Custard's Best Stand
Adele's Frozen Custard
800 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior; (952) 470-0035
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. daily (but 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. after Labor Day); closed during January
The difference between whipped cream and heavy cream is nothing but sugar and air--but ooh la la, what a difference a whisk makes. The differences between frozen custard and soft-serve ice cream are again subtle in number--a scant change of air and eggs--but once again, good heavens, vive la différence! Frozen custard is creamy, incredibly fresh-tasting, luxurious on the tongue, mouth-coating, rich, plush--in a word, irresistible. No wonder there's a nationwide cult of frozen custard.
No, I didn't know about the frozen-custard cult either. I learned about it only a few weeks ago, when a friend who's moving to Buenos Aires for two years declared it was her final American wish to eat at Adele's until she dropped. I think she's now been there two dozen times in six weeks. (For a city kid, that's no small commitment; Adele's is about a half-hour out from Minneapolis on Highway 7, 15 miles from Uptown on my odometer, and not a particularly pretty drive.) I went with her once and immediately learned that I had to keep going back again and again and again.
Creamy frozen custard differs from standard ice cream in a few special ways: It's made with extra extra egg yolks (just like Italian gelato); it's made fresh every day, all day (as opposed to hard-pack ice cream, which usually has to set overnight); there's no air added to it (as opposed to the lots-of-air that makes soft-serve--think slow churning instead of whipping); it's served at a higher temperature than most ice cream (23 degrees); and if you call Adele's hotline, you'll learn what the specialty flavors of the day are--peach? Caramel cashew? Tin-roof sundae? This phone call now ranks first in my book as the most charming ritual you can work into a long, summer, office-trapped afternoon.
The other things I learned I almost hate to disclose, because they make it very difficult for me to write, initiating as they do a nearly pure Pavlovian response of glazed eyes and salivating mouth, but bear with me; I'm trying. First, please know that Adele's turtle sundae ($3.75) might be the best sundae available in the state, that voluptuous vanilla frozen custard topped with generous portions of buttery caramel sauce, luscious hot fudge, and a handful of fresh toasted California salted pecan halves. The salty, the sweet, the buttery, and all of it as fresh as the morning dew--oh, oh, help! The big homemade waffle cones ($2.25, $3.25 for a double) come with a malted-milk ball at the bottom to stop up the drips. All of the fruit-flavored frozen custards are served with a handful of fresh sliced fruit--the peach with fuzzy slices of peach, the raspberry with bright little raspberries, etc. The malts are simply definitive. And those custards are even available as party-friendly pies: chocolate custard topped with raspberries, walnuts, and chocolate sauce in an Oreo crust, or vanilla custard topped with caramel, chocolate, and a variety of nuts (whole pies are $13.75, slices are usually available for $2.75).
And it goes on: If you're one of those souls who feels a need to buffer your system with real food before an onslaught of dessert treats, please know that Adele's serves deli sandwiches (all around $3.50) that could pretty much go in the dictionary as the illustration for the food, so picture-perfect are they: ham and cheese; tuna salad; roast beef and Swiss. They all come with sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, and mayo on thick slices of soft wheat bread nestled in a paper basket beside a pickle. For those who like to inoculate against junk food with more junk food, for you I tried a chili-cheese dog--a big quarter-pound all-beef hot dog covered with chili and real Cheddar cheese--and it was absolutely perfect in that foul-slash-delectable-slash-stop-slash-more way of junk food.
Now I feel bad for having called the frozen custard junk food. I didn't mean it! For me, you'll never be junk food, you sweet custard you. Why, you've got eggs and milk and sometimes fruit--why, you're practically healthy. You're practically tofu.
Oh, are you readers still around? You'll have to excuse me, I'm busy lying to the frozen custard. No, not lying! I told you, I didn't mean it. Ack. Look at the trouble I'm getting into here! And for what? Sheesh. Oh well, a player's gotta play.
Anyhoo, perhaps you can see why frozen custard is such an object of cult adoration--though admittedly mostly not around here, mostly on the Jersey Shore, in St. Louis, and around Milwaukee. But if my summer's experience is any indication, for every devotee that moves away, another three will be created, and then it's only a matter of time till Highway 7 is renamed the Custard Pilgrim's Way.
BARGAIN BASEMENT AQUAVIT: When I first saw news of the special Crayfish Week menu at Aquavit, I've got to admit I didn't really appreciate what was so great about it. Frankly, my eyes sort of glazed over at the notice: All week at both lunch and dinner, from August 27 to September 1, $29 will net you all the peel-and-eat critters you can put away, as well as crayfish bisque, orzo crayfish salad, potatoes, a cheese plate, and a mixed salad. Twenty-nine bucks? A promotion, whatever, doesn't seem that cheap, probably could go to the store and get them on my own, cut out the middleman.
But wait. Research is a penny-pinching food nerd's best friend, because the next thing I did was haul out my copy of James Peterson's definitive book Fish and Shellfish, whereupon everything changed, forever and ever, because I remembered one important thing: Dealing with these pinchy fellows is expensive, and a major, major headache.
To wit, all the flavor is in the heads and shells, so if you're going to eat crayfish, you're going to want live crayfish. The first thing Peterson recommends is that you barge into the fishmonger's and start hand-sorting your live crayfish, holding them "face down by the sides (near where the claws join the body) so they won't be able to pinch--dead ones will hang limp, and live ones will squirm." Then, having done that, oh, 60 times maybe (there are as many as 15 or 20 crayfish in a pound, but they're only 15 or 20 percent meat, so plan on buying a good two pounds per diner), Peterson explains that one takes them home, whereupon more will perish, and the others will remain dangerous. "When you're ready to cook your crayfish, spread them on a counter and quickly sort through them to get rid of any dead ones. (Don't put them in a sink full of water, which will give them a distinct tactical advantage.)" By the time I got to the part about "Many old French recipes call for pulling out the crayfish intestines while the crayfish are still alive," I was so overwhelmed by conflicting emotions I had to crawl under the desk and weep softly onto my knees.
I know you care deeply, so I'll try to sort through the emotions for you: Laziness, of course, and perhaps above all--but also squeamishness, and incredulity. (My fishmonger, whom I'm so close to. Of course. With the live tanks. Who likes me to swing on by and dangle a lot of crayfish around by their butts. Because apparently I live in Louisiana. In 1912. Before supermarkets. Before lawsuits. Before the 1,000-hour workweek.) And dominant above those emotions: Hunger, and the desire to take advantage of the generosity of others.
Why, crayfish are delicious! I near plumb forgot. The last time I had all the crayfish I wanted, it was eight years ago beside a levee in Louisiana. And when is that going to happen again? Why, if I don't get down there, I'll have to wait another eight years! And this is why we never see the grabby guys--because of the butt dangling and the tactical advantages and all. Go, Aquavit! Pay all those kitchen people to spend their days doing battle with pinchy little claw-monsters and I'll be there! Taking advantage of your largesse! Popping off their heads, sucking out the meat from their tails and juice from their bodies, and laughing merrily all the way.
Speaking of penny-pinching, did you know Aquavit has been running a three-course, early-bird dinner bargain all summer? I didn't, so lucky for me this bargain is extending into the fall. Details: three courses, prix fixe, $32 if you're seated between 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. One recent menu offered two choices per course, starting with either watercress and melon salad or chilled tomato soup, entrées of seared salmon with potato-dill risotto and mustard broth or rib eye steak with garlic-roasted turnips and taro-root purée, and a choice of desserts. Um, is it just me, or does 7:30 seem like a perfectly normal dinnertime? When did Aquavit get so friendly?
According to general manager Tim Niver, Aquavit's $10 lunches have been such a success--nearly tripling lunchtime business--that Aquavit is planning on throwing bargains at Minneapolis's feet until someone makes them stop. "It was the only way we could beat that perception that Aquavit was all New York/martini lunch/rare-seared everything," he says. "Now people are coming here and understanding. Finally. They get the food, it's quick, easy and cheap, and they still get the linens, the manners, the whole experience." Seem too good to last? Don't worry, says Niver: The multi-course $10 lunch is here to stay, for all the foreseeable future. Aquavit, S. 80 Eighth St., IDS Center, Minneapolis; (612) 343-3333.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Minneapolis & St. Paul dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.