Coffee Cabinet - Gastro Obscura


Coffee Cabinet

The uniquely Rhode Island treat is a relic from the era of soda fountain pharmacies.

Diners who sidle up to the counter at Delekta Pharmacy in the seaside town of Warren, Rhode Island, may feel like they’ve discovered a portal to the turn of the 20th century. 

Nestled on a corner of Main Street, the 161-year-old business houses a classic soda fountain matched by its historic menu. Display cases full of curiosities harken back to the storefront’s days as a pharmacy (it stopped filling prescriptions in 2017) and penny candy—which now costs 15 cents—lines the counter. Soda and ice cream are on offer, but Delekta’s specialty is the “cabinet.” They make a few different flavors, but the real star of the show is the coffee cabinet.

To understand a cabinet (as anything other than a storage unit), one ought to know Rhode Island’s official beverage: coffee milk, or coffee syrup and milk. When a soda jerk blends ice cream into the state drink, it becomes a coffee cabinet. But despite the dessert’s place in Rhode Island history, no one seems to be able to place its origin or naming story. Locals suspect that the title refers to the wooden cabinet behind the counter where the mixer was kept. As such, customers looking to have their drink blended with ice cream asked for “the cabinet.”

Visitors to Rhode Island might be surprised to see both milkshakes and cabinets on menus. In local parlance, a traditional “milkshake” describes exactly that: a blend milk and syrup, shaken. The cabinet, on the other hand, blends ice cream into the mix. Sure, this might fit the standard definition of “milkshake” elsewhere, but if you want an ice cream–based beverage in Rhode Island, remember to ask for a cabinet.

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