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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

My Queen for a Malt

November 14, 1996|ERIK HIMMELSBACH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Each of us has an insatiable craving for something that would make most people squirm. In my case, it's a chocolate and butterscotch malt with an extra heaping scoop of malt.

It all depends on the balance of vanilla soft-serve ice cream, chocolate and butterscotch sauces and grainy malted-milk powder. I've spent far too much time looking for the perfect chocolate-butterscotch malt, from Dairy Queen, Foster's Freeze and Tastee Freeze to higher-brow malteries like Kokomo and Johnny Rocket's. I can tell you, nobody does it better than Frosty Queen.

This is a nondescript white shack on a sleepy commercial strip of Granada Hills that time seems to have forgotten, where the streets are still lined with orange trees but not sidewalks. Frosty Queen itself is a blast from the past. Not much has changed since I worked there briefly 16 years ago in my misspent Valley youth (I was fired for being "too slow").

The place is run by Pete and Tom Kalomiris, who bought the stand in 1972 when it was part of the Dairy Queen chain. They changed the name 10 years later when DQ phased out its Los Angeles locations. Ironically, Dairy Queen has since returned to the Southland and opened a branch only a few blocks away.

Though the Kalomiris brothers have added a few wrinkles to the menu, notably a selection of Greek items, the plates and sandwiches are almost beside the point. Most customers--families, Granada High students, construction workers--come for the mind-numbing selection of fountain desserts, which includes banana splits, vanilla cones dipped in chocolate, floats, slushes, sundaes and chillers. The last category is a descendant of the milkshake that could symbolize this age of excess. It's extra-thick and mixed with your choice of cookies or candies (Butterfinger, Snickers, Oreos, etc.).

Still, nothing here beats a simple, perfectly executed malt or shake; thick and sweet, it goes right to your head and belly. In fact, there may be no more satisfying way to suck down a thousand calories or more.

Frosty Queen makes them the old-fashioned way, starting with a base of vanilla soft-serve that oozes from a rickety old machine. Then, like a mad scientist in a laboratory, an adolescent soda jerk mixes and matches to your specifications. You can choose from more than a dozen varieties, from the basic chocolate, vanilla and coffee to unconventional flavors such as Coke, blackberry, peanut butter and eggnog.

Frosty Queen is a throwback to the days when "real" and "natural' were not common culinary adjectives, so don't look for real ice cream--it's ice milk all the way, baby. And the flavors in your shake or malt probably will be artificial. Some artificial flavors are better than others; while the butterscotch has a rich, buttery taste, the coffee flavoring is bitter and decidedly un-javalike.

Fountain items other than shakes and malts are more of a risk. For example, the cherry slush isn't very slushy. It's just a few lonely bits of shaved ice swimming in a cherry-flavored liquid.

To judge by the insanely broad menu of plates and sandwiches, the Kalomiris brothers seem to have latched onto every fast-food trend of the last 20 years. It's dominated by stuff that will make your arteries go pop, from hot dogs and burgers to burritos, cheese steaks and pastrami. There's even a fried pork fritter sandwich.

Mostly, the food runs the gamut from ordinary (burgers) to downright awful (tough, fatty pastrami that tastes as if it's been sitting around too long), but there are some pleasant surprises. The chili, for instance, is rich and meaty, similar in taste to Tommy's (that's a compliment), although the color is brown, rather than Tommy's fluorescent orange.

The Greek items are the best bets. The regular gyro (you can also get a chicken version) looks scarier than it tastes. This flat slab of meat, a mixture of beef and lamb with char marks that seem drawn on, actually tastes lean and hearty.

The top of the line is the souvlakia: shish kebab of marinated beef, onion and tomato, dressed in a tangy yogurt sauce and wrapped in a thick pita that tastes more like an Indian naan. It's messy and quite filling. Not that you'll have room.

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WHERE TO GO

Frosty Queen, 17603 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills; (818) 363-6644. Open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. No alcohol. Cash only. Takeout, drive-through. Lunch or dinner for two, $10 to $15.

WHAT TO GET

Malts, milkshakes, dipped cones, souvlakia, charbroiled chicken sandwich, chili, onion rings.

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