Rhode Islanders call them cabinets. Other New Englanders may refer to them as velvets or frappes. In the United Kingdom they are thickshakes. Ray Kroc of McDonald's fame was the one to distribute Multimixers across the country in the 1950s and thus popularize what is most commonly known in these parts as the milk shake. But we don't all mean the same thing when we moon over a great shake. There are dessert shakes, beverage shakes, "dietetic" meal-substitution shakes, late-night shakes and quenching drive-through shakes consumed so swiftly brain freeze is a foregone conclusion. Across the whole shake gamut, here are 10 of our favorites.
Revolution Ice Cream Co.
220 W Brandon Blvd., Brandon; (813) 857-3250
Bill Workman opened his mad-scientist lab in March, after a sales career came to an unforeseen end. He and his wife Leslie were smitten by Northern ice cream shops doing unique, savory-inspired flavors. Bill bought a home ice cream maker and started experimenting: There was Pump up the Yam (a sweet potato casserole ice cream), one with blue cheese, apple and bacon and another with pumpkin and goat cheese. After getting resoundingly positive feedback (well, maybe a few head scratches) he took the plunge and opened a shop. Really, this place is kooks. He's doing chicken and waffle shakes with fried chicken skin blended into the ice cream. There's the Elvis (definitely the fat Elvis): a mix of chocolate peanut butter (What's up, NudderFudger) with banana pudding ice cream and bacon brittle ice cream. Customers can get into the spirit with their own inventions, maybe chocolate habanero ice cream mixed with Curried Sky (curried toasted coconut) for a finished product that reads like something you'd find in a Thai restaurant in outer space.
Munch's Sundries and Restaurant
3920 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 896-5972
This is the only one on the list where Guy Fieri left his seal of approval. Straight out of 1952 and festooned with historic Lakewood Elementary class pictures, not much changes at Munch's even after a visit from the spiky-haired host of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The milk shakes are still made the old-fashioned way on a Hamilton Beach multimixer that sounds like a buzz saw. There aren't a lot of flavor choices, but a good chocolate malted doesn't require many alternatives. Here's an interesting development: Right next door the Coquina Key Creamery has opened, so the range of milk shake options on Sixth Street S has just expanded exponentially.
11920 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island; no phone
Right next door to the Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites, the Shake Shop serves the archetypal sand-between-your-toes summer milk shake, suitable for Instagram shots of your Florida getaway. Prices are modest, and the shakes aren't the super-thick kind causing tinnitus when straw-sucked. On a hot day lines can be long, but a straight-up chocolate malted is worth waiting for. Here since 1997, the owners are also wizards of fruit parfaits and butterscotch sundaes. For my money, the mint chocolate chip shake, with an extra squirt of chocolate syrup, is aces.
shakes with atmosphere
Parkesdale Farm Market
3702 W Baker St., Plant City; (813) 752-0502
Founded by strawberry grower Roy Parke in the 1950s, it's a kitschy red-and-white candy-striped paean to strawberries. Pilgrims come by the busload and by car with Indiana or even Ontario plates to stand in line for strawberry shortcake and strawberry shakes. Waiting in line surely increases the anticipation. So does the fact that the Food Network singled out Parkesdale as having one of the 10 best desserts in the country. There are too many potted plants and an awful lot of pictures of folks such as George H.W. Bush and Jeb Bush, but this tinsel-fringed Garden of Eatin' is a convivial place to slurp down a bright pink shake thick with hunks of local strawberry, the straw utterly clogging from time to time. (Collins Produce in Valrico gives Parkesdale a run for its money, both in atmosphere and strawberry shakes.)
3629 49th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 525-0400
5955 Gulf Winds Drive, St. Pete Beach; (727) 592-1934
Ed and Cass Thompson opened their first location in St. Petersburg about five years ago, then added a second location on the beach in December. The concept is 26 years old, dating back to when franchise founder Susan Corsover had her first open-heart surgery and was told to kiss ice cream goodbye. She failed to find cholesterol-free, low-fat, low-sugar frozen confections with the appeal of rich ice cream, so she invented her own. Flavors always include chocolate and vanilla, but a recent day also had raspberry, banana nut fudge, eggnog and dark chocolate almond. Overall, there are 120 flavors of the low-sugar, low-carb, cholesterol-free, skim-milk-based ice cream, as well as toppings like sugar-free, fat-free hot fudge or caramel. Each half-cup serving of ice cream is 50 calories. The best day to go is Thursday, when all shakes are $1 off.
609 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-3867 and other locations
Named "Greenest Burger Chain in America," it's not surprising that Tampa-founded EVOS has an annual milk shake giveaway on Earth Day. But you shouldn't wait until next April to try one. The milk shakes are made of organic ice cream and milk made from hormone- and antibiotic-free cows. Fruit juices are all-natural, and fruit is fresh. There are three milk shakes (vanilla, cappuccino and organic chocolate) and three fruit shakes (strawberry banana, mango guava and banana berry), a boon to the vegan shake lover. The latter are creamier than a smoothie somehow, and the mango guava flavor is lively and refreshing. They add a multivitamin and mineral supplement to all shakes, so you can feel extra smug.
Steak 'n Shake
2315 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 251-3350 and other locations
This burger franchise sells 60 million shakes a year in 515 locations in the United States, including eight in the Tampa Bay area. Back in 1934 the lineup was chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, with side-by-sides — those magical, gravity-defying shakes with two flavors split perfectly vertically down the middle — added in 2003. Think banocolate or strawnilla, and if you need these decoded, you don't deserve one. The other 20 or so specialty shakes and rotating array of seasonal flavors explain why their shakes were voted tops by Zagat. They're made the old-fashioned way: ice cream scooped into a metal container, real milk and flavored syrups, then into a multimixer. The thick shake is poured into a frosted, footed glass with a rosette of whipped cream and a cherry. The most refreshing shake of the moment is a tropical banana, a mix of fresh banana, pineapple, coconut and orange.
7725 49th St. N, Pinellas Park; (727) 547-4070 and other locations
With 3,500 locations across the country and 32 around Tampa Bay, Sonic offers 25 shake flavors, 18 seasonal and seven standard. They have things called Sonic Blasts, studded with gobs of chopped up candy (meh), and slushes that instantly turn your tongue lurid colors, but the real milk shakes are worthy of investigation, especially the hot fudge shake and the au courant peanut butter and bacon concoction (the bacon bits are fairly small and thus more flavor than texture). Sonic teams are amenable to customers tinkering with their own blends, which may explain why they sell tens of millions of shakes each year.
9664 W Linebaugh Ave., Tampa; (813) 475-5921 and other locations
These are shakes in support of burgers, and get this: You can substitute frozen yogurt for ice cream in any shakes or floats. They use Blue Bell, which to my mind isn't the dense, rich madness that is Ben & Jerry's and other premium brands. Thus, the finished shakes are thick but not straw-flatteners, and the richness level isn't such that your GI tract strains when you've paired one up with a Tex-Mex Haystack burger and an order of sweet potato fries. You can go vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, but it would be a shame to miss out on the chocolate malted milk ball or the Ybor City double espresso.
Tahitian Inn Café
601 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 876-1397
Founded in 1952, this little independent hotel has had a whirlwind few years. It even made national news in 2011 when Lindsay Lohan's dad Michael Lohan, accused of battering his girlfriend, jumped out of a hotel balcony to elude police. But through it all they've been known for their hand-dipped shakes, just the basic vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. The best part is slurping one alongside a sandwich or burger at the poolside Torch Tiki Bar — which entitles you to swimming privileges at the hotel pool. A refreshing summer shake indeed.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.