Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sucking Cool

I'm not a native Richmonder but my father is. And his father worked his entire adult life for Richmond Dairy delivering milk. He started in the 1930s delivering milk in a horse-drawn wagon, and continued right through the changeover to trucks in the 1940s until his retirement.

My dad has fond memories of going to work with his dad, listening to the adult conversations of the milkmen and watching the trucks being loaded. He even remembers the fun of visiting the firemen at the nearby firehouse, which is now Gallery 5. And I live mere blocks from these landmarks of my father's youth.

All this is to say that I grew up outside Virginia but hearing endless stories about the golden years of Richmond Dairy. And yet when I moved to Richmond, all anyone talked about was Curles Neck Dairy. And maybe that was because of the Dairy Bar, the former Curles Neck plant employee cafeteria that became a real restaurant after the plant closed in the 80s.

So when a friend suggested lunch today, I suggested the Dairy Bar. Obviously I can't honor my family's Richmond Dairy roots and honestly, it wasn't so much about lunch as it was about having one of those cold, creamy milkshakes that they're known for. "Isn't a great day for a milkshake?" I asked of my friend, hoping to convince him. "What are you talking about?" he countered. "Every day's a good day for a milkshake." Words to live by during this heat.

Naturally the noon hour at the Dairy Bar is crowded, so we took seats at the actual dairy bar, hoping for a good view of the ice cream disbursement. The 10-year old boy sitting next to us had a burger and a shake and told us it was his third day in a row having lunch there; he's attending nearby baseball camp with the Flying Squirrels.

Inquiring as to the flavor of his shake, he said it was chocolate. His grandfather told us that it was also his third chocolate shake in a row. Completely satisfied, he couldn't quite bring himself to try a new flavor.

The grandfather also recognized me from a decade ago when we worked in the same office building. He'd looked vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn't have placed his face in a million years. I was impressed that he remembered me so quickly.

When the two of them left, they were replaced with a grandfather/granddaughter twosome. I wouldn't be surprised to find that both grandfathers had come to the Dairy Bar when they were young because it's that kind of place.

My friend went for the fried cod sandwich with onion rings and a chocolate/peanut butter shake, while I had a BLT with a chocolate shake. As we sat eating, an employee began scooping from the case in front of us to make a banana split. When she dug out the strawberry ice cream, deep pink and studded with strawberry bits, we immediately realized the error of our ways.

"Can we have a sample of that?" my friend asked. It tasted as good as it looked. Walking outside into the visible heat, he commented on the hot but lackluster breeze. If the forecasters are right and this heat is going to last well into September, we'll have plenty more opportunities for milkshake days.

And unlike ten-year-olds, we're more than willing to try something new. I'm thinking if he gets the strawberry shake next time, I can get the butter brickle...although that little girl's mint chocolate chip shake looked awfully refreshing.

Regardless of flavor, I feel sure my grandfather would heartily approve of me supporting Virginia dairy products, even the sweet ones. As he used to say to us when we were little, "Come here and give me some sugar."


  1. Loved the post. It was timely in that a couple of nights ago we rode our bikes over to the local Dairy Queen.

    Having grown up with an an ice cream parlor around the block I came to realize from your post that the chain fare of today can't come close to the flavor and quality of what was available in the good old days.

  2. You sound so nostalgic!

    But you're right, my milkshake was definitely not the stuff of chains.