When I first heard last summer that Wichita was getting a dessert restaurant, I imagined dim lighting, cozy round tables for two, waiters in bow ties and lots of fancy cheesecake.
I was pretty far off base. But Cliff Bragg, who opened Milkfloat with his wife, Dee Ann, last October at 535 W. Douglas, had a better, more modern vision. And it looks like Wichita has embraced it – especially the younger set.
His Milkfloat is a sweets emporium that serves playful, colorful and buttery cookies, pies, homemade pop tarts, brownies and ice cream – plus coffee, tea and homemade soda.
It’s not so much a cozy cheesecake shop but more of a hip and cavernous cafeteria-style dessert hangout with high ceilings, shared tables and people lost in their computers, engrossed in board games or deep in conversation.
If I ran it, I might make a few refinements, but as already demonstrated, Bragg is the expert here. Either way, the restaurant is a nice addition to Delano, and best of all, it brings a concept Wichita didn’t already have.
▪ On the menu: Milkfloat offers a rotating menu, meaning that pastry chef Kaitlyn Huber switches what’s in the bakery case every couple of months. And a lot of what she creates serves as an ode to a recognizable candy bar or mass-produced bakery items. The menu I’m about to describe will last only for another week before it’s replaced with all new seasonal offerings. But generally, the shop has inventive pies, cookies, cakes and puddings in its case, and it almost always has a variety of homemade pop tarts on hand. Among the items it’s featured on past menus: Key lime pie, mixed berry galettes, vegan chocolate cake, peanut butter pie with pretzel crust, butterscotch oatmeal cookies, Twix pop tarts, tres leches cake, Cap’n Crunch pie, Thin Mint pie, King cakes and Rice Krispies treats made with Lucky Charms.
Milkfloat also is an unexpected place to cure your ice cream cravings. It offers soft-serve in chocolate, vanilla or twist flavors, which can be served in bowls and topped with sugary cereal, piped into chocolate-dipped and candy-coated waffle cones or blended into shakes and malts.
It also has a menu of homemade Italian sodas, fancy coffee drinks and tea served in pretty, individual carafes.
▪ Don’t-miss dishes: In its early days of business, it felt like Milkfloat never had enough in its pastry cabinet. If you’re used to the overwhelming variety at La Galette or Bagatelle, the offerings might seem a bit sparse.
But each dessert the shop offers is rich, dense and so sweet, it’ll take you a while to work though the menu.
What is in the case is gorgeous. On our most recent visit, we tried a little bit of everything, starting with a homemade S’mores pop tart. It was enormous, and unlike store-bought, packaged pop tarts, its chocolate pastry was thick and flaky and filled with two layers of rich, thick chocolate. On top was a massive amount of toasted marshmallow, artfully seared to a golden brown and drizzled with chocolate. It didn’t taste at all like the packaged pies of your childhood breakfast-on-the-go, but that’s a good thing.
Perhaps our most decadent choice was a piece of Almond Joy pie, an extra-tall slice made on a graham cracker crust with a layer of chocolate topped with almonds topped with dense coconut cream topped with a mountain of fresh whipped cream and garnished with toasted sweet coconut. This is one case where the finished product is far superior to the product that inspired it.
The cookies at Milkfloat also are pretty unbelievable. For one, they’re huge – probably at least 6 inches in diameter – and they’re also outstandingly buttery and sugary. They usually have three flavors at once, and at the moment, there’s a lemon cookie that’s exploding with citrus flavor, a dark chocolate cookie covered with chocolate frosting and topped with a crunched-up Butterfinger candy bar, and an M&M cookie that’s half dipped in chocolate. All are crispy on the edges but soft in the middle.
Milkfloat also makes unusual desserts you’re not going to find in other Wichita restaurants, and they’re worth a try. We loved the sweet corn blackberry pudding, served in a disposable plastic tub that looks like glass from a distance and allows a dramatic view of the guts of the dessert. The pudding is dense and slightly sweet with a subtle corn flavor, and it’s studded with blackberries and topped with whipped cream. And the salted honey pie is made on a chewy homemade crust and topped with flaked bits of salt, providing delightful flavor and texture contrasts.
Milkfloat also always has little parfait-like cups of cake available. They’re served in disposable clear plastic containers, too, allowing a view of the inside – alternating layers of cake, cream and other ingredients. They’re all topped with frosting or whipped cream or some other sweet garnish, and kids love them. Milkfloat also makes vegan desserts, and on our visit, it had a vegan strawberry passion fruit cheesecake for sale.
My only complaint about the baked goods is that often, selections are sold out. And every so often, you’ll get one that’s been on display longer than it should have been. On one visit, for example, we bought a layered cake cup whose whipped cream had turned hard on top and whose cake had dried out. But the next time we ordered it, it was fresh and worth the calories.
We also tried Milkfloat’s coffee drinks, ordering a Chai latte and a vanilla latte. Both tasted exactly as they should, but ours were served lukewarm and were cold within minutes.
▪ Ambience: The dining room is huge, and the owners have filled it with a variety of wood-topped tables and white retro bucket chairs. At the front of the store are three large tables that seat eight people each. Smaller tables for four and two dot the room. The walls are brick, and the decorator chose lots of modern Ikea-esque light fixtures. A lighted sign on the wall that reads “Celebrate Dessert” is a nice touch. There’s even a giant Lego wall in the back where the kids can play. And don’t forget to go to the back to look into the kitchen, which is visible through a glass wall.
Somehow, though, the space feels oddly empty and seems like it could use more furniture or maybe a couple of cozy couch and coffee table sets.
My biggest complaint is that the restaurant sets out tubs meant to collect dirty dishes on a counter right beside its supply of self-serve water, napkins and utensils. I don’t really want to bus my own table, but worse, I don’t want to look at a bunch of dirty, crusty dishes while I’m getting my fork. But that’s happened every time I’ve visited.
Still, Milkfloat has a happy vibe, and it seems to have become a hangout for college students. It’s often just as crowded and hopping at 12:30 p.m. as it is at 8 p.m.
▪ Price range: Those giant cookies are $2.50 each or three for $7. Individual servings of pies, cakes and puddings range from $4.50 to $6 apiece. Coffee drinks are in the $3 to $4 range. Hand-crafted sodas are $2.50 and $3. Shakes and malts are $6. Ice cream is $3. Milkfloat also will do whole pies and cakes by special order.
▪ Service: The staff members behind the counter are warm, friendly and helpful.
If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
Where: 535 W. Douglas, 316-558-8440
Type of food: Desserts, ice cream, tea and coffee drinks
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
Website: www.milkfloat.com, and be sure to take a look because it includes stunning dessert photography