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Best Concretes in Orem-Provo

May 2, 2017

Let’s kick off this new blog right. I mean, write what you know, right? That means ice cream. If I were back in Brooklyn it might mean beer. Or restaurants. Bagels. Hipster joints. Something. In Orem, ice cream is what there is, so ice cream is what there’ll be. Luckily, I take my ice cream seriously, even when fast food and drive-thrus are largely where I can get it.

I tell myself at least one other person might find this analysis useful. If that’s you, please let me know.

There are a lot of ways to get ice cream. This list isn’t meant to cover them all. (Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll get to gelato, soft-serve, and ice-cream ice cream in the future.) And honestly, the term concrete isn’t one I heard much when I first lived in Utah. If anything, I would have called a Dairy Queen Blizzard (a great example of a concrete, for my purposes) a milkshake. And I wouldn’t have seen much point in a classic milk-and-ice-cream milkshake you could drink from a straw.

I know, I know. Depending on how technical you want to get, concretes are made with frozen custard. For this list, I basically mean any frozen dairy(ish) dessert with chunky mix-ins that you eat with a spoon and won’t fall out if you tip the cup over. It would be amazing if there were a city that could fill two independent lists–one for classic concretes and one for knock-offs. Maybe one day I’ll live that dream. Right here, right now, this is what you get.

And oh yeah, one more thing. If you don’t know this about me, I’m the kind of guy who thinks more is more when it comes to desserts. More toppings. More flavors. Crazier combos. I’m like a ten on that scale. So adjust your readings accordingly if you net out any lower.

Anyway. Here we go:

  1. Culver’s. I gotta tell you. When I came back to Utah after years away, I was happy to see Culver’s had sauntered into town. Happier than for In-N-Out, Jimmy Johns, or Five Guys. Why? The custard. And the concretes. The creamy, eggy, smooooooooth frozen custard concretes. If this were Wisconsin, where you can also enjoy Kopp’s and Leon’s and many others, (or probably St Louis, though I’ve only had one concrete there and it’s been ages) Culver’s wouldn’t rise to the top. Still, for a regional/almost-national chain, it’s legit. And it towers above the other local options.Favorite flavor: I almost always get the rotating Flavor of the Day. (Unless it’s just not chunky enough. Then I’ll probably get chocolate custard with peanut butter or cookie dough. Or hell, both.)
  2. Purple Turtle. You have to drive just a few minutes north of Orem to get to this landmark in Pleasant Grove. But I’ve done it enough times it feels completely normal to me and I’m counting it as one of the best concrete joints in town. Purple Turtle was always the most vivid example to me in the county of a greasy spoon, and I mean that in the best way. Down home burgers, fries, onion rings, and, of course Tornado Shakes. Make that shake into a malt? A must. And while I stick to my go-to constellation of flavors for the most part, I can see myself enjoying most of the options if it came to it.Favorite flavor: Peanut butter and cookie dough does it for me here. (But I could definitely be talked into, say, raspberry and german chocolate. Or something even wilder.)
  3. Ripple’s Drive-In. Can I really quantify why this local joint’s soft-serve and standard mix-ins list is any better than those further down the list? Hard to say. If you had a bite of a Ripple’s shake next to a DQ Blizzard next to an Iceberg Thick Shake or any of the other soft-serve bases, would Ripple’s be the clear standout? Honestly, probably not. Here’s what a Ripple’s shake (or better yet, a Ripple’s malt) has that the others don’t: you get it from Ripple’s, this old, run-down shack in the Provo foothills with a limited menu and no indoor access. You get to remember whatever old Mormon educational system movie it was that featured this place. And you get to enjoy a little local charm. I mean, there’s so little of it left in Utah County. And for my money, it makes me enjoy a Ripple’s malt more than most of the alternatives.Favorite flavor: A Ripple’s cookies and cream malt is terrific. Lots of Oreos, nice and crispy.
  4. Rocky Mountain Drive Inn. May as well be number 3A, right there with Ripple’s. Last time I was here I was, sadly, the only person there. A total shame. The Great Shake menu feels well curated. Egg nog. Pumpkin. Cookie dough. (This isn’t a list of best food, but the burgers are amazing too.) I mean, I get it. When I grew up here, I didn’t appreciate these local joints either. Always felt like a let down to come to a place that didn’t have national commercials during basketball games. Ah, the folly of youth! This time around, I can barely stand the dearth of local personality in this town. Prove me wrong, Orem-Provo–keep these places alive! They’re good!Favorite flavor: Peanut butter and peanut butter cup hits the spot.
  5. Dairy Queen. DQ has been around Orem for a long time, even though it changed locations sometime while I was away. The classic Blizzard is made with soft-serve, not frozen custard. But they’re serious business, no question. The mix-ins selection is first rate, too. All the Oreo, Butterfingers, peanut butter cups, etc you could want. Plus a ton of seasonal or otherwise rotating flavors.Favorite flavor: The Oreo Blizzard is one of the all-time great desserts. You can’t go wrong. (Though I will admit I’ve been enjoying Royal Blizzards lately, the ones with solid cores of fudge and peanut butter and stuff. I can’t decide if I like them more, but I have a hard time not ordering them every time!)
  6. Sonic Drive-In. We’re in a weird spot here with Sonic. Today, as I write this, Sonic is offering what they call Custard Concretes. Thing is, they’re up for a “limited time.” That said, they’re not bad. Sonic doesn’t take its frozen custard as seriously as Culver’s does, but it’s still custard, with all the creamy luciousness that brings. And Sonic does have a lot of mix-and-matchable flavor and mix-ins combinations available. But somehow it’s like back when iPhones were new and still miles ahead of Android phones. When people would talk up the extra “features” of their G1 it just didn’t matter because there was something fundamentally missing from the experience. (That analogy makes perfect sense, by the way. If YOU don’t get it, consider where your life choices may have led you astray.) Still, it’s the only other place around I’m aware of to get an actual frozen custard concrete, so there’s that.[Now, if the time comes and Sonic pulls these Custard Concretes, we’ll probably have to do the hard work of considering whether their Master Blasts qualify as quasi-concretes. I mean, they’re made with more actual ice cream, and you do eat them with a spoon, but are they concretes? Don’t worry. I’ll be on it. If necessary.]Favorite flavor: I got Vanilla Custard Heath Bar. It was good. Like I say, though, the thing of Sonic is even though they have lots of flavor combos, they’re all somehow more alike than different.
  7. Arctic Circle. A true Utah institution here–started by the inventor of fry sauce, no less! Above The Rim Shakes are made with soft-serve ice cream. As for mix-ins, the selection is fairly extensive. In a way, it’s amazing a place could have strawberry cheesecake, blackberry cheesecake, AND raspberry cheesecake all on the menu. It somehow makes the selection still feel a little quaint. Antiquated. More fun in theory than in practice. There are lots of flavors, but for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, unlike at Purple Turtle, I wouldn’t really ever try very many of them.Favorite flavor: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. If they let me get two (they do) it’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and Peanut Butter.
  8. Iceberg Drive Inn. Another Utah place. Two things about Iceberg’s Famous Thick Shakes: they’re huge, and . . . the soft-serve ice cream they use has the least flavor of anything on this list. Solid flavors/mix-ins menu. And hell, it’s a cold, sweet, ice-creamy treat after all–which is always nice. Still, the least essential option here.Favorite flavor: I’ve had cookies & cream and cookie dough. Both serviceable.

So there you go. The best concretes in Orem-Provo. (Foursquare list.) I’ll stay on the prowl and update as necessary. I do it for you, my readers. And for science. Feel free to shoot me messages with places I’m missing.

From → Food, Lists

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