I had started this rant as a post a while back, but then, after I read Jar of Poetry’s entry called Malt Shop Memories the other day, I got to thinking about a place we used to hang out when I was growing up. When we were teenagers there was a diner in the middle of Main Street. It had an ice cream freezer up front where you (and plenty of tourists) could get hand made ice cream. Three u-shaped counters with stools around, a couple of tables, a pinball machine, and a jukebox. They served mostly short-order type of stuff on the grill, including the greasiest patty melt you have ever seen in your life.
Being centrally located and with the configuration of the seating, it was a kind of natural place for the downtown businessmen to meet and discuss politics or business or whatever topic of the day it was, mixed with the retired folks who would come in and have coffee with them. It was also the place where my buddy and I would hang out after work, play some tunes and some pinball, drink coffee and discuss customers and bosses and customers who think they’re bosses. We always got top-notch service wherever we went because we were known to be big tippers.
Along with old-fashioned customer service, never letting our coffee run dry and Marge throwing in a few, “hons,” and “sweeties,” there was one thing they did better than anyone else in town, probably the county and possibly the world. They could make a malt.
I mean to tell you what! They could make a real, honest-to-goodness (heavy on the goodness) malted milk. A large, stainless steel cup that fits on a specific style of blender made for just the purpose and no other. Generous scoops of ice cream, milk, and if desired, a hefty squirt of chocolate or some other flavored syrup. So far, the makings for an awesome, delicious milkshake to be certain. But then, add the most important ingredient, a generous scoop of malt powder. (I don’t need flavored syrups for a malt although a double-chocolate, double malt-powder is delectable as well.)
I have been told that a large part of cooking or serving food is presentation. Well, in this case there is more to it than mere presentation. Marge, Lori, Kathy, Nancy, all did the same thing. Place two napkins, a straw and a long-handled teaspoon down first. Then, bring the stainless steel mixing cup and a glass. Set the glass down, pour the thick, rich, frozen liquid into it and leave the freezing cold mixing cup on the other napkin so you can refill the glass or spoon it out or (begging the more couth part of my audience’s pardon) drink the rest of it right from the cup. They served it with a couple of those little restaurant packs of two saltines. This was just to give you a different texture in your mouth about halfway through if you wanted it, not, as a tourist from Chicago thought one time, to dip in it.
Sadly, most places nowadays don’t seem to know how to make or serve a malt any more or even know what a malt is. I have met restaurateurs who have never even heard of malt powder! “Just give him a milkshake. I don’t know what he’s even talking about.” “No, thanks. That’s okay. Really. We have to leave anyway.” Or, another thing that happens is they just serve you a shake in a glass. “I can’t taste the malt powder…” “The what, now?”
Happily, every once in a while, though, you can find places that still really know what you are talking about when you ask for a malt. Usually you have to go to a hometown place or an old-fashioned diner, but Gunther Toody’s still serves it the old fashioned way, “With the tin.” The chain that shocked me when it dropped malts from its menu is Sonic. You want to give the impression of being an old-style drive-in restaurant, right down to servers on skates, but you don’t serve malts? That’s just wrong.
Double cheeseburger, french fries and a vanilla malt. I’m hungry!