Europeans have fresh, seasonal foods, universal health care and about 30 weeks of vacation each year. But we have milkshakes.
OK--so they serve a literal version: milk shaken with some flavoring. Ours involve ice cream, crammed into a glass and churned with a little milk (or, better yet, cream) into a thick, heavy mass. No fitting into Speedos after a couple of American shakes.
To us, the best shakes strike a difficult balance: thick enough to stand a spoon in but thin enough to draw through a straw, all the way to the bottom. They need only two ingredients, drawing flavor and mouth feel from the ice cream itself--although dressing the glass with whipped cream is just fine.
Note that we're not claiming "top 10" this time. Instead, we sought out ten vanilla milkshakes, assigning points for quality of ice cream, the tricky thickness/thinness ratio, faux pas like the use of a mix, presentation, etc.
So, here are 10 Dallas milkshakes. The scores are based on 100 points and we present them worst to first.
10. Mooyah North Dallas (34 points)
Gawd. The taste of chemical mix and cheap ice cream. Even if they claim all-natural ingredients, the tinny-silt taste of mix crept in there somehow. Call it coppery, sludge like, whatever. We just call it a failure.
9. Jake's Addison (48 points)
They're not really shake experts here. In fact, the bartenders shoot you strange looks when you walk in during the NASCAR race and ask for one. Or maybe they've tried the shakes--aerated, artificial, slimy--hence the grimace.
8. Keller's Drive-In (49 points)
Gotta love museum pieces like Keller's. Keeping your car running on a blistering summer day while you eat--nothing better for the environment. Shake-wise they lose points for thickness, the concoction forming into unset concrete, impossible to pull through a straw. When you finally manage, you realize all that red-faced effort has been for a glob of low-quality ice cream. Great.
7. Ball's Hamburgers (53 points)
The popularity of this place has nothing to do with shakes. They are on the thin side, to start. Styrofoam cups cut into their score, as did ice cream quality. Otherwise, if you want a decent, middle of the road example of a run of the mill creation, this is it.
6. Who's Who (55 points)
The score surprised us, for we were not all that happy with the drink. In fact, we'd go back to Ball's before returning to Who's Who. But hitting five out of ten on most criteria seems to have helped their cause. High tally for clean, mix-free flavor. Low marks for value (i.e., price to quality comparison). Really, it's an overpriced cup of mediocrity.
5. Twisted Root (67 points)
As a sundae, they dropped points for lack of any topping but artificial-tasting whipped cream. Unfortunately, we ordered a shake, not the concrete thick glass of custardy ice cream we received. On the other hand, the flavor is untarnished and presentation--real glass--welcome. Fans of extremely thick shakes will be pleased. Next time we'll ask for the adult version.
4. Highland Park Pharmacy (71 points)
The old fashioned lunch counter atmosphere helps. It really does--although it's not a bad shake. In texture, it favors the straw more than the spoon and the taste wavers just beneath the gentleman's C level. But in terms of price and atmosphere, this place is worth a look.
3. Burger House (75 points)
The use of quotation marks--"real" shakes--by the joint's management caused some initial concern. Isn't that implying the opposite? Like they are going to pour a European version? But Burger House serves an old-school shake: basic ice cream and a little milk blended into bland yet ultimately satisfying--despite the styrofoam. Should they ever stock a better brand of ice cream (and real glass), this would be the place to go.
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2. Kenny's Burger Joint Frisco (78 points)
Like Burger House, Kenny's relies on a classic presentation: thick, but not solid; milky, yet crammed with ice cream. Like we said at the top, it's a difficult thing to achieve, though when a place manages the feat...The flavor comes out clean, with a nice real vanilla background. They, too, could step it up just a notch, but there's hardly room for complaint.
1. Burger Bar Neiman Marcus NorthPark (88 points)
And this is what happens when a restaurant does step it up. They work the blender expertly, reaching that exquisite balance that allows you to sip easily a shake so firm the spoon stands straight. Best of all, they use Haagen Dazs as their base ingredients...and top the blend with real whipped cream and a cherry. Hard to imagine a better shake.
Side note: Wading past mannequins in Fendi and Prada outfits to reach a burger joint is a little on the surreal side. So was the table of women in feathery magenta hats lunching at the non-burger restaurant at Neiman's NorthPark location when we visited.