Sweet, Sweet Liberty

Liberty Frozen Custard offers a chance to stop and smell the roses, child-style

Liberty Frozen Custard
5401 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
612.823.8700

 

Obviously, there are a lot of trucks. Dump trucks, tow trucks, big trucks, small trucks, and, in the ultimate flourish of the genre, fire trucks. On the other hand, there are a lot of planes. Red planes, blue planes, thick gray planes that look too heavy to fly, and, of course, planes that make white stripes behind them as they go. And yet, even when you consider those facts in their enormity, you are nevertheless forced to conclude that buses are another thing altogether.

Outgrown your fascination with firetrucks? Think of it as arriving at an age when you can finish a really big sundae
Diana Watters
Outgrown your fascination with firetrucks? Think of it as arriving at an age when you can finish a really big sundae

Still, even taking all of that into account, most local restaurants are an unmitigated nightmare. Enter them and you will find almost nothing but adults using their inside voices to prod at ghastly topics such as their jobs, the news, and kissing. Meanwhile, they eat plate after plate of squid, spinach, and such a variety of animals' livers that all a reasonable person can do is put a colander on your head and retreat to a distant room to make a pillow fort.

Have our leading restaurants ever considered that a significant portion of the population would far prefer restaurants that were less like Milanese design studios and more like nice places where you could watch fire trucks, airplanes, and buses while eating nothing but frozen custard? No, our leading restaurants have not. But Vicky and Steve Uhr have, and so have debuted Liberty Frozen Custard, the best thing to happen to boys of a certain age since playing cards first met bike wheels.

The first thing you need to know about Liberty Custard is that it's got location to burn. For one thing, it's directly across from a real live fire station, and on a good day, fire trucks come and go, sparkling like fireflies on a heroic mission. For another thing, it's directly below a well-traveled landing route for airplanes; on a busy weekday evening you can count on seeing at least three dozen planes so low overhead that you can read their flight numbers. Liberty also sells a $5 laminated guide for anyone interested in definitively distinguishing their DC-10s from their Nicollet Avenue busses, which stream by with a gratifying regularity.

Which is to say that not only is Liberty Frozen Custard on Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis, but it is just a few short blocks from the shady bike paths that flank Minnehaha Creek. If people keep insisting on bundling you into a fluorescent yellow trailer and pedaling you in Sisyphean circles around lakes, there is finally a really interesting destination to suggest.

Liberty first came on the scene last summer, the work of husband and wife Steve and Vicky Uhr, who bought a 1950s Standard Oil station that had been degraded by years of "updates" and brought out its original glory, and then some--the place gleams, literally, inside and out. They polished all of the porcelain enamel steel panels that make up the building's interior and exterior. (The structure shares much with the famous Lustron steel-panel homes that date from the same post-WWII era.)

They filled the interior of the former gas station with sparkling 1950s chrome chairs and matching kidney-print tables. They dotted each table with vintage napkin holders and crowned a magazine-sharing table with copies of 1950s Look and Life magazines. The end result is a domestic castle as hygienic as a space capsule and as welcoming as the Emerald City.

The menu at Liberty can be viewed both at the outside takeout window, perfect for bike-ups, or inside, in the air-conditioned interior. Happily, the menu has been refined to the absolute essence of American summertime: frozen custard, malts made with real malt powder, Nathan's hot dogs, Chicago beef, veggie dogs, pizza, and nachos. There are three frozen custards on offer daily--vanilla, chocolate, and a flavor of the day, such as pistachio, peanut butter swirl, or drumstick, made with waffle-cone pieces and peanuts.

So what's the difference between frozen custard and soft-serve ice cream? They're about as different as seatbelt swings are from regular swings, which is to say they're very different, but also rather the same, the difference being that frozen custard has some egg yolk in it, just like gelato does, to make the texture and "mouthfeel" richer and creamier. (Vicky Uhr says Liberty's custard mix, trucked in from a special dairy in Illinois, is 1.4 percent egg yolk, so you probably won't be able to convince anyone to substitute it for your morning omelette.) This also allows frozen custard to be served a little warmer than ice cream, which means you can taste it better.

Personally, I found Liberty's custard to be nice and plain, but more, I think it provides a perfectly adorable canvas for the many real old-fashioned additions they offer, such as sweet and salty toasted pecans, cashews, peanuts, fresh bananas, rich caramel sauce, and the like. Conversation with Vicky Uhr has revealed that the reason these add-ins are so good is because she and her husband spent a year taste-testing nuts, caramel, hot fudge, and such from various suppliers all over the country. So now the nuts come from one special roaster in Chicago, and many other toppings come in from New York.

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