Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Sampling of Houston Frozen Custard Places


Frozen Custard... Mmmmm...

Readers, the summer months are upon us and that means the desire to cool off with cool treats.  Last Summer I was checking out some of our wonderful local gelato places like Frozen Café  and Piccomolo's.  This year I was thinking of Frozen Custard as a nice choice to check out as a summer cooler.  I'd oveheard some foodies grousing about how there are so few places selling this frozen treat inside the Loop and most Houston purveyors of this wonderful smooth concoction are out in the far flung suburbs north, west and south of the centre of the city.  We used to have a Kohr Brothers inside Memorial City Mall and at Edward's Marq*E but they closed down a few years ago.  So after noticing Connie's Frozen Custard on Jones Road while driving to work I decided to investigate further what we have in the way of Frozen Custard here in Houston.

A Little Background

Frozen custard ice cream originated on Coney Island in about 1919. It was sold as a carnival treat and quickly grew in popularity. In the coming years, custard could be found in Atlantic City and other East Coast resort communities. The popularity of Frozen Custard quickly grew and was the rage of the East Coast. Frozen Custard could be found at many East Coast resort areas. Many travelers had a chance to taste the new sensation and it quickly spread to the Midwest. Milwaukee is currently considered the "Custard Capital of the World." The enjoyment of Frozen Custard was taken by "Snowbirds" to winter resort havens in the Southern US. The result was that local ice cream shops had to satisfy these customers.

Chef Making a Frozen Custard Base

As custard is an ice cream, it must be at least 10% butterfat. What makes frozen custard unique is that by law it must contain 1.4% by weight of egg yolk, have a low overrun (amount of air out into the product), and be frozen and served fresh daily.  Butterfat percentage can vary in mixes, typically between 10 and 16 percent. Traditional ice cream must only contain 10 percent butterfat.   Mixes can be developed specifically for a shop so the owners can fine tune their own unique taste. 

Typically, Frozen Custard is made daily and served at 18-19 degrees Fahrenheit. Traditional ice cream is made at 22-24 degrees Fahrenheit, flash frozen to -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and stored at -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Scooping and serving temperature for ice cream is 5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit.  During the manufacturing of ice cream, the volume can double in size by beating air into the mixture. The expansion of the product by introducing air is call "overrun." The volume of air and the size of ice crystals can result in a coarse texture. Frozen Custard usually has about 20 percent overrun--way less air in the mix.

The bottom line is that frozen custard has less air, is denser, has a smoother texture, and is semi-solid at a higher temperature than traditional ice cream. 

The Places I Tried

I started out visiting Connie's Frozen Custard on Jones Road and Kegg's Candies on Westpark (they serve frozen custard there).  Later on I tried the frozen custard at Petite Sweets inside the Loop.  A couple of days later I went to Culver's in The Woodlands and Ritter's in Katy.  Freddy's in Copperfield is not open yet, but I will update once it's open.  I tried the Vanilla Custard in a cone or in a cup at each location.  I rated each on texture, drippage, sweetness and overall enjoyment of eating. So without further ado, here are your Frozen Custard Grades:

Connie's on Jones Rd
Connie's Frozen Custard

Connie's has been in operation at 12545 Jones Road since April 2010--over 11 years now.  Dan and Melissa Ashby brought the wonderful treat with them from Melissa's native Springfield Missouri.  I stopped by after work on a hot May afternoon and got a medium sized vanilla custard cone.  The Custard was scooped (clearly made fresh that morning), had a very strong egg-vanilla flavour, was very smooth and got a little drippy.  It was sweet, but not excessively so.  Nice, cool, no brain freeze.  Just a note:  you can get sundaes and blended "concretes" as well at this location.  Grade: A.  

Kegg's Candies and Ice Cream Shop


Kegg's Vanilla Custard
Kegg's Candies has been in business in Houston for 66 years as Houston's premium hand-made chocolate and confection manufacturer.  There are Kegg's stands in a couple of local malls and they are sold at Rice Epicurean Markets.  Much like James Coney Island, they are a Houston Heritage institution.  In 2010, after years of research and months of recipe testing, Kegg’s introduced its newest product lines-Frozen Custard and Italian Ice at its 8168 Westpark Drive store location. Per their website: these products are handmade with nothing but premium ingredients and proprietary recipes in the Kegg’s tradition and are perfect as a warm weather or all year round cold treat.  I had a medium sized dish of their Vanilla.  It was sweeter than Connie's, had a bit more air in the product, had a strong vanilla flavour, but with less of an egg taste to it.  Still very good.  And FYI:  you can get all kinds of crushed Kegg's Candies as toppings if you like.  Grade: A-

Petite Sweets
Petite Sweets

Long time friend’s entrepreneur Lee Ellis, and pastry chef Susan Molzan teamed together to open Petite Sweets in September 2011. The 1500 square foot location at 2700 West Alabama I(Inside the Loop, so be quiet all InnerLooper Gripers!) has a seating area and an on-site kitchen. The Petite Sweets menu features artisan macarons, cake balls, mini cupcakes, cookies, whoopie pies, marshmallows, frozen custard and dipped cones made with Belgian chocolate, all made in house. Petite Sweets serves coffee, espresso and cappuccinos and more brewed around the clock.  I also heard that Chef Lance Fegen is a partner in this sweet shop as well.  I ended up buying a half-dozen Macarons to enjoy and write about in another blog entry.  Their Frozen Custard was the only one that was served directly from the soft-serve machine, rather than made that morning, kept chilled and scooped onto the cone.  It was served in a very ribbony pile atop a standard cake cone.  It was the smoothest and least sweet of the 5 I tried, had the least amount of drip and was the most enjoyable to eat of all  Grade:  A+

Culver's


Culver's in the Woodlands
Culver's Butter Burgers and Frozen Custard is a Wisconsin-based chain that opened its first location in the Woodlands at the corner of Six Pines and Research Forest in 2005.  They now have locations in Conroe and Atascosita.  They're well known for their butter burgers as well as their frozen custard.  I went with my son, Jason, and he got a caramel brownie sundae made with their vanilla frozen custard.  I had a vanilla frozen custard in a waffle cone.  This custard had a very strong egg taste, and vanilla was in it as well.  I did not have any issues with drippings.  It didn't have much air in it, but it had some noticeable ice crystals in it.  This was the only frozen custard that I found the ice crystals in . It was still very tasty, but the ice crystals were a detraction from the texture--made it less smooth.  I still ate the whole thing, and would probably again, but I wonder what caused all the ice crystals in the custard.  Grade: B+

Ritter's 

Ritter's, with Drippage
Ritter's is a Midwestern chain that has many locations in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.  It has a few locations in Florida and just one in Texas, over in Katy at 3429 Fry Road, just south of Clay Road.  That custard stand has been there for many, many years.  I've been there a few times since my daughter was born 10 and a half years ago, and every time we've gone, it's always busy.  Jason was with me and he had a Cubby Paw (a frozen custard ice cream sandwich) while I got a vanilla cone.  Ritter's frozen custard had a very strong egg taste, was very, very smooth, had no noticeable air runoff or ice crystals, but was rather drippy since we had to sit outside in the 90 F/30 C heat in Katy that afternoon.  It required a fair amount of napkins to clean, but I still enjoyed the custard quite well.  My advice:  eat fast and get a bunch of napkins if you go there.  Grade: A 


UPDATE:  Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers:


Jason enjoy's a Freddy's
Vanilla Custard in San Antonio
We took a trip to San Antonio recently, and they have a bunch of Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers.  I took advantage of the opportunity to sample their frozen custard ahead of their June 12th opening in Copperfield.  I tried both Vanilla and Chocolate.  The stuff was scooped fresh from their iron lung custard machine.  The vanilla was cool, creamy, smooth and had no noticeable air run-off or ice crystals in it.  The Chocolate had a similar texture and had a nice cocoa flavour.  On that hot afternoon in San Antonio, my son and I enjoyed it immensely.  Freddy's also had great burgers, hot dogs, shoestring style fries, and yes they also sell concretes of different flavours, some of which are seasonal.  I'll be giving them a thorough review in a later blog post, once they are well under way in Houston.  Grade: A

In Conclusion:

Houston has lots of great places to get cool treats to cool off in our 10+ months of heat.  Frozen Custard is one of those wonderful frozen treats, and though many are in the suburbs, at least 2 great locations are in Central and Southwest Houston proper.  If you've not tried frozen custard yet, I advise you try any one of these great places.  My top recommendation is Petite Sweets, with Connie's and Ritter's as close seconds.  I wouldn't turn down Kegg's or Culver's either.

And Remember:
Eat Happy!!!
Zao an, Y'all!!!

7 comments:

Urban Swank said...

This list came right on time. I love frozen custard and have only visited half of these. Petite Sweets is next up on my list! I always tend to go to Ritter's as it is closer to me, but I need to venture out; clearly.

Professor Hank said...

Urban Swank:

Thank you for your kind words. I definitely recommend Petite Sweets, but the other places are great too. Petite Sweets' Macarons are also WONDERFUL!

Hank on Food

NatalieB said...

God bless you for posting this.

Frozen custard has been my favorite indulgence since living in Kansas, where frozen custard was sold on every other corner. I'm shocked at how hard it is to find down here. I've visited the same spots you have, except Petite Sweets. (I had Freddie's in Wichita last month, so I'm marking it off the list.)

Because custard needs to be made fresh daily, I (perhaps unfairly) feel like the places that are dedicated ONLY to custard really do the best job. If it's only a single item on a large menu, I feel like it's not given the TLC it deserves. (Toppings also tend not to be as fresh.)

Connie's is great, so is Ritter's.. though Ritter's isn't open year-round.

That said, and believe me, I WANTED to like Kegg's, but I went a few weeks ago and it was terrible. It made me realize that I'd never had BAD custard until then. I actually took three bites and threw it away.

It's a shame, I know Kegg's is a local institution, but it didn't taste fresh and it also tasted way too rich.. more like ice cream. With custard, I could eat my weight in it. It's just light and not overly filling. With ice cream, I could have a scoop and feel full, which is exactly how I felt after having three bites of Kegg's.

Happy that Freddie's is coming. I thought it was good — not better than Connie's or Ritters, but I appreciate options!

Anyhow, just my two cents. Happy that I'm not the only one in the city with a custard addiction. Thanks for posting.

Professor Hank said...

NatalieB:

I agree Kegg's was more like Ice Cream--it had the most air runover of any of the frozen custards I tried. It's still better than many grocery store Ice Creams. IMHO, the best were Petite Sweets, Connie's and Ritter's.

HankOnFood

Hyrum said...

Thanks for posting! My wife and I relocated from Chicago and have been desperately searching for frozen custard since we arrived. We have been to every location you outlined plus a couple in Austin.

I agree with most of your critiques, unfortunately I wouldn't give an A to any of locations you listed. A true cup of frozen custard could be turned upside down without losing any product. I wouldn't dare try that with any that I have tried in Texas. And it's not just because it is hot here either.
I give an A for effort, but not execution.

I especially disagree with your endorsement of Sweet Petite, which my wife and I thought was a huge disappointment. In fact, it would be next to last on my list. It looked and felt like soft serve not frozen custard. I am unconvinced that their overrun and temperature meet frozen custard specifications. (Their cookies were fantastic though!)

We will continue to patronize Ritter's and Connie's, but we can't
wait to taste the real stuff when we travel up North this Fall.

Fingers crossed we get some new options down here soon.

Hyrum

Professor Hank said...

Hyrum:

I can understand what you've said about Petite Sweets. What I've noticed in a follow up visits is that some days its better than others, so if you went there on an off day, mea culpa. Freddy's, Connie's and Ritter's are consistent and have that sweet egg yolk flavour, to be sure. Freddy's is from the Midwest, by the way, but it is a chain so it won't match the local places up there, to be sure

I chatted with a Lab Geek who has studied ice cream and frozen custard, and from her professional opinion, Houston temps, humidity and atmospheric pressures lead to frozen custard being less likely to stay in the cup compared to further north. This has to do with the thermodynamics of supercooled liquids, combined gas law (pressure/volume/temperature)and the minimum of air run off in Frozen custard as opposed to soft serve like DQ. The irony is a Blizzard doesn't fall out as much because of the air run off and the weather conditions in Houston. Sad but true. I still prefer a frozen custard concrete myself.

I can understand how frozen custard in Houston might not be as good as it is in Illinois just like Texmex in Illinois wouldn't be as good as in Houston. It's one of those things were locals and transplants make a strong effort, but don't quite hit the mark.

I appreciate your visiting my website and I thank you for your thoughtful feedback. And I agree--I want to see more such choices in the Houston area!

Hank On Food

Hyrum said...

Interesting insight from the Lab Geek. Keep up the great posts.