Dates grow abundantly in the Valley, but for most of us, date shakes are synonymous with road trips to San Diego. We stop at Date Land along Interstate 8 to gas up, use a clean gas station bathroom and consume sweet and chewy dates in the only way some of us know how -- through a straw.
Unfortunately Date Land is beyond our daily reach. But there are two places in town that spin up their own versions even better than the original.
In This Corner: Joe's Farm Grill Joe's Farms Grill reminds us to live off the land, sourcing many of its ingredients from the Agritopia farms next door. Stacked on the same tray as your farm burger, you can bet that the fresh strawberry, real vanilla bean, and Agritopia medjool date shakes get the same treatment.
The Good: The base of the shake is soft serve, so it goes down smooth without ever separating. It's never too sweet, and tastes like vanilla for a couple sips until you encounter some of the sweeter flakes of date sprinkled throughout, which only get stronger as you go but never clog the straw.
The Bad: Though a date shake can get too sweet too fast, this one could use a bit more date. Someone unfamiliar with the date flavor could think, at least until they get to the chunks at the bottom, that they were served merely a unique vanilla bean shake.
In The Other Corner: Sphinx Date Ranch Located just a few blocks south of Old Town Scottsdale, this place specializes in a unique varietal of date: Black Sphinx, which is a bit less common and more revered than its brothers.
The Good: Same as Joe's, this is a vanilla shake with fresh dates blended in (none of the viscous syrup flavoring we find at most joints). The dates are much less ground up in this shake, so when you stumble on a chunk you find out what makes the Black Sphinx famous. They're still just as chewy, but taste like rich pieces of fruity caramel and marshmallow - it's better than than candy.
The Bad: In a medium shake they throw in as many as three whole dates, which feels equivalent to eating a few candy bars. The only other ingredients (standard vanilla ice cream and powdered milk) don't do much to balance out all of that flavor.
The Winner: Joe's Farm Grill
It is possible to get too much of a good thing, and even caramel-like Black Sphinx Dates apply (which admittedly, by themselves, we prefer to the more plain and sharp tasting medjool dates). The shake at Black Sphinx Date Ranch starts as a winner because of it's unique flavor, but quickly becomes a bit much to handle. Joe's Farm Grill's offering is milder, sure, but gets better and just as enjoyable as the date flavor builds, delightfully sweet the whole ride. If you want the date bomb, you'll find some extra date once you reach the bottom.
Joe's is a shake you'll order again, so long as the Agritopia dates are in-season. Sphinx is an experience, and likely one of your few run-ins with that particular varietal. But to each their own. If only all dates had such a happy ending.