Custard's last stand

Custard's last stand

We’ve heard a lot about ice cream lately.

Specifically, frozen custard.

The open-closed-open again tale of Jarling’s Custard Cup has kept fans of the frozen treat guessing for the past few weeks.

I admit to stopping by on March 30, on what everyone thought would be its final day, to Blog Phototry to bring home a quart. The line stretched almost to Kirby Avenue, and the woman in front of me said some people had waited 90 minutes or longer to be served. I had a meeting to cover that afternoon, so I decided I’d take my chances and come back after work. As it happened, the custard ran out first.

Then the Jarlings decided to reopen after all. Temporarily. And they may or may not be selling the business. Stay tuned.

Why all the fuss, you might ask?

Well, the custard is pretty darn tasty, for one. And I’m told that it actually contains fewer calories than ice cream (a claim I find dubious, but it’s on the Internet so it must be true). Not to mention the fantastico cold fudge.

But for me, the connection with Custard Cup is a family affair.

My father, and my grandfather before him, owned a dairy business in East St. Louis. My dad often told stories of helping his father with the milk routes before school, starting when he was a kid and they still used a horse and cart.

The family also had a dairy store, sort of an early version of a convenience store, and at one time sold soft-serve ice cream out a side window. My dad loved that part of the business, and always said he’d like to just run a small ice cream shop someday.

When I was young, we’d take a trailer to all the parish picnics and sell ice cream bars — fudgesicles, dreamsicles, drumsticks and ice cream sandwiches. And sometimes we’d ride with my dad to take a truck back to a partner dairy in St. Louis, then stop at the old Velvet Freeze for ice cream on the way home.

The traditions continued as I got older.

As a freshman at the University of Illinois, I would occasionally stop by the Dairy Queen that used to be at Third and Green streets, conveniently located just blocks from my dorm. At the time, DQ had just introduced the wildly popular Blizzard.

So when my sister and her husband came to visit, I told them we had to have Papa Del’s pizza and a Dairy Queen Blizzard. After a slice or two we were too full for dessert, of course, and I uttered a now infamous phrase, “I can’t wait till we get hungry again.” That line is still invoked by family members after a particularly big meal.

Custard Cup wasn’t open yet, but that summer I discovered Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis. It’s since become a national attraction, thanks to some pub in Blog Photovarious food guides and shows, but at the time the famous concretes — they don’t drip when turned upside down — were a revelation for me. (I prefer chocolate-banana, if anyone’s headed that way.)

Open late, it’s popular with the Cardinals’ postgame crowd, but anytime is Ted Drewes time in my book. In honor of my obsession, quite a few guests at our wedding in St. Louis headed there after our reception. Guess they didn’t get enough cake.

Around that same time my brothers introduced me to another find: Crown Candy Kitchen in north St. Louis, a small ice cream parlor with sticky hot fudge, malts to die for, giant chocolate bunnies at Easter and the world’s best chocolate-covered strawberries. There were always lines out the door, which have only grown longer after its appearances on various food shows. It’s still a family destination whenever we’re all back in town.

(Side note: I realized at one point that when people ask me what to do in St. Louis, my list mostly involves food — Italian restaurants on The Hill and three ice cream places: Ted Drewes, Crown and Fitz’s restaurant, home of the endless root beer float and a small bottling operation you can watch while you eat. I have my priorities.)

Back to the custard: When I moved back to Champaign, Custard Cup had opened. It was love at first taste.

Whenever friends or family would visit, we’d have them try it and then argue about how it compared to Ted Drewes. My dad loved the lemon custard. My husband likes the raspberry-cold fudge waffle-basket sundae (which he refuses to pronounce “sun-duh” as a true St. Louisan would). I like just about everything, but recently settled on the cold-fudge peanut-butter snowstorm (junior size — I do have some limits).

My kids had their first taste of ice cream at Custard Cup. We’d sometimes stop by for a treat after a baseball game or trip to Hessel Park. We bought quarts and turtle pies for birthdays and other celebrations. And old friends who moved away would insist on going back when they were in town.

So the news of its possible closing sent shockwaves through our network. I got Facebook messages and texts from friends and relatives across the country. And there was much relief when it reopened last week — just in time, as it turned out, for visits by some of its biggest fans.

Friends in town from Utah insisted we have it at our dinner get-together Wednesday night. And when my niece and her kids came into town this weekend, we stood in line for a half-hour at Custard Cup with an antsy 4-year-old.

It was worth it. We even took a selfie to send to some jealous cousins. One Blog Photoresponded: “Cuuuuustard Cuuuup!” underscored by a line of ice cream cone icons.

For now, at least, we have a reprieve. Until it closes again. And we always have Ted Drewes.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or


Top: A line forms at Custard Cup on March 30, the day it closed temporarily. Photo by Julie Wurth

Middle: A quart of frozen goodness from Ted Drewes. Photo by Kerry Rossow

Bottom: Yes, we stopped at Ted Drewes for concretes in January. Photo by Julie Wurth

Sections (1):Living
Topics (3):Food, People, Restaurants


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annabellissimo wrote on April 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Ted Drewes is a superior frozen custard. Brewsters in Kentucky is a superior product. Ryan's in Indiana is a superior product. There are many frozen custards and ice creams in nearby destinations that are superior; I don't like it that Jarlings doesn't list their ingredients and I think their prices are high. There is a lot of container waste with each purchase (straw, spoon, container, lid). The lines are too long and the addition of a drive-through has made it all much worse, now with long CAR lines (and gas and pollution), too. Unlike the writer, I think the "cold fudge" is anathema to tradition and to flavor; it is HOT FUDGE that belongs on sundaes, not cold lumps of thick chocolate goo. All that complaining said, my family and I have spent an unhealthy amount of time at Jarlings and enjoying every bite/sip/spoonful. It's delicious! BUT I have found this coy game-playing in the media about closing/not-closing to be tiresome and suspect. I hope they open, stay open and stop this silly "hard to get" dance and if they are open, I will complain about all of the above while thoroughly enjoying my Snowstorm.

Julie Wurth wrote on April 15, 2015 at 10:04 am
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I'm not too picky - hard to find an ice cream I don't like! I even accept frozen yogurt for what it is. I hope Jarling's stays open, too. A caller kindly pointed out that the Custard Cup in Danville is still open - 7 days a week, according to the website. Good for the off days in Champaign!

IlliniFanInMadisonWI wrote on April 15, 2015 at 3:04 pm

I was glad to see Julie mention the Dairy Queen at 3rd and Green, as well as the new (at that time) invention, the Blizzard.  I remember living close to and frequenting that DQ as a student as well; my favorite then was the "C-squared, B-squared," i.e., the Chocolate Chip Banana Blizzard.  You can find a pretty good approximation at Culver's if you order a concrete mixer with chocolate flakes and banana, FWIW.

Thanks Julie, for a wonderful article, and a little bit of nostalgia from our U of I days!