All hail the chocolate malt

click to enlarge An enchilada combo plate from the Malt House.
An enchilada combo plate from the Malt House.
Release Date: 2003-02-20

There exists no finer ice cream confection than the chocolate malt. And thanks to a high metabolism, I can be the Edwards Aquifer of chocolate malts - always needing recharged - without having to widen my doorways.

In hopes of pouring a modicum of nutrition down my 9-year-old throat, mom packed my thrice-weekly sugar bomb with Ovaltine, eggs, and protein powder; several years ago, a chocolate malt served as the centerpiece for my first date with my future husband. (To prove malts are the gateway drug, our next liaison took place over beers and Scotch - the rest is history.)

So where can a connoisseur find the best chocolate malt in San Antonio? The search was painful - so many ice cream headaches, so little time - but I have found a malt so delicious that I will toss my blender and never bother to make one again.

The criteria: First, a malt cannot taste like its contemptible relative, the milk shake. A shake is to a malt what Roger Clinton is to his presidential brother, Bill - a loser. Optimum richness hinges on the finely calibrated ratio of malt to milk to chocolate to ice cream. (Any malt made with a cottonseed oil-dairy base - the basis of most fast-food versions - should be outlawed.) Its thickness should be viscous enough to occasionally clog the straw, but never so much as to mistake the malt for food - a major weakness of the Malt House's version. And of course, it must be so cold that you can never slurp too fast, lest your temple clench like a visegrip.

The malts at Earl Abel's and Cheesey Jane's are no slouches in terms of viscosity and temperature - and thankfully they come in glass and not plastic - but the chocolate flavor is instantly sharp and lacks the depth and resonance of the winner.

Olmos Pharmacy scores major points for atmosphere, but receives a deduction for its use of plastic. In the 1950s ambience of an old-fashioned soda fountain, a waitress presents you with a gigantic, cold-as-dry-ice, silver metal cup from which you can pour the beautiful concoction into a plastic red cup. The taste ranks as a close runner-up - I would have liked a bit more malt - but the consistency runs a hair on the thin side to claim top honors.

The malt to beg for, to weep for, to lie down on 410 at rush hour for - da-dada-daaaa ... Pigstand on Broadway. Please, sit down in a red vinyl booth. Play a song from the '60s on the tableside jukebox. Wait just a few minutes, for your patience shall be rewarded. The crème de la crème of chocolate maltdom - topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry - arrives in the waitress' hands, floating to your table like an iceberg skimming along the Arctic Ocean. Savor the malt slowly, feeling it chill your innards, then use your straw as a dry-vac to reach every last drop. Put down your cup and quote Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally: "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" •

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