July happens to be National Ice Cream Month — an honor bestowed upon the most summer of months by Ronald Reagan some 30 years ago. But what about ice cream’s smoother cousin, frozen custard? It doesn’t have the popularity that ice cream does, yet frozen custard is creamier, denser and doesn’t melt as fast. The confection originated at New York’s Coney Island in the early 1900s and became popular in the Midwest in the 1930s and ’40s. These days only a handful of frozen custard shops can be found in Metro Detroit.
“Most ice cream establishments don’t see the profitability in it,” says Matt Ahearn, who owns Wally’s Frozen Custard in St. Clair Shores, which began serving the creamy treat in the 1940s. “You have to sell way more volume to make the same amount of money (as) ice cream.”
Parlors such as Wally’s often see long lines of customers in the summer because people will go out of their way for something nostalgic and unique.
“It makes us different than everybody else,” says Ahearn, who purchased the original Wally’s in Harper Woods a decade ago and moved it north on Harper to St. Clair Shores two years ago. “I think people get excited because you can’t get it anywhere. (Frozen custard) is smoother. It tastes much better. It’s a very original way to do things.”
The difference between ice cream and frozen custard is that the latter includes eggs. The yolks help the frozen custard stay cold longer and give it a smoother texture. Frozen custard is denser than ice cream and is served at a warmer temperature. This means it doesn’t melt as fast as ice cream, and your tongue gets more of a chance to enjoy the flavor because your taste buds aren’t numbed by the cold.
Here’s a look at 10 popular frozen custard shops in Metro Detroit.
Bob Jo’s: For nearly 70 years, Bob Jo’s blue neon sign has been a beacon for those seeking frozen treats Downriver. Besides generous portions of creamy custard, this cash-only stand also offers frozen yogurt and milkshakes. Flavors rotate weekly until Bob Jo’s closes for the season in mid-September. 4071 Fort, Wyandotte, (734) 282-6818.
Custard & Co.: Cruise over to this Woodward Avenue spot for rich, creamy vanilla or chocolate frozen custard, or check out the flavor of the week, usually something fruity (last week, it was watermelon). Custard & Co. also mixes up Faygo floats and coolers. 32922 Woodward, Royal Oak, (248) 549-2777.
Custard Time: It may say “custard” on the sign, but this popular Northville spot also has glaciers, slushies, frozen bananas, shakes and malts, sundaes, frozen cappuccino and hard scoop ice cream from Guernsey’s. 567 Seven Mile, Northville, (248) 349-1478.
Danny’s Frozen Custard: Besides frozen custard, this ice cream stand has Columbo frozen yogurt and homemade soft serve sherbet. 1020 W. Elm, Monroe, (734) 242-5477.
Erma’s: This seasonal frozen custard shop started as a humble stand in Utica in the 1940s, and now has two locations on the east side. Besides vanilla, chocolate and twist, Erma’s offers a flavor of the week, which could be anything from butterscotch to Bavarian cheesecake. 6451 Auburn, Shelby Township, (586) 254-7280. 2080 E. 14 Mile, Warren, (586) 275-2470.
Jam’rs Frozen Custard: For the past nine years, this seasonal spot has twisted up flavors of custard. Chocolate and vanilla can be intertwined, as well as vanilla and the flavor of the week. Friday, the flavor of the week changes from blueberry to creme brulee in honor of Bastille Day (which is Monday). Jam’rs also sells hormone-free ice cream from Northville’s Guernsey Farms Dairy. Sit inside or out through October. 58060 Van Dyke, Washington Township, (586) 992-8630.
Marv’s Dairy Dan: Hit the drive-thru or walk up to Marv’s for vanilla frozen custard from Detroit’s C.F. Burger Creamery. 8215 N. Wayne, Westland, (734) 595-0203.
Twist Custard & Yogurt: Up the wow factor of your frozen treat with a variety of food and candy toppings. 6331 Haggerty, West Bloomfield Township, (248) 859-2169.
Wally’s Frozen Custard: A longstanding neighborhood gem, Wally’s moved to St. Clair Shores two years ago from its original home one mile south on Harper, where it had stood since 1947. Owners Matt and Eliza Ahearn are always looking for new ways to attract business, and in addition to adding frozen custard pies and cupcakes to the menu, they’ve turned two fire trucks into fully functional frozen custard-making trucks than can be seen at events around the area. “Wally” is Walter Housler, a retired school teacher and the original owner, who lives nearby. 22501 Harper, St. Clair Shores. (586) 552-5028.
World’s Finest Frozen Custard: This seasonal hangout (open March to October) offers sweet treats and miniature golf. Besides the standard chocolate and vanilla, World’s Finest offers two flavors of the week. 33538 23 Mile, Chesterfield. (586) 725-1315.
Creamy Freeze, 602 W. Commerce, Commerce Township, (248) 360-0322.
Culver’s (chain), several area locations, www.culvers.com.
Custard Corner, 3005 Pontiac Lake, Waterford Township, (248) 682-1613.
The Custard Hut, 25947 W. Warren, Dearborn Heights, (313) 278-5577.
Custard Spot, 46919 Van Dyke, Shelby Township, (586) 731-3677
Dairy Boy, 28840 Harper, St. Clair Shores, (586) 202-9856.
Ritter’s Frozen Custard (chain), 31227 Eight Mile, Livonia, (248) 476-4571.
Stuart’s of Novi, 41390 10 Mile, Novi, (248) 615-2955.
More iconic Metro Detroit treats
These aren’t known for frozen custard, but we’d be remiss if we wrote about summertime frozen goodies and didn’t mention these classic parlors.
Ray’s Ice Cream: This neighborhood hangout has more than 50 flavors and has been in business since 1958. 4233 Coolidge, Royal Oak, (248) 549-5256.
Sanders Chocolate & Ice Cream Shops: For some, ice cream just isn’t the same without Sanders’ fudgy toppings. You’ll find counter service in Rochester, Livonia, Wyandotte, Birmingham, Grosse Pointe Park, Novi and even on Mackinac Island. www.sanderscandy.com
: Another long-standing Michigan confectionery, Kilwin’s has Metro Detroit shops in Plymouth and Ann Arbor.
Stroh’s Ice Cream Parlor: Quench your sweet tooth at Stroh’s shops in Wyandotte and Bloomfield Hills.
Mastro’s Ice Cream: Also serving Stroh’s products, this Nautical Mile mainstay has hand-dipped cones and hot fudge cream puffs. 24445 Jefferson, Saint Clair Shores, (586) 773-7330.
Washtenaw Dairy Bar: Celebrating 80 years of business, Washtenaw Dairy has more than 30 ice cream flavors, plus shakes and malts, donuts, milk and cheese. 602 S. Ashley, Ann Arbor. (734) 662-3244.
Melt: It’s too soon to say if this Cass Corridor spot will go down in Michigan dessert history, but we like it so far. Melt serves gelato, coffee and other sweets such as cookies and pastries. 4160 Cass, Suite A, Detroit. (313) 833-4223.
Treat Dreams: Also newish, Treat Dreams serves up unique homemade ice cream flavors like macaroni and cheese, coconut chai tea, brown sugar ham and pistachio wasabi. They also have vegan ice cream and sorbet. 22965 Woodward, Ferndale, (248) 544-3440.