Standing Room Only

Standing Room Only: Scooter's Frozen Custard

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Scooter's Frozen Custard

1658 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-244-6415; scootersfrozencustard.com
The Short Order: Frozen custard on Chicago's North Side.
Want Fries with That? Anything with the restaurant's frozen custard is worth ordering.
Seats? There are a few benches outside by the walk-up window.

The last time I had frozen custard, it was cold and I was in Milwaukee. I realize that this doesn't sound like the ideal time to try the treat, but I also happened to be standing in front of Leon's Frozen Custard Drive-In at dusk right as the restaurant's neon sign flipped on. I was blown away by the custard, but it was the whole experience that set it over the top. Can you blame me for avoiding the dessert for nearly two years? I mean, how could any Chicago stand compete with that?

Never again. First off, that's just way too long to live life without frozen custard; and second, I didn't realize how good Scooter's Frozen Custard was. Located in the leafy northwest neighborhood of Roscoe Village, Scooter's also happens to have a walk-up window, and on gorgeous days like the one I visited on, kids crowd the sidewalk while dogs wait patiently beneath owners for any food that manages to drip to the ground.

To order from the walk-up window at Scooter's, just pull the string next to the window. It is connected to a bell inside, which clanks back and forth a few times, alerting the staff inside that you're ready. Seconds later, a smiling worker in a red hat slides open the window to take your order. If most stands serve dinner with a few desserts thrown in as an afterthought, Scooter's is the opposite. This is an operation built almost entirely on frozen custard, and it's a silky smooth foundation. That said, the restaurant also has two dinner items that just begged to be ordered. But let's start with dessert, shall we?

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If you like your custard straight with no chaser, try a cup of the Chocolate Frozen Custard ($2.99 for a small). The custard is so thick that I'm sure a shovel could stand straight up in it (if you could find a big enough cup, of course). But it's also smooth and creamy on the tongue, and it's as close to frozen custard perfection as you can probably get south of Milwaukee. Still, I bet that most people use the frozen custard merely as a base for more indulgent concoctions, and Scooter's offers a wealth of options, from milkshakes and malts to sundaes and concretes.

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All of the concrete flavors sounded good, but I ultimately went for the Caramel Fudge Nut Brownie Chip ($4.99 for a small), which features hunks of fudge and nut brownies, caramel fudge, and chocolate chips mixed into vanilla custard. Much less sweet than I thought it would be, I loved how the nuts and the chocolate chips added texture to the otherwise smooth custard.

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Nuts also make their way into the Turtle Sundae ($4.99 for a small), which features hot fudge, caramel, and whipped cream, and a bright red cherry. Out of all the offerings, this was probably my favorite, mostly because of the way the molten fudge played off the cold vanilla custard. The only hazard is that the fudge cools quickly, so you'll need to eat this quickly for the maximum effect.

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And now for a light dinner after the sweet course. At first I didn't even see them on the menu, but Scooter's does have two hot dog options. Sure, the Chicago Dog ($2.35) uses a skinless Red Hot Chicago dog, but thanks to the fluffy steamed bun and the crunchy slices of pickles, this is one surprisingly confident rendition.

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The restaurant even created a Scooter Dog ($2.35), which features all the ingredients from a Chicago-style hot dog plus "Scooter's killer sweet red pepper relish." It's certainly red, but is it killer? Honestly, when mixed up with the sweet relish, it was kind of hard to taste it, but a faint roasted sweetness presence did eventually reveal itself. It's a nice variation, if a minor one. Still, looks like I'll have to add it to the Serious Eats Chicago Dog Style Guide.

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You can obviously get all the same food indoors, but half of the fun is finding an open bench and taking the whole scene in. So while it's not quite as classic as Leon's, Scooter's definitely has its own charms. Plus, it's much, much closer to my place.

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