Before I get to the heavenly concoction that's the focus of this ode to a certain kind of ice cream, I have to ask ... Have you ever heard of Berens Frozen Custard? If you a) grew up in Atlanta in the '70s or '80s, b) frequent the Scott Antique Market, or c) live near Snellville, then there's a very good chance you do. Otherwise? Not so much. Which is a shame. You're missing out. Really.
Once upon a time, back in the '70s and '80s, Berens was well known for serving up some of the city's most lauded ice cream out of a little shop on Buford Highway in Doraville. It expanded to a few shops, then dialed back again. Eventually, Berens opted to focus on serving its frozen custard at fairs and festivals, and at the monthly Scott Antique Market. And for the past few decades, those festivals and the antique market were the only way for longtime fans to get their fix. That is, until three years ago.
In 2010, Mark Berens, the son of founder Don Berens, opened up a full-fledged frozen custard shop in Grayson, a blip on Highway 78 between Snellville and Loganville. When you walk into Berens, it's likely that Mark will be behind the counter, ready with a smile. He seems, well, like he was born to sell frozen custard. "I've been making frozen custard since I was 12 years old," he said, "and it's a dream come true to follow in my father's footsteps and open my own shop."
It's worth pointing out that Berens' frozen custard is essentially a very smooth, very creamy, very dense ice cream. Frozen custard is somewhat of a rarity in the South, but can be found all over the Midwest and Northeast (in fact, Don Berens moved to Atlanta from Rochester, where his love for frozen custard was cemented). In addition to the typical cream, milk, and sugar, egg yolks are the secret to great frozen custard. But Berens' frozen custard is also notable for the fact that it's made fresh throughout the day, in special machines that freeze the custard very quickly while still churning slowly to minimize the amount of air that gets whipped in. Thus, the creamy thickness.
Berens offers chocolate, vanilla, and one special flavor each day, including favorites like butter pecan, dreamsicle and blueberry cheesecake. There's also a nice little assortment of sundaes, shakes, and concretes. Concrete? It's basically frozen custard blended with sauces or toppings, like an extra-dense milkshake (or a Dairy Queen Blizzard, but better, of course). You can choose Oreos or cookie dough or chopped up candy bars, but Berens also offers a few special concretes.
If, like me, you enjoy a bit of salt in your caramel, the caramel pretzel concrete (the inspiration for this whole story) is the way to go. The base is the rich vanilla frozen custard, which gets blended with a hefty dose of caramel sauce and a generous sprinkling of crunchy, salty pretzel pieces. The pretzels hold their crunch well, and don't get too cold, as some candy bars tend to do when mixed into ice cream. And that crunch against the dense, smooth custard makes for textural magic in your mouth. Goodness gracious, this is heavenly stuff. And it will have you swearing off Dairy Queen or Zesto forever (sorry, chocolate dipped cone and coffee toffee arctic swirl fans).
I asked Mark about his plans for Berens Frozen Custard. Beyond the main shop in Grayson, he noted their dedication to the monthly stretch of one Thursday through Sunday at the Scott Antique Market. In fact, on market days, he gets to the shop between 3 and 4 a.m. to help make the fresh custard necessary for a day at the market. Mark also hopes to be able to expand to a few more full-time shops, but he noted that, "With any more than three or four locations, I'd become a 'businessman!' What I enjoy most is serving customers. Seeing their eyes light up when they taste our custard for the first time."
Get in Ma Mouth is a look at delicious things around Atlanta. It all started with a fig and mascarpone doughnut "slider," but knows no bounds other than that of eager hunger - sweet or savory, solid or liquid, homemade or store-bought. Click here for an archive of "Get in Ma Mouth" temptations.
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