Standing Room Only: Leon's Frozen Custard Drive-In


[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Leon's Frozen Custard

3131 South 27th Street, Milwaukee WI 53215 (map); 414-383-1784
The Short Order: Creamy and luxurious frozen custard.

My wife and I visited Milwaukee almost exclusively to eat. For five hours we feasted on mini donuts at Sil's, aged cheddar from the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, sausages from Usinger's, and pizza at Maria's. It was enough food for two people to eat for a few days or so, but we weren't done. There was absolutely no way I was going to leave town without trying another Wisconsin specialty: frozen custard.


Frozen custard is thicker and smoother than ice cream due to the higher percentages of eggs and cream. Here is a great guide to some more differences. Various claims have been made that frozen custard isn't the devilishly unhealthy dessert it has the reputation as, but I can't be the only one that was a little freaked out when I first thought about it. But taste trumps all with me, and there's no denying how special frozen custard can be.


The biggest choice my wife and I faced was which place to choose. A rivalry in town has perked up between Kopp's and Leon's. Our choice was relatively easy as we just happened to be close to Leon's after Maria's, and fellow Serious Eats writer Daniel Zemans had threatened my life if I stole Kopp's from him (they apparently have a very good burger, too). I was only there for dessert.


Leon's is a dessert stand from another era. The shop is bathed in neon, which is particularly striking after the sun goes down. There are no carhops, but the counter service seemed straight out of the 1950s. Employees are clad completely in white and crowned with little hats.


The frozen custards are made in large machines that kind of resemble soft serve ice cream machines, except the custard drips slowly. Each day they make vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, and a special flavor. You can get just cups or sundaes, milkshakes, or malts. This being my first time, I decided to try a cup of chocolate.


Leon's frozen custard is thick and creamy, but it's also oddly balanced. It's rich and indulgent, to be sure, but not overly sweet. Each spoonful lovingly coats your mouth without wearing out your taste buds. I couldn't wait to get back in there. I don't really want to know how they make it or how much I should eat. I do know it's delicious.