Some of the most vivid images of 1940’s and 50’s Americana are located inside soda shops or ice cream parlors. Just picture it…girls in long poodle skirts and pony-tails sitting at the counter on red-vinyl stools, laughing with friends over a frothy, root beer float. There are huge glass jars filled with brightly-colored candies and clean-cut, well-shaven men in long white aprons waiting to take your order. Finally, the scene wouldn’t be complete without the ubiquitous, “perfect” couple sipping from the same strawberry shake, smiling over their straws with eyes for no one but each other.
Even though I was born in the early 70’s, I can still remember shops like this, minus the skirts and tails, mind you. I distinctly recall a place near San Francisco called Shaw’s Candy & Ice Cream that my mom would take us to for a special day of cherry sodas and massive jawbreakers that were bigger than a softball and took months (and a hammer) to finish. Although it seems places like this no longer exist, there are a few spots around town where you can savor a shake, sip on a house-made soda or slurp down a wicked root beer float.
The first places that come to mind would have to be Jeri Nims Soda Shop and The American Sector Restaurant inside the World War II Museum. Located in the Warehouse District on Magazine Street, the World War II Museum is the perfect place to not only honor our country’s veterans, but to appreciate the nostalgia of what seemed like a simpler time. Stop into The Soda Shop for a pineapple soda or Creole cream cheese shake whipped up using house-made ice cream. Or, you could enjoy a long lunch at The American Sector and sweeten the deal with a Banana Foster shake before enjoying a show at the Stage Door Canteen .
Over in the French Quarter, you can get as close to the 50’s experience as you can possibly get inside Chef Scott Boswell’s Stanley Restaurant. Located on the corner of Jackson Square, Stanley is a “soda shop” extraordinaire with the fabled marble counter top lined with shining steel-rimmed stools and black & white tiled floors. Along with a delectable breakfast and lunch menu, Stanley features Italian sodas, milkshakes and even ice cream sodas with your choice of flavors. How about strawberry ice cream with watermelon soda or a blueberry cheesecake shake topped with whipped cream and a cherry?
When you think of where you can get a great shake, burger joints are where you’d naturally look first, and why not? Phil’s Grill, found in both Harahan and Metairie, not only serves up a juicy bison burger, they offer creamy milkshakes made with ice cream from (where else?) New Orleans Ice Cream Co. After stuffing yourself silly with a “Philet” burger piled high with sauteed mushrooms, thick-sliced bacon and a fried egg, go ahead and finish the job with one of their hand-crafted shakes with flavors ranging from vanilla to s’mores. Or, be a “Big Kid” and add a shot of Bailey’s, Kahlua or Chambord.
Over on Oak Street, Truburger is another cool spot to find creamy shakes and malts to satisfy your most severe sweet craving. Chef Aaron Burgau’s burger haven always offers vanilla, chocolate or strawberry shakes and malts, but it’s not unusual to pop in and find something completely new on the menu. Wash down a “Truth” burger featuring thinly-fried onion rings, Swiss cheese and tru sauce with coconut or mocha milkshake, wide-mouth straw always included.
Move the focus from shakes to floats, and you’ll have to head back down to the French Quarter to Sylvain. This small restaurant with classic New Orleans décor opened only a few years ago in a structure that was build in the late 1700’s that once housed a notorious Storyville madame, Aunt Rose Arnold. Although the menu offers “elevated” dishes like veal sweetbreads and pan-roasted scallops, you can bring it all back down to earth with a Sylvain Float for dessert featuring Abita Root Beer, caramel ice cream and ginger crisps.
*Article originally published in the May 2013 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Phil’s Grill is closed