Our quest started by accident. My daughters and I were on Alki on one of those gloriously sunny May days that announced that summer was on its way. We ducked into Pepperdock Restaurant and, on a whim, opted for shakes.
I hadn’t had one in years, and as I snuck sips from my daughters’ shakes—my 14-year-old had chocolate; my 11-year-old, cookies and cream—I experienced a moment of bliss. We were sitting at the tables outside Pepperdock, feeling the warmth of the sun and looking at the gorgeous beach across the street. Our shakes were cool, thick, and rich—like they were “perfectly pureed,” my older daughter declared. Plus the shakes were so generously sized that my daughters couldn’t finish them, leaving more for me.
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“Is there anything better than having a milkshake on a summer day?” I asked my girls. Which got me thinking: Where could one find the ultimate summer milkshake? Our quest began.
The next Friday after school, we headed to Luna Park Cafe, a few miles up the road from Pepperdock. To us, Luna Park was the defending champion. Although we hadn’t been there in a while, my girls had loved the milkshakes there in the past, which come in beautiful parfait glasses topped with a mound of whipped cream. Even more enticing are the wealth of flavors, including peanut butter, coconut, creamsicle, and banana split, which you can mix and match.
As we sat and waited for our orders, we took in the decor that has always charmed us—a kinetic mix of nostalgia, including a jukebox and a row of ’70s-era lunchboxes hanging from the ceiling. With breezes coming in from the patio, my 11-year-old declared Luna Park the perfect place to while away a summer afternoon.
When our shakes came, banana split for my youngest and a mix of chocolate and mint for my oldest, they were good—but not quite as good as we remembered. Luna Park uses vanilla ice cream for all the shakes, relying on flavored syrups for variety. The result, particularly for the banana-split shake, which uses strawberry, butterscotch, and chocolate syrups as well as a whole banana, relies more on sweetness than depth of flavor.
On to Full Tilt in Columbia City. My youngest daughter was at a Girl Scouts campout, so just my oldest and I shared a chocolate shake. “I really like the flavor,” she said, giving Full Tilt the edge over both Luna Park and Pepperdock, at least for taste. I agreed. The problem: The atmosphere of Full Tilt does not shout summer. It shouts pinball arcade, which it resembles with a line of machines on either side. The room is rather dark unless you’re by the windows up front, which overlook a parking lot.
Searching for atmosphere and flavor, we made one more stop, Molly Moon’s on Capitol Hill. The beloved hipster hangout caters to adult palates with flavors like salted caramel and balsamic strawberry, so I thought it unlikely it could produce the pure, classic shake we were after. I was wrong.
Tastewise, Molly Moon’s was the hands-down winner. A “melted chocolate” shake was indeed reminiscent of a puddle of rich, dark chocolate. The mint flavor in the “Scout mint” shake, which blends Girl Scouts’ Thin Mints cookies into mint ice cream, was intense.
We visited Molly Moon’s on a rainy evening, and so were content to sit by the windows overlooking Cal Anderson Park without feeling a need to be outside. If the sun were blazing, would we go there to quench our thirst? To be honest, I’m not sure, despite the potential of taking our shakes to the park. Cal Anderson is no Alki. But the shakes are so good, I might just try picking up our drinks, hopping in the car, and racing to West Seattle, hoping that our shakes would still be thick and semi-frozen by the time we hit the beach.