Frozen and heartwarming

A genuine comforting custard, densely delicious, emerges at Jake's in Paoli, via Wisconsin.

Any time a branch bank (in the case at hand a Citadel Bank branch) is replaced by a frozen custard stand - a genuine frozen custard stand - the odds are pretty good that I'm on my way.

It might take a few weeks. But I'll be there. So relax, I told Missy Shaw, who was opening her Jake's Authentic Wisconsin Frozen Custard shop on the Main Line, in Paoli, in a stone-faced former branch bank on Lancaster Avenue: I'll be there.

And last weekend, just after the Sunday afternoon rush, I was.

What gets me going, of course, is not simply the custard itself, but the emotional content. The custard? It differs from ordinary ice cream in its slick, rich density; the addition of a percent or two of (pasteurized) egg yolk; the steep reduction of the air whipped into it; and its slightly warmer - the better to melt in your mouth - holding temperatures.

Digression: Those Dairy Queen-like roadside signs you see advertising "frozen custard" are, almost to a sign, heartbreaking frauds; they're pitching soft-serve, which is kind of the antithesis of frozen custard in that it has vastly lower butterfat (usually in the single digits, vs. true custard's 10 percent-plus), and up to five times more air beaten into it.

As Kenny Hoover, who founded Kenny's Drive-In real custard stand in Chambersburg, Pa., once told me: "The guy up the road might give you a bigger cone. But you better hold on; it might float away."

Well, maybe it's that silky solidity (the yolks were originally added to stiffen the stuff against the assault of seaside sun) that has stuck with me for more than a half-century; stuck with me from the days of a bygone Atlantic City - slices of sweaty Taylor Pork Roll rolling on skewers across troughs of glowing coals, tuna sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper for lunch under the Boardwalk, and tall, firm cones of frozen custard the color of French vanilla.

You will find, these days, later-generation Kohr Brothers stands at the Shore. Their custard is real enough. But it's dispensed straight from the nozzle, meaning it has typically been beaten longer than the stuff that, more authentically, is dispatched from the freezer chamber into three-gallon buckets as soon as it forms, cutting the amount of air folded in.

So it's that thinner Kohr Brothers custard, served in twists and twirls, that some early customers at Jake's have asked for. Which sets Missy Shaw, who ditched a pharmaceutical sales career, to explaining the Wisconsin way of doing things.

She's a child of West Bend, Wis., north of Milwaukee, and her personal rosebud was Toucan Custard, whose owners agreed to share its family recipes to get Shaw started. The pasteurized egg yolk-cream-sugar base for her custard is from Midwestern dairy country. Her batch machine is a Wisconsin-made Stoelting. (She also sells hamburgers, and fried cheese curds, a Wisconsin delicacy that gets lost in translation.)

The Wisconsin way, Shaw says, is bucket-style custard, and indeed the chocolate and the vanilla, made most frequently at Jake's, are the best of the lot, velvety and dense, slippery on the tongue, absent the granularity that's the signature of, for instance, Breyers.

There's a seductive dulce de leche, too, in which the caramel typically slows the hardening process that makes some of Jake's other flavors seem a bit more frozen than custardy.

But it is, when all is said and done, a custard shop where a bank once stood, and if you can't hear the waves outside or feel the whip of salty wind, you can summon a sense that a good thing from a time long ago has been visited here, on Paoli.


Jake's Frozen Custard

31 W. Lancaster Ave., Paoli

610-408-0145

www.jakesfrozencustard.com.


Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.