Would you like to return to mid-century America? We might feel ambivalent about some parts of that trip, but there is one we'd surely relish: a summer-night visit to Leon's in a tailfinned convertible Eldorado. Here is an old-fashioned drive-in that is a neon-edged fun ride for anybody with a sweet tooth and an appreciation for the profound goodness of custard.
Custard looks like soft-serve ice cream and the broadest definition of frozen desserts might lump the two together. But as Leon's makes it, there is virtually no similarity to the wan soft-serve available in national chains outside of America's dairyland. And to compare it to the sort of ice cream that you buy by the pint in grocery stores – even the superpremium brands – is like comparing vintage Burgundy to screw-top wine. This custard is egg-rich, smooth as alabaster, sweet but not cloying, and uncomplicated. No mix-ins, no silly names for flavors, no cookie dough or brownie chunks. Choose vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or butter pecan. Have it in a cone or cup. Or have a sundae topped with sauce of your choice and some of the most delicious toasted nuts on the planet: pecan halves that have a wicked crunch, a salty punch, and an earthy flavor that only helps accentuate the heavenly clarity of the superior custard itself.
Dining facilities at Leon's are limited to a few chest-high counters around the side of the drive-in. Most customers eat standing up or sitting in their parked cars.
"A Leon's "Super Sundae." Jane was delighted that the sauce menu included both butterscotch and caramel (so often confused or not differentiated). This one is topped with caramel. And oh, those salty-crunchy-rich nuts!"
"This cone features long, elegant swirls of the delicious raspberry custard."
"Looks simple … and it is. But there really is no need to complicate things at Leon's, where chocolate and vanilla are each their perfect selves. This four-dip cup could not be improved."
"The glowing red neon serves as a beacon for custard lovers all over southeast Wisconsin."
"Leon's is a fast-food icon on 27th Street. For most Milwaukeeans, it's always been there, always will be."