Nothing sits in your stomach longer or gives you a brain freeze quicker than an ultrathick, supercold milkshake in summertime. Here is a sampling of some of Tampa Bay's most notable:
La Casa Dolce Café
406 S. Howard Ave., Tampa
We started the hunt in a nontraditional way -- at a gelateria. The shakes, "made with authentic gelato," come in two sizes: "Regolare" (20 oz., $4.95) and "Colosso" ($6.95, 32 oz.), which seems like more gelato milkshake than should be medically allowed. We chose a milkshake made with a dark chocolate gelato. What kind of syrup do they use, we asked the milkshake maker. He looked at us blankly and responded, "Syrup?" No syrup -- just the gelato and milk. And they can make a shake with any of the numerous flavors of gelato they have, including tiramisu. His fave is the dark chocolate, and it was definitely chocolatey, but too thick to drink with a straw, at least until it melted a little. The final assessment: very tasty, but more like a glass of ice cream than a beverage.
Steak & Shake
2315 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa
We know, this is a chain restaurant, fer cryin' out loud. But when it has the word "shake" in its name, how can we ignore it? We ordered dark chocolate ($2.99 for a large) -- what we got wasn't all that dark -- and a side-by-side chocolate-vanilla milkshake ($3.29). One tester, a fan of black and white shakes already, said the side-by-side made for a nice variation on the theme. The shakes were plenty thick on the 'can-you-sip-it-with-a-straw' test, as you can't without much puckering and possible straw damage. The testers, in fact, did the taste test with plastic forks (owing to not being able to find spoons around this joint), and that tells you something. The "dark" chocolate shake left a strange sour aftertaste.
2506 W. Columbus Drive, Tampa
Homemade ice cream that is among the best in Tampa Bay forms the basis of the milkshakes at this classic West Tampa business. The strawberry shake ($1.63) was real strawberry, with fruit through and through, and not some fake mix. The malted chocolate shake ($2.13) was very malty and good. One taster said he has had better, but not many.
Tahitian Inn Café
601 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa
This old-time South Tampa haunt was legendary for its burgers and thick shakes before a remodeling turned the tiny eatery into a larger dining room. The shakes, however, were still on the menu as we wheeled in at lunch one Wednesday. We ordered the only three flavors on the menu -- chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ($4.95) -- and awaited their arrival. They came in clear glasses, along with a sidecar of the rest of the thick shake in the large metal blender container. Suh-weeeeeet! The upside: The Tahitian uses real ice cream and the shakes have that slightly grainy texture to prove it. The downside: the flavors aren't intense, and there are not bits of real strawberry in the strawberry shake.
Old Meeting House
4004 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa
This is the new Old Meeting House, not the old restaurant that used to be on S. Howard Avenue and was famous for its shakes. We order a unique milkshake: the Jumbo Whopper Malted Milkshake ($4.99). This chocolate shake not only is malted but also has whopper candies mixed up in it. There is more malt in this one shake than in the entire Anheuser-Busch brewery. Perhaps a bit too much. One taster hated it flat-out. Two others liked it but wilted beneath the eventual malt overload. One big plus: a giant-diameter straw that doesn't clog up when you drink the thick concoction.
Coney Island Sandwich Shop
250 Dr. Martin Luther King Dr., St. Petersburg
This downtown St. Pete institution is known more for its chilidogs -- the management famously charges those who want to desecrate their dogs with ketchup an extra 15 cents -- but South Pinellas milkshake connoisseurs are familiar with its thick, frosty fare as well. For just short of three bucks, you can get a freshly whipped-up vanilla or chocolate shake that's just barely liquid enough to get through a straw via some serious suckage and finishes off with on old-school heavily malted aftertaste.
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