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Movers and (milk)shakers

Local shops get creative with the classic drink

Back in the late 1880s, milkshakes were made with a whiskey kick. In his book, Listening to America, writer Stuart Berg Flexner describes early milkshakes as a “sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink, with eggs, whiskey… served as a tonic as well as a treat.” Ten years later, the alcohol was gone and milkshakes settled into a mix of syrup and ice cream in three wholesome flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. America built a culture around milkshakes, with old-timey flavors like malt and whimsical meeting spots with soda fountains, juke- boxes, and soda jerks. For nearly 130 years, milkshakes kept the same recipe with one deviation; at some point, the creamy treat acquired thick whipped cream topping.

Local beverage chefs agree: it’s time to shelve the homemade recipe of two scoops of vanilla ice cream, a squirt of Hershey’s syrup, and glass of milk. So don your bobby socks, grab a friend, and hit a nearby town with (585)’s guide to tasty, locally sourced shakes:

Park Avenue newcomer Blu Wolf Bistro brings three milkshakes to the table.Topping the list is the Maple Bacon, a savory and sweet blend of ice cream flavored with dark syrup from Wohlschlegel Maple Farm in Naples and topped with fried bacon. Caramel Pretzel combines vanilla ice cream and sweet caramel with a jagged head of salty pretzel sticks. Mint Oreo blends the cookie pieces in the ice cream with mint syrup.

Fraîche Bistro & Dessert Bar on East Avenue already has a devoted foodie crowd, from Eastman students to Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra season ticket holders. The bistro’s partnership with Moonlight Creamery keeps the quality high. (Moonlight even makes a custom Espresso Toffee ice cream for Fraîche.) One showstopper is the Coffee & Donuts: small wedges of a Donuts Delite glazed donut nested in a thick pool of Moonlight’s coffee ice cream, blended with Pittsford Dairy milk, and spiked with espresso vodka. Fraîche’s take on the Caramel Pretzel, using caramel vodka, is a hit, as is their S’mores milkshake, a smooth mélange of ice cream, caramel, and caramel vodka. “Couples come in and say, ‘we’re just going to split one,’” says bartender Brenna McQueen. “And then they order another one and then halfway in, another.” She adds that one way to identify a Fraîche milkshaker is the telltale “white ring around their nose,” earned as they drain the last drop from the whipped cream—edged glass.

Moonlight Creamery in Fairport Village raises the liquid dessert to the sacred with flavors like boozy eggnog, rum raisin, blueberry amaretto, and chartreuse. The ice cream is either made by Moonlight or shipped in from Giffords in Maine. (The Madagascar Vanilla Bean actually contains vanilla shipped over from the African island.) Patrons can also create a custom shake from more than twenty tubs of ice cream. Among the flavors: Maine lobster tracks (lobster-colored chocolate, thick caramel, and éclair crunch swirl) and espresso with English toffee ice cream, which uses fair-trade, organic Columbia Ocamonte espresso beans from Joe Bean Roasters on University Avenue in Rochester. Chartreuse was created as a flavor reminiscent of the roaring twenties—chartreuse liqueur with “hints of citrus, violet, honey anise, licorice, and saffron.” Most dramatic presentation goes to the S’mores milkshake that uses Frenchmade 1883 toasted marshmallow syrup and vanilla ice cream. The finishing touch is a mound of miniature marshmallows browned with a butane torch. Along with ice cream desserts and chocolates, Moonlight holds tasting events throughout the year, says co-owner Heidi Grenek. The theme for April will be Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Its focus will be mid-century and retro desserts with a featured Peanut Butter and Jelly shake, “as that was a standard in 1950’s malt shops.” 

Psst… Love the shake but can’t hack the milk? Vegan Red Fern Café at Oxford and Park Avenue has smoothies with all the richness and thickness of an ice cream shake (spoiler alert: they use coconut milk). Choices include Peanut Butter Banana and Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana, both blended with an organic chocolate syrup that’s made in-house.

Nancy O’Donnell is editor of The Wedge, a newspaper serving the South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester. 

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