2 unlikely places serve up creamy milkshakes

October 12, 2011 (CHICAGO)

He's got a pair of recommendations you might not know about. They key, of course, is good ice cream and a sturdy blender.

You would expect to find great milkshakes at an ice cream parlor. Whether its Mitchell's in Homewood, the Plush Horse in Palos or the iconic Homer's up in Wilmette, they all make thick, creamy shakes. But would you believe that great milkshakes are served up at a diner in the South Loop and a neighborhood cafe in Logan Square? Yes, great milkshakes exist outside of the usual suspects.

Just the sight of a straw in a tall glass filled with ice cream is enough to take anyone back to their childhood. Brad Rubin clearly peddles in memories. At his Eleven City Diner in the South Loop, he mashes up Jewish nostalgia with diner lore.

"It's what I grew up with, I mean, it's what I know. It's how I was introduced to delicatessens. Going to the deli, having the corned beef, or the pastrami or the matzo ball soup, or whatever I was having. But you can't forget the milkshake," Rubin said.

And Rubin certainly doesn't. He practically worships the super-premium, 16 percent butterfat vanilla from Homer's, using their chocolate syrup as well. He adds a bit of milk then starts blending. He'll then add a little more milk, and finish the blending process. He says his shakes are true throwbacks, thanks to the Chicago-made vintage soda fountain and mixer he uses.

"So between that old Prince Castle multi-mixer and the Bastion Blessing soda fountain, we have a lot of history here in Chicago," Rubin said.

Garnishes and variations on shakes are not an option for Rubin's customers; they all arrive the same way.

"It needs to be thick. If it's not thick it's not going to the table. And of course, it's gotta have a wafer and whipped cream. Or what we affectionately like to call 'a hat on top.' And it always, always, is served with the tin. Old school -- gotta be," he said.

In Logan Square, the mood is more laid-back at The Brown Sack -- a neighborhood cafe serving creative sandwiches, like a shrimp and avocado BLT, as well as an extensive selection of milkshakes.

"The key thing is that we use all fresh fruit for the milkshakes, where a lot of places that you go to that are anywhere close to here, they're using the purees that are full of sugar," said Adam Lebin, the owner of The Brown Sack.

Before flavorings are added, Vitamin D whole milk is combined with the ice cream and a vanilla syrup.

"Having ice cream at the proper temperature where it's not too soft or it's not too hard when you make it -- it comes out perfectly thick. The fact that we put extra flavoring into our ice cream brings out the vanilla flavor," Lebin said.

There's Oreo, peanut butter and even Nutella, which brings together the cold creaminess of vanilla ice cream with the nutty richness of hazelnuts. Lebin says it doesn't matter what the weather is like outside, if you want a shake, they'll happily deliver one to you.

"You can't walk home in the snow with a bunch of ice cream because you just feel strange with that so we bring it to you. Stay home and you're warm, you get the ice cream, and you're not like cold when you get it delivered to you. You're already home under a blanket," said Lebin.

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