Milwaukee is known as the Custard Capital in the United States. You can find out where you must go to taste Milwaukee frozen custard.

In 1938 Gilles Frozen Custard exploded onto the Milwaukee food scene with a thick and creamy treat. Gilles’ homemade custard was the main attraction at this classic diner. It served burgers and hotdogs as well as fries. Leon’s Frozen Custard opened in 1942 as a result of the popularity of custard. In Milwaukee, the first Kopp’s Frozen Custard ™ opened eight years later.

What exactly is Custard?

Since the ancient Romans, milk and egg mixtures that are thickened with heat have been a part of European cuisine. Both ice cream and custard contain milk or cream, and sugar. Custard is thicker and more dense than pudding because less air is churned in. Custards must also contain 1.4 percent yolks (yolks used in frozen custards must be pasteurized).

Kopp’s serves up a huge cone of rich, decadent Custard. Photo by Visit Milwaukee

Thomas Jefferson is said to have recorded America’s very first ice-cream recipe. The yolks in Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream were likely inspired by desserts he enjoyed as a French diplomat.

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Milwaukee celebrates National Chocolate Custard Day every 3rd of May, but it’s a great time to enjoy this frozen treat. Next time you’re in Milwaukee, put these iconic locations on your list of must-try places. From the oldest to the newest, we’ve selected a few favorites.

Gilles Frozen Custard

The legendary Gilles Frozen Custard, which opened 85 years ago, is still going strong in a restored vintage building. A Gilles employee welcomed our group on the parking lot during a summer morning visit. He was carrying a tray of cups. A thick, dark fudge was topped with a maraschino-colored cherry and layers of creamy, rich custard. The perfect remedy for the hot temperatures.

We were greeted by small custard-based sundaes in the Gilles’ parking lot. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Gilles offers a variety of custards. This Milwaukee frozen custard shop offers so many options that there is even a Flavor of the Day Calendar on the website for each month.

Imagine a creamy Chocolate Cheesecake custard, dotted with candy Snickers or M&Ms. Add a classic BLT and cheese curds to complete a throwback diner meal.

Gilles is a frozen custard legend that has been around for many decades. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Leon’s Frozen Custard

Leon’s Frozen Custard was lit up by neon and long fluorescent lights during our visit. This classic, family owned drive-in serves their creamy, cold custard even in Milwaukee’s brutal winter weather. The scene created by hungry customers in the parking lot on hot, humid summer evenings is reminiscent of Happy Days.

The old sign on the front of Leon’s Frozen Custard is so charming. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Leon’s custard is made fresh every day in flavors such as Strawberry, Raspberry and Mint. Maple Walnut and Cinnamon are also available. The newest addition, Blue Moon, was added recently. Tall towers of custard top stars-and-stripes-wrapped crunchy cones, dripping down the sides as they slowly melt.

Leon’s custard cones. Photo by Steven Schneider

Regular, jumbo and Xtra Heavy shakes are available in 15 flavors. You can order an old-fashioned custard sundae or cream soda with a huge variety of toppings.

Leon’s sundae. Steven Schneider’s photo

If you want to eat a sandwich with your custard, there are three choices. You can order a hotdog, a chili-filled hot dog or a “Spanish Hamburger.” It is described as similar to a Sloppy joe.

Kopp’s Frozen Custard(tm)

Check out the monthly Flavor Preview before visiting any of the three Kopp’s Frozen Custard ™ restaurants. It was the first custard shop in the area to offer a menu that constantly changes flavors, alongside vanilla and cocoa. Around 1960, Elsa Kopp started experimenting with exotic custards. This was a decade after opening her first restaurant.

Kopp’s Flavor Preview for February 2023 included Blueberry Cheesecake and Tiramisu. Reese’s Peanut Butter Kupps were also featured. Peach Melba was adorned with raspberry swirls. The Cupcake was a combination of yellow cake, fudge drizzles and mini rainbow chips in the vanilla custard. The featured sundae for the month was Chocolate Lover’s Banana Split.

This banana split is made with frozen custard instead of ice cream. Photo by Visit Milwaukee

Kopp’s Frozen Custard, in Greenfield, offers a taste of nostalgia. The busy employees behind the brushed-metal counter wear old-school “soda jerk” hats. You’re looking for more than custard. Kopp’s also offers jumbo burgers, and delicious onion rings.

Kopp’s is just one of many nostalgic items for customers. Photo by Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee Custard Tours

You can book a guided bus tour through Milwaukee Food Tours if you’d rather not drive to find these frozen custard vendors. The Burger & Custard Capital of the World Tour lasts up to 2 1/2 hour. You will learn a lot of custard facts as you travel to historic custard locations and enjoy a burger with fries. You can also take a Custard capital of the world Virtual Tour at any time via your computer. This interactive live workshop will feature highlights from Milwaukee’s Frozen Custard by authors and editors Kathleen McCann, Robert Tanzilo. If you are planning a culinary tour in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or anywhere else in the Midwest let wander with wonder guide you.