Chowdown Showdown: What Makes Your Root Beer Float?

This recent spate of warm weather this week guided this Showdown writer to consume more root beer floats than you've had all summer.

What amazing weather we’ve just had this week! Talk about your Indian summers, right? I once went to school with a girl whose parents emigrated from India, and upon arriving in America they took American names.  

She ended up being called Summer. One of the first things I ever spoke with her about was ice cream. She said American ice cream just tasted like original immigration documents - not the Xeroxes they were mailed from our State Department, which were why her father couldn’t start his job and she got removed from school for six weeks while it all got sorted out.

This was the Clinton years, after all, when magical things were happening in our government. This was prior to the president asking the deepest philosophical question of our time: what the definition of “is” is.  

And while it has since become clear to me that I have no idea what “is” is, I’ve decided to honor this Indian Summer the way Indian Summer would want to be celebrated, with American ice cream in the form of a root beer float. Because Summer thought American ice cream tasted like the real, original thing.

Still riding a high from with its bacony cheeseburger, Wendy’s was confident it could serve me a top-tiered root beer float. Thanks to the power of Patch’s tiny thumbnail pictures, I went in unnoticed. I was served their typical root beer float, beautifully presented in a clear cup so that one may easily observe the swirled soft-serve bobbing in the mahogany brown pool of Barq’s.  

Wendy’s small is the largest I would consume through this process. Their vanilla had the strongest taste of cream, which was ideally suited to compliment the harsh, gingery taste of Barq’s. Wendy’s was rightfully confident, as this was a tasty root beer float right up until I spilled in some BBQ sauce from my accompanying nuggets. 

The Wendy’s Good: Boy, is that some creamy ice cream.
The Wendy’s Bad: Really, the service was the only thing worth mentioning. It was worth the exaggerated huffing and puffing the guy behind me in line was doing. I had to check to see if he was still conscious and upright once. I thought he might be having a medical malady.  

Robyn Sutcliff had to deal with some tough issues as a Ward 3 alderman, but as a purveyor of ice cream delights, she’s moved in to a sweet business.  

This is a root beer float how you remember it. Two scoops of vanilla-ey hard pack with that crystallized root beer coating, served with A&W. My diabetes made me order diet. It didn't matter, though, because A&W has always been my favorite. Again, though, the hard pack ice cream. I want you to take away from this that it was delicious. 

The White Water Good: Hard pack ice cream was the best part, but there is also A&W.
The White Water Bad: You order where it says “pick-up,” and you pick it up where it says “Yorkville Glass.” I’m only kidding. The pick-up and order signs are transposed. Naughty, naughty. 

I enjoy the heck out of Culver’s, if you didn’t notice. This is AOL presents Yorkville Patch presents Rob Gryder presents Chowdown Showdown’s third time there (See: The first. And the second.)

However it’s not as much my fault as it is theirs due to the menu omitting Mountain Oysters and little else. I ordered the float, and the kid behind the register said: “No problem. We do those all dang day! Shoot.”  

Culver’s really steps out on its own with this one because not only do they make their own custard, but their own root beer. The custard was rich in vanilla taste as it always is. I also realized why they make their own root beer. I hadn’t had it before. It’s really unique and delicious. 

The Culver’s Good: I like that house-blend root beer.
The Culver’s Bad:
The custard’s softness, under the cover of a delicious vanilla flavor, has robbed the float of textural satisfaction as it never forms the crystallization you so wrongfully hated as a child. 

And the winner is … To me, a float is two scoops of hard pack in a mug of A&W, and the former alderman satisfies 66 percent of those criteria at her White Water Ice Cream. The only thing missing was the mug. And a sense of direction, given the inaccurate signage. 


If you don’t tell me where to go, I end up at Culver’s every other week. Report in with places you want me to head to. Also report in with dishes you want me to cover.  My fervent thank-yous.


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