Pittsburgh's Milk Shake Factory shakes things up

Have you had a milkshake lately?

"Hmmm," you may be saying to yourself. "No, I haven't. I'd love to have a big ol' chocolate shake. Or maybe a strawberry!"

And you would sound so hopelessly behind the times and boring.

Like everything else, shakes no longer come in just vanilla and other simple flavors.

At The Milk Shake Factory on the South Side, which aspires to not only local but also national fame for its shakes, you can choose from at least 55 flavors, including Dulce de Leche and Red Velvet.

On its menu, chocolate and vanilla get the words "classic" put in front of them. If you want to live in the now, try ordering a Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate Blueberry, or Peanut Butter and Jelly -- the last being one that was recently made permanent by customer voting via social media.

Of course, the Milk Shake Factory likes to shake things up and keep 'em fresh. There's a flavor of the week, and seasonal flavors, such as this summer's line of BBQ shakes, which have flavors that would go well with barbecue: Bourbon Vanilla, Cajun Chocolate (with cayenne), and Salted Watermelon. In fact, the store encourages people to make them at home and even recommends food pairings: The Watermelon with an arugula salad topped with seasoned grilled shrimp, the Bourbon with a blackened chicken sandwich and sweet potato fries, and the Chocolate with a spicy Cajun burger with caramelized onions.

On Mothers Day, the place launched a Sunday brunch menu of flavors, including Blueberry Pancake, Banana Nut Muffin, and Applewood Bacon. The Blueberry Pancake has actual pancakes blended into it. And the Applewood Bacon has actual bacon, blended into the vanilla ice cream and milk with real maple syrup.

The bacon one proved so popular that it will become a permanent flavor, too, says Chris Edwards, as he pours tastes of one. The trick, he says, is to cook the bacon very crisp and chop or process it very fine before the shake is "hand spun" on the milkshake machine.

Not their grandpa's shakes

Mr. Edwards and his sister, Dana Edwards Manatos, are the fourth generation in this sweet family business that their Greek immigrant great-grandparents started in 1914. It evolved into a candy company that now is Edward Marc Chocolatier, which is made in Trafford and also is sold in this Carson Street storefront and one in Monroeville. There's also a Edward Marc chocolate shop in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where the two siblings used to work in politics and still live; their brother, Mark, is setting up a Southern office for the company in Houston, Texas.

Their grandparents' soda fountain is in the back of the Milk Shake Factory, but the milkshake concept was a college project of Dana's that the family adopted in 2003. And recently, the shakes are what are bringing people in the door. Especially on Wednesdays, when from 4 to 6 p.m., the "happy hour" has them lining up, sometimes out the door, talking and laughing happily over the whine of the milkshake machines.

And while the store still spins chocolate shakes, it's also selling plenty of bigger, bolder flavors, too.

The trend

"I think people have become more daring with their milkshakes," Mr. Edwards says over the din. But people's palates have been getting more adventurous with everything from ethnic food to craft beer, which is why the Edwards "kids" have pushed their parents -- Dona and Jeff Edwards, who live in Hampton -- to be more adventurous, too. The bacon shake took some convincing -- "They thought it was too extreme and too weird," says Chris Edwards -- but there is plenty of precedent out there for bacon desserts. Even Burger King recently launched a bacon sundae.

While this is a perfect time of year to thirst for milkshakes, their moment might have been a year or so ago. But their popularity never seems to ebb. New York City's famed Shake Shack, which started as a cart in Madison Square Park in 2001, keeps expanding, just last month opening a store in Philadelphia that serves seven flavors of shakes with burgers.

Edgy, even alcohol-spiked shakes started popping up in Pittsburgh last year at trendy hamburger joints. That's where you still can find some of the most outrageous shakes.

BRGR, with eateries in East Liberty and Cranberry, has concoctions such as Pretzel Covered Chocolate (rum, pretzel crumble, salty caramel and dark chocolate) and Toucan Slam (Loopy vodka, vanilla bean and Fruit Loops cereal), for $8. Non-spiked flavors are $5.

Burgatory, with locations at the Waterworks Mall and Consol Energy Center (and, soon, the Pointe at North Fayette), serves "heavenly shakes" made with its own ice cream in flavors including Apple Pancakes & Bacon, as well as Burnt Almond Torte that contains Prantl's Burnt Almond Torte, a "real tasty way of keeping things local." Most of its "hard" shakes are $8 and its non-alcoholic ones are $6.

Burgatory periodically releases charitable celebrity shakes (watch this Halloween for a Red Velvet Cake Shake topped with a Bloody Eyeball), and there's a special flavor offered each weekend. Today through Sunday, it's Chocolate Pistachio Cannoli, made with cannoli shells, chocolate cannoli filling and crushed roasted pistachios, garnished with whipped cream, pistachios and a piece of cannoli -- plus, in the hard version, chocolate vodka.

Milkshakes are popping up at a few places, too, such as Cafe io, formerly Iovino's, in Mt. Lebanon, which does a Banana Krak Shake (Kracken dark rum, banana, and vanilla ice cream, for $8.50). The Diamond Market Bar & Grill, Downtown, serves classic and hard shakes, including Apple Pie (vanilla ice cream with Maker's Mark, caramel and homemade apple syrup for $7.95).

Fast-food shakes seem to have gone upscale, too, in that Burger King does hand-spun shakes, as does Chik-fil-A, which is bringing back for summer its Peach.

If you can't eat or don't like dairy products, you still can have milkshake fun. The Quiet Storm in Garfield is this weekend bringing back its popular vegan milkshakes, which it temporarily stopped making when its local source of non-dairy frozen dessert dried up. Shakes, in a wide range of flavors including several made with tea, will again be available vegan or not. New flavors include Thai Chill (vanilla, orange blossom tea, lavender) and Albino Monkey (white chocolate, banana, hazelnut) and Berry Nutella (chocolate, hazelnut, raspberry). Most are $6; vanilla and chocolate are $5; vegan ones are 50 cents extra.

"Milkshakes take time & loving care," notes the menu. "Please be patient -- they're worth the wait!"

Make your own

You can get in on the fun at home, using your blender (though purists will tell you a milkshake machine gives a better consistency).

The current July/August issue of Food Network Magazine comes with a booklet that tells you how to make "50 Milkshakes" for two, including "fun new twists" such as No. 2: Toasted Marshmallow:

"Broil 8 marshmallows on foil, turning, until browned. Make Vanilla Milkshakes (No. 1), adding 6 of the toasted marshmallows. Top with the remaining marshmallows."

I'm also intrigued by the fire element of No. 13, Lemon Meringue: "Blend 1 cup each lemon sorbet and vanilla frozen yogurt, 1/4 cup milk and 2 tablespoons jarred lemon curd; pour into glasses. Beat 2 egg whites and 2 tablespoons superfine sugar until stiff. Spoon onto the shakes and brown with a kitchen torch."

You can find other ideas in the newly released paperback version of "Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes: 100 Thick and Creamy Shakes You Can Make at Home." First published in 2009, the book is by Adam Ried, who was a longtime recipe tester for fuss-budgety Cook's Illustrated magazine; he still works at "America's Test Kitchen" and writes a cooking column for The Boston Globe.

He provides recipes for both basic shakes ("Your Father's Oldsmobile") as well as unconventional ones ("Not Your Father's Oldsmobile)," including a Sweet Corn and Basil, Marron Glace aue Cognac (Candied Chestnuts and Cognac), and Toasted Oatmeal and Brown Sugar.

At The Milk Shake Factory, Mr. Edwards says the flavor offerings will continue to expand. For instance, they'll soon start doing shakes containing popular breakfast cereals. They're also planning to open a Milk Shake Factory in Washington, D.C. -- by spring 2014, to mark the company's 100th year.

But, as is often the case, he thinks that the more things change, the more you appreciate the tried-and-true.

"My favorite ... anywhere I go, I always try their vanilla shake," says Mr. Edwards. "If you can't make a good vanilla shake, you shouldn't be in business."

Check out The Milk Shake Factory at themilkshakefactory.com.

Salted Watermelon Shake

The Milk Shake Factory gets watermelon sherbet from Perry's Ice Cream; it's sold at a couple of area ice cream stands (find them and retail stores at perrysicecream.com).

  • 8 ounces watermelon sherbet
  • 4 ounces whole milk, cold
  • 4 ounces soda water
  • 2 ounces watermelon puree
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Chocolate chips for garnish

Blend all ingredients in a milkshake machine or blender. Garnish with chocolate chips, which look like seeds.

-- The Milk Shake Factory

Lemon-Buttermilk Shake

PG tested

  • 1/2 cup cold whole or low-fat buttermilk (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 medium scoops vanilla bean or original vanilla ice cream (about 1 pint)
  • 4 medium scoops lemon sorbet (about 1 pint), softened until just melty at the edges

Place buttermilk and honey in a blender and blend to mix thoroughly, about 15 seconds. Add ice cream and sorbet and pulse several times to break them up. With blender motor off, use a flexible spatula to mash mixture down onto the blender blades. Continue pulsing, stopping, and mashing until mixture is well blended, thick and moves easily in the jar, roughly 30 to 90 seconds. Pour into chilled glass or glasses and serve at once.

Makes about 31/2 cups.

-- "Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes: 100 Thick and Creamy Shakes You Can Make at Home" by Adam Ried (Norton, 2012, $17.95)

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930. First Published July 12, 2012 4:00 AM


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