There’s one thing about frozen custard: it ain’t ice cream.
It has a denser texture and richer flavor because it’s made with egg and less air than other frozen treats. When guests sink their teeth into a cone of it for the first time—as is common in Minnesota, where custard is not particularly common—Adele’s Frozen Custard staffers often get a chuckle.
Their eyes light up, they smile, and they exclaim, “Oh my gosh. Oh, wow! I was expecting ice cream…now I get it!” says general manager Emma Crowell, who’s at the helm of the endearing farmhouse that’s been serving up the same recipes in the heart of Excelsior since 1986.
Crowell had a bit of a custard epiphany of her own when her younger sister got her a job at Adele’s in 2007. She was about to graduate from Minnetonka High School and move away to college. She even began coursework at Normandale—until she fell so in love with a certain sweet treat and the culture surrounding it that, in 2010, she put those plans on hold indefinitely.
“The customers, the employees and the owner are just amazing,” Crowell says. “When given the opportunity to run Adele’s, I jumped at the chance, dropped out of college and dove on into everything Adele’s. The employees who work here feel like my children—we’re a big family.”
In the spring and fall, that family includes 20 or so high school students, and in summer when the college students return to town, it balloons to 40.
Adele’s opens for the year March 1 and closes on Thanksgiving. Except, of course, for the Saturday before Christmas—“Christmas Fix Day”—when Adele’s opens for one day only, selling holiday custard flavors by the scoop and racing through hundreds of its signature custard pies. There are a half-dozen different flavors, but by way of illustration, the holiday pie is an Oreo pie crust layered with fudge, mint custard, more fudge, and colorful holiday sprinkles. It’s all topped with whipped cream and a cherry to go the extra mile. Christmas Fix Day is perhaps the only day of the year when it’s wise to order ahead, though it’s by no means the busiest day.
That distinction is typically reserved for the Fourth of July, when Excelsior is abuzz with locals residents and out-of-towners flocking to the lake for the fireworks and live music. People park their boats and stop in for dessert after dining at Maynard’s next door. They walk up with sparklers and coolers in hand on their way to the festivities. Or they stop for a break on a long bike ride on Minnetonka Regional Trail, which is just a block away.
“I love interacting with people and seeing their reaction when I hand over an amazing sundae, or a giant waffle cone with cookie dough. I realized I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk full-time. I’m lucky enough to get to be able to spend half my time at a desk building up Adele’s and half the time on the floor serving up delicious treats,” Crowell says.
She and her staffers know many of their regular customers by name and order. But as is common in custard shops, each day brings a new flavor—and on weekends and summer days, two—so there’s always something new and fresh for visitors to try. Adele’s huge custard machine cranks out small batches of 3.5 gallons each, with fruit or candy or truffle chocolate mixed in depending on the flavor du jour. Chocolate and vanilla are standards, made daily as a foundation for the malts, shakes and sundaes that round out the dessert menu. If there are leftovers, they’re thrown out within 24 hours, so every bite is fresh and delicious.
Keep an eye out this month for the annual Adele’s employee flavor contest, where staffers develop their own decadent flavor combos. There’s a vote, and one lucky variety makes it into production. If it’s a hit with guests, it’ll get added to the flavor of the day rotation. Past winners have included puppy chow—vanilla custard with Chex and powdered sugar, laced with chocolate—and Excelsior after dark, featuring a dark chocolate base, caramel and chocolate chunks. Fat Elvis had peanut butter, bananas and brownie chunks. Crowell knows the novel flavors can be a little daring for first-timers, so she gives a few pointers for doing Adele’s right.
“Order a turkey and swiss sandwich with chips and an iced tea. Head outside and eat your meal on our huge outdoor patio, under the umbrellas, and enjoy all the flowers,” she suggests. “After that, don’t forget to come back on inside and order a flavor of the day in a homemade waffle cone or a turtle sundae. It’s a great place to unwind.”
So What is Custard, Exactly?
Visit Milwaukee, and you’ll see it everywhere—custard is the standard cold treat in Wisconsin. But in Minnesota, it’s a little less common. Ask Crowell to explain the distinction, and you get the sense she’s become an expert on the matter.
“Good question,” she says. “Ice cream is made with cream, sugar and milk—with air whipped into it. Custard has eggs added—and the air is whipped out of it. It gives it a denser, richer consistency. It’s so creamy, fresh and delicious.”
Adele's By the Numbers
2018 A sad year for Excelsior. In April, the original owner and namesake, Adele Bernet, died—within a week of Loran David Lessard, the owner of Lick’s Unlimited down the road.
24 hours a batch of custard will be kept on-hand. After that, it’s thrown out so every scoop is perfectly fresh.
98 gallons of custard sold on a typical summer day. That’s 3.5 gallons per batch x 7 batches x 4 flavors.
500 gallons of hot fudge used in a summer.
2.5 pounds of candy in a batch of custard. Think Andes Mints, bubble gum, Butterfinger, Red Hots, gummy worms, Heath bars, and Pop Rocks—to name a few.
135 flavors in the Adele’s recipe book. There are two flavors of the day—in addition to vanilla and chocolate—in summer and on winter weekends. Winter weekdays, you’ll find just one. Download a monthly calendar online or sign up for emails to get a heads-up—and a coupon—to plan your custard stops.
2100 scoops of custard sold on a typical Fourth of July.
500 custard pies sold on Christmas Fix Day, the one day the shop opens in the off-season.
Try a Delicious Duo
There are dozens of Adele’s custard flavors in constant rotation, but a handful of them top the charts as perennial fan favorites. There’s also a healthy lineup of decadent toppings to try on top of them—so how’s one to choose? Here are a few go-to combos from the team at Adele’s. You’re welcome.
The flavor: Chocolate Raspberry Truffle
What it is: Chocolate custard with raspberries and truffle chocolate.
Try it with: “Don’t add anything. It’s perfect as-is!” says Crowell.
The flavor: Puppy Chow
What it is: Peanut butter and chocolate custard with powdered sugar and Chex cereal. It was the result of an employee flavor contest—and it stuck!
Try it with: Whipped cream.
The flavor: Mint Oreo
What it is: It’s mint custard with chunks of beloved Oreo cookies stirred in.
Try it with: An order of truffle chocolate drizzled on top.
The flavor: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
What it is: It’s peanut butter-flavored custard with chunks of peanut butter cups.
Try it with: The hot fudge.
The flavor: Cookie Dough
What it is: Vanilla custard with chunks of cookie dough and truffle chocolate.
Try it with: “Hot fudge makes everything better,” says Crowell.