If your kids don't know what a real malted milkshake tastes like or if you just need a rush of nostalgia, hurry yourselves to Hampden and check out Hometown Girl's newly installed old-fashioned soda fountain.
Owners Chris Swift and Mary Pat Andrea have built a thriving business catering to hometown whims, first with their store Celebrate Baltimore at Harborplace and then at Hometown Girl, an eclectic store on 36th Street.
Now they are following in the footsteps of Andrea's grandparents, offering a place to gather for ice-cream sodas, malted milkshakes, Italian sodas and even hot-fudge sundaes.
With its green-swirled marble bar and the milkshake and soda dispensers reflected in a large mirror, Hometown Girl offers a soda experience that's reminiscent of the drugstores and confectionaries of a century ago.
At least that's the goal. Andrea's grandfather, an Italian immigrant who settled in Kenosha, Wis., was a confectioner specializing in ice cream. Still in business, his company, Andrea's, has the distinction of inadvertently inventing fudge-swirled ice cream (the process is called rippling).
Following Andrea's tradition, Hometown Girl also features soda-fountain drinks - carbonated water mixed with cola or Italian syrups, along with milkshakes and malts.
Hometown Girl is located in the former Cavacos Pharmacy & Confectionery, which once operated a soda fountain. The store's tin ceiling and Victorian feel add to the charm of the experience.
Andrea says the soda fountain makes sense, given her family's history and the nature of the Hampden community.
"I think the neighborhood is still the kind of place where people like soda-fountain drinks," she says.
A trial run with a trio of 10-year-olds produced high marks for the chocolate malt, root-beer float and strawberry shake. The hot-fudge sundae was also a hit. Italian sodas ranging in price from $1.75 to $2.25 are a popular choice for many customers. The fountain offers 18 soda flavors, ranging from classics like lime, cherry and strawberry to more unusual ones like hazelnut and Irish cream.
Adults may want to opt for an espresso drink or even regular coffee. And plenty of folks are bound to love the old-fashioned egg cream, a $2 beverage that chief soda jerk Swift describes as a "handmade Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink."
Hometown Girl is located at 1001 W. 36th St. in Hampden (410-662-4438). The soda fountain is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The soda fountain is closed on Mondays. Hours will be expanded in the summer.
Hometown Girl Chocolate Ice-Cream Soda
Makes one serving
1 tablespoon vanilla ice cream
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
carbonated water to taste
generous scoop of vanilla ice cream
Mix 1 tablespoon ice cream into chocolate syrup. Add carbonated water to taste (see note). Balance the scoop of vanilla ice cream on the lip of the glass.
Variation: To make a Hometown Girl Chocolate Egg-Cream Soda, omit the final scoop of ice cream.
Note: Soda fountains, at least the old-style ones, have two strengths of carbonation and can create a frothier drink than is possible from bottled carbonated water.