The Gadabout—November 9, 2007

By Clay Smith

The beginning of November throughout the U of C is not a time for thanks or giving so much as it is the time to begin six months of cursing and tramping around in ubiquitous, heavy-duty North Face apparel. Given the cheerfully brisk temperatures below 32 degrees and the impending likelihood of flurries, it makes some sense that Scooter’s Frozen Custard in Lakeview will be closing for the winter by Thanksgiving. That gives you two weeks, though, to act before “Chicago’s only custard,” as they claim, goes into hibernation. We are serious—custard deprivation is not an option.

For those uninitiated in the secrets of custard, a short primer adapted from Scooter’s web site, to explain why the treat renders standard ice cream insipid. Traditional ice cream has the same amount of butterfat for creaminess (around 10 percent), but the amount of air pumped into custard is orders of magnitude less, creating a denser, less icy result that’s smoother than a freshly repainted Palevsky wall. Physical chemists and the FDA can pull together the more detailed explanations and regulations related to “official” custard, but it doesn’t take much beyond sugar-hyped pointing and a simple taste to convey Scooter’s clear superiority.

Even with a product better than ice cream, Scooter’s creativity with flavoring and mixing goes far beyond the call of duty. Their menu of “mix-ins,” or toppings, features the usual palette of sprinkles, candies and hot fudge, but with the possible exception of Pinkberry in New York or L.A., there are few places where you can find the more esoteric additions, such as gummy worms, Irish mint or malt powder, that Scooter’s considers standard. Scooter’s also offers “concretes” on top of its large menu of sundaes, shakes, floats, and cones. A concrete features a “load” of custard ground together with several mix-ins in a blender to produce a thick, uniform variant on plain (read: boring) custard.

Over an Elvis concrete, the sugar of Scooter’s inspires such metaphysical questions as, “Is Elvis really dead?” After the first bite of the concoction featuring vanilla custard, Reese’s peanut butter cup chunks, and banana, though, it seems as if the King of Rock and Roll briefly lives again—at least the fatter post-1973 version. The heaps of real, ripe bananas may be overkill for something already intensely sweet, but the result is without doubt infinitely more enjoyable than Blue Hawaii.

If you’re scared of a custard that evokes images of a rock icon who died crawling off the toilet, however, there are plenty of other options. There’s a sundae, for example, appropriately named “Worms ’n’ Dirt” that could easily suffice for your inner five-year-old. With crushed Oreo cookies and gummy worms over vanilla custard, it’s a de facto candy bin. “Worms ’n’ Dirt” was not chock-full of either gummy worms or Oreos given the amount of custard, but that could be a good thing given that more worms might have induced a diabetic coma.

Scooter’s seasonal concretes give reason to the season more than cranberry sauce ever did. The pumpkin pie concrete tasted exactly like pumpkin pie; each bite was a perfect mix of graham-cracker particles, subtly sweet pumpkin custard, and whipped cream. With the other seasonal treats ranging from pumpkin malts to pecan pie concretes, you’re better off going on a family field trip for Thanksgiving dessert instead of slaving away over a pie at home.

Unlike infamous limited edition Disney DVDs that will “go back in the Disney vault forever” before reappearing on the market a few weeks later, the delight of eating custard at Scooter’s this fiscal year is truly a limited-time engagement. Yes, Scooter’s will open again in the spring, but it’ll be another year before the seasonal stuff reappears. Not only does this Lincoln Park custard stand serve one of the best cups of custard in the city of Chicago, it’s pretty much unmatched as far as dessert-serving peers. (The custard at Culver’s in the suburbs doesn’t have a prayer.) Despite the frigid outdoor temperatures, the chilled creations at Scooter’s warm your soul enough to merit the adventure on the Brown Line, and the sugar rush can only help your exam grades anyway.