For 60 years, Sacramentans have been seeking brief respite from the city's torrid summer heat in a sweet and fruity slush called "Merlino's freeze." The Merlino family no longer makes the freezes, but the icy concoctions, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, live on.
The freezes are especially welcome during heat waves like the one we're weathering right now, which prompted me to drop in to two places with Merlino's ties.
The first was Hagen's The Original Orange Freeze at 2520 Walnut Ave. in Carmichael. The Merlinos ran a freeze stand on the site until it closed about six years ago. After the place stood idle a couple of years, Temme and Toy Hagen, both of whom had worked for the Merlinos, reopened it in 2003. Temme Hagen says he and his wife make the freezes just as the Merlinos began to make them in 1946, with fresh fruit, squeezed daily.
Our second stop was Mr. Pickle's, a sandwich shop at Folsom Boulevard and 32nd Street, whose owners, Jo Jo Martinez and Javier Ramos, recently bought the Merlino's brand, including the family recipes.
At both stores we ordered small orange and strawberry freezes - $2.09 each at Hagen's, $3 each at Mr. Pickle's. Both looked to be about the same size, 9 ounces or so.
Despite the family links, the freezes were surprisingly different. The Hagen's versions were fruitier, sweeter and more finely textured, with an almost creamy consistency; they invited you to play with your freeze, using the edge of the spoon to peel off tastes in fine ribbons while sculpting the icy mound into a miniature version of Half Dome.
The Mr. Pickle's versions were made with more coarsely shaved ice, flakes of which occasionally froze into small, firm chunks. They weren't as easy to play with, their citric flavors not as pronounced. Nevertheless, on any day when the temperature nears 100 degrees they're cool and refreshing. I'd like one right now, but I also still have to check out the snowcones at Osaka Ya along 10th Street, another popular Sacramento hot-weather destination.