As I walked on the dusty, creaking, mildew-scented wooden patios that cover much of Old Sacramento’s roads, I couldn’t help but wonder — would Milk House Shakes (1100 Front St., Suite 140) be as old-fashioned as its exterior?
The milkshake shop’s facade blended in so well with its Wild West-style surroundings that Sarina and I almost missed it. But once we stepped inside, we were amazed.
With its white walls, faux-marble countertop and prominent machinery, Milk House Shakes looked more like a hospital than a historic restaurant, save for the jars of peanuts and row of syrup dispensers. The lack of customers and seating area didn’t help the store’s cold vibe either.
The only splashes of color were deep-blue-and-burgundy letters on the menus hanging over the milkshake equipment.
But what Milk House Shakes lacked in chromatic eccentricity, it made up in its unique theme: U.S. presidents.
As one of the two employees there explained to us, store owner Kelly Boyles has a passion for U.S. history and milkshakes. That theme shone through in every aspect — and it worked surprisingly well.
Each of the store’s six milkshakes is named after a U.S. president (or, as a flyer on the wall advertised, a first lady during International Women’s Day), and the build-your-own option is called the “Freedom Shake.”
The menu further explained the reasoning behind each president’s shake. While some weren’t entirely historical — the Abraham Lincoln shake is Oreo-flavored because Lincoln is Boyles’ favorite president and Oreo is her favorite shake flavor — the attention to detail was still astounding.
Instead of a small or large shake, customers choose between a Vice President ($6.50) or President ($8.00). The tip jar is labeled “Campaign Funds.”
An artist’s depiction of the signing of the U.S. Constitution graced the mostly bare walls. The music, too, was distinctly American: Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” played softly as we analyzed the menu.
The small shake selection (vanilla, mint chip, coffee, Reese’s, Oreo and chocolate) made it easy to choose. I settled on a Vice President “Theodore Roosevelt” (the coffee shake, as Roosevelt allegedly drank a gallon of coffee a day), and Sarina selected a Vice President “John F. Kennedy” (mint chip, as Kennedy was the first Irish Catholic president).
Our shakes were ready almost immediately. Both were heavily topped with whipped cream; a piece of mint chocolate garnished the JFK.
We grabbed some straws and turned to leave. Though there was no seating inside the store, there was plenty on the patio.
We started with the mountain of whipped cream.
“It’s way too sweet,” Sarina contended, but I could already taste the bitter coffee flavor in mine. I continued eagerly, expecting a burst of caffeine in the shake below the whipped cream.
That, however, was not the case.
Even when the whipped cream wasn’t touching the shake, the milky flavor dominated. I could taste coffee, but it didn’t seem to be the star of the show.
Instead, the shake reminded me of foam on top of a latte.
“It’s milky in taste and in texture,” she said, wrinkling her nose.
The tucked-away taste did mean that the shakes weren’t too heavy, though.
Still, Sarina and I couldn’t finish them, as they made us parched. (Milk House Shakes does offer beverages such as coffee and water for sale, but we forgot to get them.)
Overall, the concept seemed much more memorable than the shakes themselves.
For a restaurant that has been open only about two months, Milk House Shakes is running well and has found its niche in Old Sacramento. But what’s most important about a milkshake shop isn’t having a theme — it’s having good milkshakes, and Milk House Shakes’ just don’t stand out.
— Héloïse Schep