On the Upper Limit of Milkshake Pleasure




A few weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh (for my Fantasy Football draft, naturally) and had an hour to kill downtown. I was looking for a donut shop, but I found this. I’m not sure I’d ever had a $5 milkshake before, but to the “brain” part of my brain, it didn’t seem like a lot of money. Neither did $6, the price of their ‘Signature” series, which could get you things like Chocolate Raspberry Truffle and Red Velvet milkshakes. What did amp by expectations though, was  that this place was dedicated to just making milkshakes. In a perfect world, I would eat all my meals in such a place and by that reckoning I was standing in one half of a perfect world. (The other half would be a clinic where they grafted some sort of plastic tube on to my esophagus that ran parallel to my digestive system.) I was was hoping for a consummate milkshake.

It was good. As good as any milkshake I’d ever had probably. But that’s something I could probably say about most of those others too. And that in itself was a $5 epiphany. When you stop and think about it, it’s obvious that even the best milkshake can only be so good. Pizza is good, everyone likes it. But if you want something better than pizza, you know you’ve got to get something other than pizza. There is not always better pizza out there.  But there is something about a milkshake that makes us think there is no limit to how good it can be.  (And by us, of course, I mean me.)

A few years ago, I was spending some time with my father who was in the hospital recovering from surgery. It was a few months before he would eventually pass away, and although he had not really started his final decline, there still was not much anybody could do for him physically. I was going out to get lunch one afternoon and asked him if there was anything I could get him while he was out. He asked if I’d go down the road to Sonic and get him a vanilla milkshake. (I just checked, the largest size milkshake at Sonic is $4.39!) Of course. You can’t be so sick that you wouldn’t want a milk shake. I think it’s safe to say that however much of it my father was able to drink that day, he had as good as is available on earth among milkshakes.

In John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, the main character, Doc, gets the idea of “Beer Milkshake” stuck in his imagination:

While he ate his sandwich and sipped his beer, a bit of conversation came back to him. Blaisedell, the poet, had said to him, “You love beer so much. I’ll bet some day you’ll go in and order a beer milkshake.” It was a simple piece of foolery but it had bothered Doc ever since. He wondered what a beer milk shake would taste like. The idea gagged him but he couldn’t let it alone. It cropped up every time he had a glass of beer. Would it curdle the milk? Would you add sugar? It was like shrimp ice cream. Once the thing got into your head you couldn’t forget it.

At the end of the book, he actually has one, and it’s a bit alright and a bit foul:

“Put in some milk, and add half a bottle of beer. Give me the other half in a glass — no sugar in the milk shake.” When she served it, he tasted it wryly. And it wasn’t so bad — it just tasted like stale beer and milk.”

The internet is filled with Best Milkshake lists, especially in New York. As a followup to this post I think I will start figuring how to make  a list of “10 Bad Milkshakes in NY”.

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