JeJu

Old-Fashioned

In food on 10/04/2009 at 8:52 pm

Today we were in Westfield craving a malted chocolate shake. While getting sandwiches at the Robert Treat Deli where they only have egg creams, I chatted up the cashier to find out why it’s so difficult to find a good milkshake in New Jersey. She referred us to her childhood favorite, Holsten’s, in Bloomfield.

We had been eagerly awaiting the Sonic that is opening on Highway 22, but we stopped at one on the way home from Philly, and they put Whoppers in theirs, so it was extra sweet with a caramel undertone. A good malted chocolate shake has got to be fudgy, thick, and not too saccharine. This one was a disappointment.

The cashier said she used to take her kids to Holsten’s, and they made their own ice cream and candy. It is now also famous for being featured in the last episode of The Sopranos and is part of the Sopranos tour of New Jersey. We booked to it after we dropped Mother off at the airport. At first glance, we were pretty much in love.

We sat at the counter on red swivel stools, across from the other side that sold a bunch of chocolates and T-shirts, laminated menus, and other odd paraphernalia you would find at a five-and-dime store from the 1950’s. There are booths in the back, with a mural on the back wall. The other half thinks it was a painting of windows and an outdoor scene. There was a backlit original plastic menu posted on the wall where you replace each letter by hand, like the signs in front of old gas stations or schools.

We ordered the shake we’d been craving, and also a scoop of vanilla ice cream. That’s the standard ice cream to get if you want to know if someone knows how to make ice cream. The poor kids serving at the counter really use their brute force to scoop that stuff up.

I got my ice cream first. It had great QQ, was super creamy, perhaps the most non-sweet ice cream I’ve ever had, very dense, but not as chewy as the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. It would be a perfect vehicle to add into their Fizzes featured on the menu, a drink made of seltzer, juice and ice cream.

They had one thing on the menu that caught my eye, Wet Walnuts. Sounds like a Sopranos character. The ambiance was so New Jersey, kinda musty and kitsch, but just the thing that’s missing in a lot of the diners that we’d been. There was one in Hoboken that could have been up to snuff, but the shake we got there was watery.

The other half got the chocolate malted. Though it was a little low on the malt flavor, the chocolate part really hit the spot, like they used dark chocolate. Our resident shake expert explains:

Q: What makes a good milkshake?

A: The proper ratio of milk to ice cream. Other added ingredients also impact the proper texture. If it’s too milky, then it’s like you’re just drinking flavored milk. If there’s too much ice cream, then you must consume it with a spoon, which makes it an entirely different animal, in the category of a Wendy’s Frostee. There should be a difference between restaurant milkshakes and homemade ones. I prefer my homemade milkshakes with a little bit more milk and blended so there are small bits of ice cream in the milkshake. Malt makes any shake better. A restaurant milkshake should be smoother because they have the special blender.

Q: Does Holsten’s cut the mustard(milkshake)?

A: Yes (grin). It was smooth and chocolately, with the good amount of milk. You had to shake it up each time to get it flowing. Inertia is the sign of a good shake.

When I was a kid, we used to go to a Swensen’s ice cream shop next to the Ralph’s supermarket. It was small and filled with booths lined with dark wood paneling. Around the top of the room was a model train on tracks that went round n’ round. I would always get cookie’s n’ cream on a sugar cone and watch that train zoom.

Holsten’s has got it right. I hope it doesn’t become too overrun by tourists or close down because downtown Bloomfield decides it needs a modern makeover. We’re going to get a box of truffles for the Grandmas this holiday season. Their font on the gold boxes reminds me of See’s Candies.

The cashier told me to go back and let her know what I think of Holsten’s. Someone’s about to get a great big hug and maybe even a sloppy kiss!

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