Memorable | One of the Best
Shields Date Gardens | Date Shakes in Retro California
Review by: Michael Stern
When California Was the End of the Rainbow
Seeking southern California’s date shakes, we went to Shields Date Gardens on Highway 111. Here we came upon a virtual time machine. Shields provides a taste of early 20th century California. How strange that it still exists in Coachella Valley, which has become a premier golf/resort/retirement paradise! The vintage roadside attraction doesn’t seem to have changed in decades. It hearkens back to a time when the California desert was as exotic-seeming as Araby.
All About the Date
Located alongside a grove of stately palm trees, Shields is an airy showroom for dates and date products available by mail order. These include spectacularly sweet and creamy Super Jumbo Royal Medjools, deglets (semi-dry, smaller dates), date bits (like you’d get in trail mix), and date crystals. The crystals, which Shields invented, are dried date bits suitable for cooking. All these things are on display and available to buy and eat immediately.
Souvenir hunters will find photographic slides that show attractions of the California desert. Booklets tell the story of Floyd and Bess Shields, who began to cultivate and sell dates here in 1924. For free, you can step into a small theater to the side of the showroom. Here patrons watch a short film titled ‘The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.’ It explains the life cycle of what the narrator describes as “the least understood of all fruits.”
At the counter, customers enjoy two prepared foods: date ice cream and date shakes. The former laces vanilla ice cream with shreds of date. The date shake is super sweet and as rich as butter – a taste of California when the Golden State was luxurious.
Stroll behind the front room and you find a sit-down cafe. Here the menu does include such date items as jalapeno & cheese-stuffed dates, dateburgers, and date pancakes. But the cafe kitchen devotes most of its attention to such Mexican specialties as chilaquiles for breakfast and tacos or nachos for lunch. As retro as Shields Date Gardens feels up front, this cafe is modern. It offers hormone- and antibiotic-free beef and free-range chicken. Freshly baked bread contains no preservatives or additives. Breakfast includes a “fit omelet” made of egg whites; and lunch features such nutritionally enlightened items as a summer berry salad and a portobello “burger.”
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