The Best Frozen Custard in Los Angeles

Update 7/31/2013: The newest restaurant in town to serve authentic custard is Top Round Roast Beef on La Brea/Olympic. (They make yummy concretes!) Short Order at the 3rd/Fairfax L.A. Farmers Market also serves fantastic versions of Midwestern custard desserts. 

Also, it sounds like Lucky Devil’s is no longer serving custard. Commenter Sarah reports, “Went to Lucky Devil’s today specifically for their frozen custard. When the waitress said, “You get 2 scoops…” I sensed this was not what I hoped it would be, and I was right. Not only was it scooped, what we did get tasted like icy old bad ice cream. It doesn’t come out of a soft serve machine nor an extruder. What a disappointment.

Update 2/19/2013: You can now find Midwestern style (Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, etc.) frozen custard at Short Order at the Los Angeles Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax, mid city. The full L.A. Foodie review of Short Order is here.

Editor’s Note: The following blog post was originally published on the old LA Foodie blog in September of 2008. There has been some recent, renewed interest in the subject, so I’m republishing the piece here. Sad spolier: Silky Smooth went out of business and never reopened. But there are now at least a couple of places in L.A. (Short Order and Top Round) where you can get the real thing. If you know of more, please Tweet us (@lafoodie), post to our Facebook Page, or leave a comment below.

Part 1

On Friday, I was strolling through Westwood. I popped into Helen’s Cycles, which is a pretty awesome bicycle shop. I was wearing my Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard t-shirt, and Chris, the guy who was helping me, asked about it. He’s from Milwaukee, and he lamented that living in Los Angeles doesn’t give one a whole lot of options when it comes to frozen custard. Hell, in Wisconsin, even the fast food joints have awesome frozen custard.

ted-drewes-frozen-custard

That’s me on the left… psyche – I’ll never be that cool.

I had to agree. I haven’t once encountered a frozen custard (that I noticed anyway) joint since I moved to Los Angeles over five years ago. So I started poking around Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chowhound, Yahoo!, and the other usual spots to see what people were saying. It looks like there are basically four spots worth trying:

  1. Big J’s Frozen Custard in Orange: Sadly this place is now gone. It was replaced by a Pinkberry.
  2. Lickety-Split: There were several locations at one time. The most visible one was next door to the Egyptian theater in Hollywood. But their website, www.lickety-split.com, is no longer live, and I can’t find a phone number. If anybody knows anything about this establishment, please let me know.
  3. Lucky Devils in West Hollywood: I’ve been dying to try their hamburger, which has become rather notorious among local foodies. And now I find out that they have amazing frozen custard? Awesome! I’m there.
  4. Silky Smooth at the Beverly Center: I basically hate the Beverly Center more than immunization shots, but I’ll take one for the team. What the hell.

Here is the main problem: Frozen “custard,” is defined by semantics. Custard differs from ice cream in that it is made with egg yolks. This gives it a smoother, richer texture and taste. But guess what? Most “ice cream” is also made with egg yolks, which technically makes it custard. It’s pretty hard to know whether or not an ice cream place is slinging custard or not. And since the term “frozen custard” doesn’t carry the same cachet around here that it does in the Midwest, I have a feeling this is going to be a challenge.

During my research on the subject, I learned something interesting. Many excellent frozen custard stands, including Ted Drewes, use honey to sweeten their product. It’s more expensive, but it gives the custard a unique and well-rounded flavor that is unmistakable. I wonder if anybody around here does that.

I’ll keep the blog up-to-date as I try the different options out there in our fair city. And once a winner is crowned, I’ll put up a special review. In the meantime, please give me any feedback you have about the subject, as I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Part 2

I tried two places this week:

  1. Lucky Devils
  2. Silky Smooth

I was delighted to discover that one of the places in town that serves frozen custard is Lucky Devils. I’ve been meaning to get over there for a long time; their hamburgers have quite a reputation with many people calling their Kobe Burger the best in town. More on that later.

silky-smooth-custard

My first stop was the Silky Smooth Ultra Creamery at the Beverly Center, which is pretty much my least favorite mall/place in the world – aside from Cincinnati. SilkyMix is what they call what I know as a “concrete,” so I ordered a chocolate chip SilkyMix. Chocolate chip is the thing to get at Ted Drewes, so I wanted to have a good basis for comparison. Bonus points for the lady behind the counter inverting the cup before she served me my custard. It was good. Really good. It’s the dense, rich, silky custard I’m used to from Kansas City’s Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard and St. Louis’s Ted Drewes. I was just beginning to enjoy my treat when I noticed… Oh my god! White Castle sliders are on the menu! Hilarious. It’s just the microwavable kind from the supermarket, but Silky Smooth obviously knows its clientele. And I have to admit that a couple of steaming sliders go nicely with the custard.

The vedict? Silky Smooth is good but not great. And considering that it’s on the 6th floor of an indoor mall, I can’t imagine going back unless I’m having a severe custard jones.

Funniest fact about Silky Smooth: It’s next door to a Pinkberry. Seriously.

silky-smooth-pinkberryjpg

Next up was Lucky Devil’s, and yes, I did both places back-to-back. This joint is in the heart of touristy Hollywood, so I would recommend a week night unless you love bumping into people whose eyes are focuses on the stars on the sidewalk and not on where they are going. As for the burgers, they were good and deserve their own review, so I’ll put one up soon. The custard isn’t served on its own but rather as part of a number of desserts like ice cream sandwiches and hot fudge sundaes. We got two orders: one was plain custard and the other was a sundae. This custard was a bit airier than Silky Smooth, which might have warranted a demerit were it not so good. This was the superior dessert compared to Silky Smooth. Lucky Devils’ custard was velvety and buttery on the tongue. It was really great.

lucky-devils-custard

The cool part? Our waitress at Lucky Devils was from St. Louis. No kidding. She agreed to take a picture of the packaged mix back in the kitchen cooler.

When the quest is finished, each custard joint will get its own review. I recently found two more places to visit:

  • Fraiche in downtown Culver City
  • BinnieLoco in Hollywood

My work is never done…

Part 3

On today’s agenda: BinnieLoco. This custard stand is not really in Hollywood (as I previously stated). It’s in Koreatown near the intersection of 3rd Street and Vermont. I live near downtown Culver City, so the trip to BinnieLoco was kind of a haul. And was I ever dismayed to discover that it’s closed on Sundays for “worship.” Why is “worship” in quotes? Because as I sadly looked through the window into the darkened dessert store, an old Korean man unlocked the door and said, “Sorry. We closed today for worship” (See? I told you). He continued, “What did you come for? The custard?”

binnie-loco

My companion, past and future LA Foodie Podcast guest Patrick McGilligan (the guy in the fedora) said, “Yeah. We’re here for the custard. Is it good?” The old man said, “Yes. Good – very very goooood!” Needless to say, this guy’s giddy enthusiasm makes me want to return on a non-Sunday to see what they have to offer.

Which brings me to the other interesting thing that happened today. I received a comment-moderation notice for my previous post, The Best Frozen Custard in Los Angeles, Part 2. And the comment was from none other than the owner of Silky Smooth Ultra Creamery. It seems that my preference for Lucky Devils’ soft-serve-style custard was not well-received. And I have to admit that Silky Smooth has geniune, Midwesten, extrusion-style custard, and Lucky Devils does not.

Point taken, and I intend to return to give it another try. In fact, I put the owner up to the challenge of hosting me and my stomach for a custard-tasting. I have to admit that the phrase “frozen custard” seems to be retail poision among yogurt-obsessed Angelinos, so I can appreciate the challenge of keeping this king of frozen desserts alive. I have posted the original comment and my response below. More to come as my custard quest continues.

Before posting the custard correspondence, I should note that Silky Smooth’s owner has stated that they have the only true frozen custard in the entire state of California. If that’s true, my quest very well might begin and end at The Beverly Center (shiver).

The original comment:

As the owner of Silky Smooth (and a fellow St Louisan–Parkway South), I want to thank you for braving your “favorite place on earth”, the lovely Beverly Center, to share our passion for genuine frozen custard. I, too grew up on Ted Drewes & White Castles, hence our product offerings. We appreciate your initial glowing review, but were surprised that you felt a soft-serve product was superior to the genuine extrusion product we share with Ted Drewes. Nothing on earth compares to the extrusion product when it is made and served fresh, so I must invite you to return and have a cone “right off the ribbon” just like Ted’s and you will be in frozen custard heaven, I guarantee it! We have many ex-St Louisans & Midwesterners driving up to 80 miles each week to indulge in our unique-to-California genuine midwest frozen custard (our mix is imported from Wisconsin!) and you must try our truly unique Custard/Gelato Fusion Flavors like Chocolate, Coffee, and Pistachio! Plus, we make a killer black and white concrete “SilkyWhip” (vanilla+chocolate+gourmet chocolate syrup), just like I used to be addicted to at Ted Drewes. After all, with a name like Silky Smooth, our texture has to be the very best! No soft serve can compare…

PS–Our location may not be ideal, but it is all we can do right now. If you truly enjoy genuine extrusion-style (Ted Drewes) 1.4% egg-yolk frozen custard, we are basically the only one still in business in the whole state of California. The rest are airy, soft-serve types like McDonalds or Dairy Queen. Not in the same league as the real deal. Be sure to spread the word about us…your negative attitude toward our location, combined with fro-yo mania in LA, means you may never see genuine frozen custard in LA ever again if we don’t make it. Why? Because the word “custard” has killed EVERY attempt to sell frozen custard in California over the past 20 years!! I know nearly all of the victims personally, despite most offering a really good product, many lost their homes and families with their sad stories. And, every one of them told me that if they had it to do all over again, they would have never called it “frozen custard”. That is why we changed our name to “Ultra Creamery” in 2005. After 4 years in the Beverly Center with steady growth ever since changing our name, they opened that froyo place next door just a week ago to try and put us out of business. Most Angeleno “yogurtheads” HATE all types of ice cream now, so we need ALL dedicated ice cream/custard/gelato fanatics in LA to experience the truly luxurious and healthy (90% fat free, all natural and Kosher) treat known as Silky Smooth. Your good faith and support is greatly appreciated!

My reply:

Thanks for your comment on my post. As a food blogger, it’s easy to fall into a dismissive routine where I’m blase about the latest place I am reviewing. I sometimes forget about the people behind all the hard work that leads to a restaurant’s existence. Therefore, I appreciate your reminding me – perhaps a bit defensively – but reminding me nonetheless. As I’m sure you know as well as anyone, the enjoyment of any dining experience, be it frozen custard, a burger, or a fine steak, is as much about the atmosphere and state of mind as it is about the food. Your location is far from ideal, as far as I’m concerned. And though I appreciate that The Beverly Center might not be your first choice, the fact remains. Eating a dessert under unflattering lighting while surrounded by people laden with branded shopping bags from middle-class meccas has a negative impact on the experience.

Despite my initial misgivings about Silky Smooth’s being the best custard game in town, you have passionately inspired me to give it another try. It is my intention to write a full review of every custard or “custard” stand I try during this quest, and I think it’s only fair that I should return to try the varied concoctions of which you are obviously proud. So, are you interested in personally introducing me to some of your other fare? Do you ever work behind the counter? If not, would you be willing to host me for half an hour (or so) and show me around your offerings? I would love to meet another foodie who is at least as passionate about good food as I am.

A message from Chuck:

My name is Chuck, and I welcome you back to our store to experience all we have to offer. Best time to meet would be a weekday…and choose your very favorite flavor that we will make a point to run fresh while you watch (we make far more flavors than Ted (vanilla only) or most midwest custard stands (typically 3), so our process is quite laborious and time-consuming…but all worth it to see a first-timer’s eyes light up and a big WOW!! smile.

Our daily flavors are vanilla, chocolate, coffee, strawberrry, pistachio and/or mint chocolate chip, plus low-carb no sugar added vanilla & chocolate, plus 4 different dairy-free but amazingly smooth whole fruit sorbets!

You may not have noticed the other unique feature of our shop–the fact we are the only HFCS-free Soda Shop in LA with all the most popular soft drinks–Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, 7-Up, etc imported from Belgium and Mexico–Pure Cane Sugar in glass bottles–great way to wash down those sliders, or the best Coke float in the world! I travel a lot, have tasted the best soft drinks (and ice cream/gelato/frozen custard) worldwide, and refuse to sell the HFCS crap that is a plague on America…

As far as our atmosphere, sure its not ideal, but, unlike Pinkberry, I do not have a $27Million budget from Starbucks…at least we have nice tables & chairs downstairs in front of Apple & Ferrari with free WiFi, great people watching, and not the typical zoo-like atmosphere of a mall food court –so things could be worse. We wish we were not in that mall too, but we must make the best of it.

So I said:

Thanks again for you reply. Would it be OK with you for me to post your latest email to my blog? I think it’s remarkable and interesting for a business owner to so thoroughly engage his patrons. I also think it’s cool that you are anti-high-fructose-corn-syrup. I have to admit that I only noticed Mexican Coke and not the other sodas. And I happen to agree with you that HFCS is a scourge on America. Your affinity for unique sodas must mean that you know about Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. It’s one of my favorite places to take an out of town guests.

When we meet, I’ll bring a snapshot camera for some photos if that’s OK with you. I have to tell you that what you’re doing right now (participation in online conversations) is absolutely awesome. So from a blogger to a business owner, keep up the good work on that front.

Chuck:

Hi Drew…we are on! As far as posting my letter, you can post it. And, be sure to link www.silkysmoothcreamery.com (Ed’s Note: Now defunct), our newer website that functions better than the older one.

PS–Bring some Lion’s Choice Roast Beef Sandwiches and you’ll be hero for a day!

Me:

I’m looking forward to our meeting. Thanks for the invitation. As for flavors, I guess I would like to try strawberry. Vanilla is the only flavor I’ve ever had, so strawberry will be a new experience for me. All other flavors I have ever tried have been made with a vanilla custard base mixed with syrups and/or other ingredients.

We’ll see how the custarding goes. More to come…

Part 4

I can feel the quest drawing to a close. So far, Los Angeles Foodie has visited:

  • Silky Smooth Ultra Creamery
  • Lucky Devils
  • BennieLoco
  • Fraiche

…and we’re pretty close to a winner. I have not yet visited Strickland’s in Irvine, but it’s on the list. Given that Strickland’s is based in Ohio, I have high hopes.

LA Foodie, Tami, visited Fraiche, and one look is enough.

fraiche-custard

That’s like no frozen custard I’ve ever seen. Tami says it was excellent, and I can’t wait to try it… but a dessert this pretty has no home on this website. If it’s not served in a waxed paper or plastic cup, it’s probably not genuinely Midwestern.

As for BennieLoco, LA Foodie Jim had this to say:

The only reason to visit BinnieLoco is if you’re on a mission for frozen custard.  Located in Korea Town at 3rd & Vermont, it’s not a place to go if you’re looking for ambiance…unless you consider a small, depressing strip mall soothing ambiance. At the time of my visit, my St. Louisian fiancée was bogged down by a pretty intense migraine, and the one thing that she wanted was frozen custard.  Me being the gentleman and fiancé that I am, went out in search of the classic remedy for any headache.  I arrived at BinnieLoco and was greeted by both of the employees with friendly smiles. I asked what kind of flavors they had. Vanilla & Dulce de leche. They also have some fruity Latino drinks. I didn’t really pay much attention.  I looked down at the toppings behind the glass sneeze-guard. Pinkberry. I inquired about any sort of fudge or chocolate topping. Nope. I opted for the vanilla, and when I said that I wasn’t interested in any cereal/fruit additions, the enthusiastic woman behind the counter insisted that she put on some Gummi Bears to add some color to the concoction, despite my incessant pleas not to.

Skeptical, I took the “frozen custard” back home and handed it to my under-the-weather lady, who gave me a WTF look when she saw the Gummi Bears. She tasted it, and then without saying a word, handed it back to me. I tasted it. Blasphemy. Airy…light…they may as well have taken a scoop of frozen Cool Whip, dumped it in a cup and called it “frozen custard”. I then realized how fitting the name of the establishment was, because they must be “loco” to call that crap “frozen custard”. McDonald’s soft-serve, Pinkberry, and TCBY are all thicker and creamier than BinnieLoco.

Her headache only escalated after that experience.

Initially, I reported that Lucky Devils’ custard was better than Silky Smooth’s. In all fairness to the purists, Lucky Devils might sell a true custard (it contains eggs), but it’s dispensed via a soft serv machine and not an extruder. Those who read the previous post in this series know that the proprietor of Silky Smooth took issue with my opinion and invited me to join him for a one-on-one custard tour of his place. It turned out to be well worth the time.  I was able to sample two flavors (strawberry and vanilla) right off the “ribbon,” which is the best possible way to eat the stuff.

silky-smooth-custard-extruder

Chuck (the owner) is a really nice guy, if not a bit obsessive (but that’s how we like our restaurateurs around here). He has poured his life into introducing Southern California to the best frozen dessert on planet earth. And he probably has his work cut out for him since a brand new Pinkberry (bleech) moved in next door just a few short weeks ago. The Beverly Center location isn’t ideal, but I urge you to try some of the best truly Midwestern frozen custard I’ve had in a long time. Los Angeles Foodie will devote a full review to Sikly Smooth Ultra Creamery in the near future.

Until then, the quest continues…

The Conclusion

I have been mulling over how to end this series of blog posts for a long time now (a couple of months, actually). The bottom line is, there isn’t much in the way of authentic, Midwestern custard ’round these parts. Silky Smooth Ultra Creamery was the closest I got. So if you are in the mood for a Ted Drewe’s-style concrete, head to the Beverly Center and grab some to go. But you had better hurry. The mall recently installed a Pinkberry right next door, so I’m assuming that Silky Smooth’s days are numbered.

UPDATE (11/25/2008): Read the comments below for an official update by Silky Smooth’s owner. Sadly, he was forced to close up shop at the Beverly Center in late October. The good news is that he plans to open a new, curb-side location just a few blocks away that will include a drive-thru. Oh joy!

Silky Smooth’s last day at Beverly Center was Oct 24th. We hope to reopen next spring at a much better location on 3rd Street, just 3 blocks away, but with quick, easy drive-thru/curbside access. Email us at silkysmoothcreamery@gmail.com for updates!

Southern California will NEVER be ready for a product with the name “frozen custard”…20-plus years of 100% failed attempts, most due only to the name (according to owners who were interviewed after closing).

However, all of California is not only ready, but now clamoring again for the all-new Silky Smooth Organic MicroCreamery…we get emails daily wanting to know when we will be reopening. Well, it takes time to build a new store from scratch…but well worth the wait!!

There is another custard stand in Irvine called Strickland’s. It’s a franchised location of an Ohio company. So it’s not purely Californian, but it’s an authentic custard stand, nonetheless. I’m not in Irvine very often, so I haven’t tried it out. If any of you have, please write and let me know how it is.

I think that Southern California is not yet ready for frozen custard, but I’m hoping that it will be someday soon. Maybe we’ll luck out and get a Culvers. The closest ones to us right now are the three in the Phoenix area, and they are probably worth the drive to cure a severe butter burger and custard jones.