Nutella Milk Shake
At 2 AM on a Friday night, when last call warnings turn into blinding lights, chances are you have an appetite. Or at the very least, you’re not ready to go home. But in a place like L.A., where after-parties can be hard to find, and tasty late-night bites even more challenging to obtain, you’re gonna want to head to the one place you can always rely on: Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard. Cue the nostalgic fifties music.
Mel’s Drive-in is not your average diner. It’s what you’ve always imagined and wanted a diner to be. Beyond the retro decor and neon signs, or the funky music and classic burgers and shakes, there’s something special about Mel’s that makes you feel sentimental about a time you’ve probably only seen on television. Maybe it’s the personal juke box stationed in every booth, offering a range of classic oldies that never fail to put you in a good mood. Or maybe it’s the way the waiters and waitresses greet you, with an enthusiasm atypical of most diners.
Or is it the mix of customers that makes Mel’s Drive-In so unique? There’s the neighborhood regulars and the sentimental seniors. The tourists and travelers looking for a taste of history. There’s the young and the trendy, the famous and the hopefuls, all together under one roof, to enjoy what’s left of the night for some, and the beginning of the day for others.
And if you’ve had just enough drinks to make you forget about your something-free diet, you’ll surely want to order a shake. While Mel’s Drive-In now offers healthy options like avocado toast and quinoa salad, it’s hard to walk away without ordering one of their hand-crafted and expertly blended ice cream specialities. Especially when there’s Nutella involved. And luckily, that’s exactly what we have for you this week at Off The Menu. To find out more about the OTM Nutella Shake and the story behind this iconic California diner, we caught up with owner of Mel’s Drive-In, Colton Weiss.
What’s the story behind Mel’s?
I’m actually a third generation restauranteur, my grandfather started Mel’s up in San Francisco in 1947. I couldn’t be happier to continue the legacy of Mel’s Drive-In. When my grandfather opened it, it was the first real car hop, so cars could park tandem and the car hop lady would come up and serve you at your car. That was a big deal at the time, but over the generations, it’s changed. Now it’s just a sit-down diner, but we have seven locations total, and we’re actually opening an eighth in Santa Monica. It falls in line with our 70th anniversary, so we’re really excited about that.
What makes Mel’s Drive in special?
The fact that it’s been around forever makes it a unique spot. We’re now a landmark in both L.A. and San Francisco. We also have a lot of celebrities that come in, like Guy Fierri, Paul McCartney, Hary Stiles, and Justin Bieber to name a few. It’s become a sort of destination place. When people come to L.A. or San Francisco, they want to check out Mel’s.
Has the design of the restaurant changed much over the years?
It’s actually the same design since almost day one. We wanted to continue the fifties style that we started with. But our menu has evolved since then to cater to the hip crowd that comes in here now. We have gluten-free and vegan options, grass-fed beef, organic eggs, and all that great stuff.
Why did you choose the Nutella Shake for the Off The Menu item?
We have a bunch of European vacationers that come in and they’re always requesting Nutella for their toast. We ended up ordering it because we like to give the customers what they want. So I already had the Nutella for that, but then I thought it would be a match made in heaven if we threw the Nutella in a milkshake. And people seem to really go crazy for it.
How do you make the Nutella Shake?
First off, we use real ice cream, that’s a big trick. We never use that blended powder stuff. With the vanilla ice cream, we’ll blend in the Nutella and some whole milk. It’s the best shake in town.
What do you recommend pairing with the shake?
My favorite thing right now is our grass-fed burgers. We just switched all our beef to grass-fed, which is a healthier alternative to the corn-fed. The flavor is fantastic, and goes great with the shake.
Which dish would you deem most iconic at Mel’s?
Our burgers are of course where we started, but now we’ve moved on to some healthier items, like the popular quinoa salad. For a truly iconic dish though, I would have to say it’s the milkshake now. When people talk about Mel’s, they usually talk about how great the milkshakes are. We were actually voted “Best Milkshake in Town” by LA magazine.
Who develops the recipes?
It’s been a joint effort between my partner, the chefs, and I. But really, it’s what the customers ask for. I’m also a graduate of the Cordon Bleu, so I’ve been coming up with dishes here and there. A big trendy dish we recently put on the menu is the avocado toast, which we do real simple, with 9-grain bread, fresh avocado, and organic eggs. People absolutely love that dish.
Which shift is the busiest at Mel’s?
We’re open breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which are all quite busy, but the busiest time for us is late night. We see the most people probably from two to five in the morning, because that’s when our bar rush is. All the bars in L.A. and San Francisco close at two, and people want to go and grab something to eat after their night out. We blast music, people order food, and it’s a party in here. I like to say Mel’s is the after-party.
Speaking of after parties, we actually have a bar in Hollywood that most people don’t know about. I just re-named it “The Black Door Bar” and we’re in the process of revamping the place. The reason for the name is that there’s a secret entrance in the back of the alley, and you enter like a speakeasy through the black door to get to the bar. It’s all closed off and separate from Mel’s but you can still get Mel’s food. We also have a great Happy Hour with draft beers and cocktails.