flavors,” says owner Tai Kim. Kim makes his ice creams daily in the pristine little store, which features a board for customers to jot down new flavor suggestions (on a recent visit these included buttermilk-black pepper and goji berry). Kim churns up five to six new flavors every day; recently he traveled to Istanbul and Bulgaria for inspiration. He makes his shakes with either cow or soy milk (and always offers at least three vegan flavors) -- try one with lemon verbena or kulfi (Indian ice cream) -- or brown bread, the store’s most popular flavor. 712 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles; (323) 906-2649. Shakes, $3.25.
Mashti Malone’s. For those expecting Iranian-Irish fusion, the only place you’ll get that is on the street sign. This is a classic ice cream store run by two Iranian brothers who took over a place called Bugsy Malone’s about 25 years ago and only changed half the sign. Whatever works -- the ice cream sure does, and they’ll turn any flavor into a shake for you. You’ll find the traditional American flavors, but also some fabulous Middle Eastern infusions: saffron-rose water with pistachios is the most popular. Laced with floral notes and the terrific flavor and texture of the nuts, this makes a fabulous shake, though ginger-rose water and orange blossom are pretty fabulous too. Or try the pomegranate sorbet or “herbal snow,” a white, icy concoction made with basil seeds. 1525 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 874-0144, www.mashtimalone.com. Shakes, $4.82.
Papoo’s Hot Dog Show. This little roadside joint has been on Riverside Drive in Burbank since 1949. And it looks like not much has changed since then. The food certainly hasn’t, with old-style hot dogs and burgers, thick cut fries and some seriously old-fashioned shakes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee and peanut butter, with lots of whipped cream and lots of napkins, served counter-side by a friendly gum-chewing dame. 4300 Riverside Drive, Burbank; (818) 846-1511. Shakes, $3.25 to $4.
Fred 62. This Los Feliz neighborhood joint is like a soda shop for bikers (or the actors who play them at Sundance festivals). The counter is run by an impossibly hip staff, fashionably tattooed and pierced, dressed all in black and sporting T-shirts with such slogans as “Jesus Is Our Dishwasher.” And the shakes are just as cool, served in tall glasses along with the metal container from the machine with the extra. You can see flecks from the vanilla beans in all the shakes, as they use a vanilla-bean ice cream, then add fresh fruit or syrup for each. Flavors are chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana and mocha. Served with whipped cream and a serious dash of attitude. 1850 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 667-0062, www.fred62.com. Shakes, $3.87.
Watson Drug and Diner. The setting for Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!,” the oldest drugstore (and soda fountain) in Orange County is awash in nostalgia -- and good old-fashioned food. The red and white check tables are home to a lingering lunch crowd, retirees and teenagers chatting over blue plate specials, burgers and sandwiches -- and thick milkshakes. The shakes are enormous, served straight from the giant, old Hamilton Beach six-pronged malt machine behind the cheery countertop. No Valrhona or Madagascar vanilla here; just traditional flavors. Remember, you’re in 1950s America, not Paris. 116 E. Chapman Ave., Orange; (714) 633-1050. Shakes, $4.50; malts, $4.95.
Fosselman’s Ice Cream. It’s hard to imagine a more classic ice cream place than this one in downtown Alhambra, overflowing with ice cream flavors -- and plenty of children. The Fosselman family has been making its own ice cream, first in Iowa along a quaint frozen river in 1919, and then in California, where the company moved in 1924. In recent years it’s gone beyond the old standards, introducing flavors such as macadamia-white chocolate, green tea and dulce de leche. And those groovy flavors, like the lavender-colored taro ice cream, make some killer shakes. What kid could resist that? 1824 W. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 282-6533, www.fosselmans.com. Shakes, $4.30.
Beverly Hills Hotel’s Fountain Coffee Shop. Coming upon this little coffee shop in the basement of the swank Beverly Hills Hotel is like stepping back to the heyday of old Hollywood. Imagine a counter where you’d grab a burger while you waited for your dad -- if he was in town visiting Louis B. Meyer. The shakes are fabulous (especially the espresso one) and the atmosphere’s pretty terrific too. Of course, if you’re sitting at the counter between Matthew Perry and Russell Crowe, you might be just as happy knocking back tepid coffee. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-2251, www.thebeverlyhillshotel.com. Shakes, $5.25.