My flavor this week was Peanut Butter Cookie.
I do not have multimedia verification of this, but trust me, I am certain that I asked for a small Peanut Butter Cookie shake.
I also know and have verification that after I ordered it, “Peanut Butter Cookie” was not what the cashier rang up, nor was it what appeared on the receipt. Instead, it was this:
Cookie Dough. Not Peanut Butter Cookie. Cookie Dough.
Curiously, there is no Cookie Dough shake flavor on Sonic’s entire menu.
I didn’t say a thing about it. The Sonic was hopping (with the previously-chronicled cadre of people on their lunch breaks and families seeking a respite from the heat). And I (as also previously chronicled) do not like confrontation, especially with service workers who already get treated like shit all the time, plus I figured this poor woman and her lovely electric blue acrylics deserved to not get any frivolous nonsense from some white idiot ordering a shake as a meal in the middle of the fucking day. So I decided to just ride out this whole big misunderstanding and see what would come of it.
I should have known I was in for a ride. As I waited for the shake, another patron came up to the counter to complain about her order, and an older, more seasoned managerial type said, “They messed you up again? I’m sorry, let me fix that, you want the burger with no extras right?”
“No extras, no cheese, no nothing,” the woman confirmed.
The manager took the unwanted burger in her hands like it was a soiled diaper and said, “You know what, they’re always messing your orders up. Just ask for me from now on.”
The woman nodded serenely and stood right in front of the cashier, waiting. She was a good sport. Not one minute later, the managerial type came out again, gave a little boy a sack of fries, and apologized to him for some other, unrelated mistake.
All of which is to say, I should have seen it coming.
— — –
This shake is an enigma. Even before I got it, I harbored serious reservations and questions. What distinguished Peanut Butter Cookie from its older, more classic sister flavor, the Peanut Butter Milkshake? What gave the shake its cookieish essence? Would there be warm, sodden cookie chunks layered throughout, like chunks of raw ore in an undisturbed coal mine?
Furthermore, why was the Peanut Butter Cookie shake grouped away from the other Peanut Butter flavors on the shake menu, placed above Jalepeno Chocolate like an unwanted antique in the attic? And why was the shake menu not fucking alphabetized in general?
But after the Cookie Dough receipt mishap, I was left with several additional questions. Would cookie dough particles be added to the regular Peanut Butter shake varietal, to lend it a vaguely cookieish essence? Or was “Cookie Dough” just an error in the computer system, when what was truly meant was just “Cookie”? Most importantly, WHERE WAS COOKIE DOUGH ON THE SHAKE MENU? According to Sonic’s promotional materials, there is no Cookie Dough flavor.
First impression: It smelled like cookie dough. Or rather, like a cheap brand of cookie dough ice cream, or a vat of the pre-made cookie dough that you can buy in the freezer section of the grocery story and carve your way through with a spoon while watching TV. I began to suspect this was not a Peanut Butter shake at all.
Nick got his order and we sat down to eat. I struggled to suck up a small taste of the shake’s thick, creamy contents. Flavor first impressions: it is fucking cookie dough. There is not a hint of peanut butter to be found in it. No chunks, and no nuts. And yet..there are no cookie chunks or hints of chocolate chip to be found, either.
I began to probe the shake with a spoon (which is an eating method I highly recommend, by the way). Creamy, vaguely sweet brownness was evident throughout. The melted, liquefied edges of the shake seemed to hold the most flavor, but even there the identity of the shake was just outside of my grasp. I realized I was eating the shake quite fast, shoveling it into my mouth and flopping it around with my tongue, trying to suss out the true flavor but never being fully satisfied.
I was pretty sure it was cookie dough.
This was not a satisfying conclusion though. Why was it cookie dough??
Cookie Dough is not a flavor on the menu???
I might have ordered it if it was!
But it wasn’t!
I handed the shake over to Nick. “Try this,” I said.
He took a spoonful. Sloshed it around his mouth and swallowed. Then he took another. And another. He pressed his lips together and contemplated.
“It tastes like nothing,” he said.
— — –
I ate more of the shake, more slowly at first, allowing myself to scrutinize it. Maybe it tasted like nothing after all? I couldn’t point to any feature that made it obviously cookie doughish.
There were no chunks.
There was no distinguishing mouthfeel.
I couldn’t explain what about it evoked cookie, and the more I searched, the less flavor I found.
But it was brown. Vanilla was white.
What was this mystifying shake?
The more I ate, the more it tasted like nothing.
Just sweet cream dotted with granules of ice.
But I liked it…?
— — –
I liked this shake the most of all the ones I’ve tried so far???
— — –
The flavor was intriquing. Drinking this sweet apparition was like seeing someone familiar in the corner of your eye and turning to look them straight on, but having them dart away from view at the last moment, never allowing you to catch them. I just kept drinking and drinking, almost capturing a recognizable flavor on my tongue each time, only to have it dissolve and dissipate into the ether of my consciousness. So I kept drinking, eagerly chasing after the specter of a flavor, lost in a clouded haze of sweetness and cream.
It made me question even the concept of cookie dough flavor. What is a cookie but an amalgam of flour, sugar, egg, brown sugar, baking soda, and vanilla? What distinguishes it from, say, a thick and creamy milkshake, save for the presence of flour?
When we taste a cookie, do we scrutinize it for a rich and identifiable cookie flavor? No. We do not. We place our trust in the browned outer layer, and the yielding, pillowy taupe softness that lies beneath. We hold the object in our hands and perceive it as a unified gestalt — the form and function of a cookie. We do not question whether the cookie is cookie through and through, retaining its cookieish essence down to the smallest of its parts.
Does that excuse the lack of cookie flavor in this milkshake? Or of any flavor at all? No. There is no absolution to be found in pointing out another’s failings. But it does make me feel like a fool for believing in the concept of “flavor” when I embarked on this enterprise.
— — –
Thank you, Sonic. For making me think.
Originally published at sonicshotclub.tumblr.com.