Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ice Cream!

Here's an overview of ice cream places in Chicago that I wrote in May, 2002. I've updated since, with dates. I have also deleted closed places.

Palazzolo's Gelato (Available at Pronto Roma River Forest Town Center Lake and Harlem, River Forest) - Even though Pronto Roma is Sophia's favorite place, even more fav. than Flat Top, I'll warn against it. The Al Gelato Pronto served was much, much better than the gritty, bland Palazzolo stuff. Oddly, Local Palate loves it. UPDATE: Had their ice cream on 8/6/03. They've fixed their freezer, soupy ice cream has been a problem. The flavors are strong, but almost too strong, like their is something un-natural about them. This stuff still reminds of a factory rendition of what gelato should be.

Grampy's Frozen Custard (1 W. Illinois, St. Charles) - Never tried, but I am instantly attracted to the words, frozen custard. Without employment from AA, I've had no reason to visit St. Charles until now. UPDATE: Still have not tried, anyone?

Freddy's (16th near Ridgeland, Cicero) - Yes. UPDATE: A few weeks ago, I had the nutella, the sweet cream plain based mixed with nutella. So good that I ended up eating about a pint in one sitting.

Cunis Candies (1030 E. 162, South Holland) - An old fashioned Margiesque place I NEED to try. South Holland? UPDATE: Still have not tried. UPDATE 4/29/04 - Paul Mollica, in scolding me for not getting to South Holland, states of Cunis, "Everything about this place speaks of quality and care: the ice cream, the sauces and the nuts all fresh and top-drawer. Fresh fruit ice creams in season and turtle sundaes anytime of year."

Sukhadia's Sweets (2559 W. Devon, Chicago) - Zim's commented on this, right? I do love the just frozen texture and ultra creaminess of Indian ice cream. UPDATE: Here's what Zim wrote in July, 03, "Unfortunately the kulfi (malai-cream, pistachio, and mango) now looks like its shipped in pre-made, I've got a couple in the freezer but haven't tried them out yet. But they also offer homemade ice cream. Most of the flavors are nothing special just good versions of something that might be in a Neapolitan brick, not gourmet ulra-fresh strawberry sorbet, but to satisfy kids. However, there's always a couple ringer flavors that are interesting and pretty good. Last night it was walnut. I'm not sure its a destination ice cream place, but if you're on Devon and feel like something cold you could do a lot worse." UPDATE 4/29/04 - Stirsy reminds me that Sukhadia is closed, perhaps to re-open. He suggests King Sweets for Indian ice cream on da'bomb. On Easter, the VI family visted the chaat shop that formerly held the Indian-Chinese place. Somewhere on the messy VI desk is its name, and at some point, I will do a brief report on this Bombay influenced place. UPDATE 4/30/04 - Zim reports that Sukhadia will re-open, and hopefully fix their chaotic ordering system. He also notes that for Indian style ice cream, right now, he'd suggest Rajbhog. He sez, "Rajbhog offers commercial stuff, made by the Rajbhog home base in NJ, but most of the places on Devon (including I think King sweets) are serving Rajbhog, so why not get it from their branch."

Penguin (2723 W. Lawrence, Chicago) - Famous chowhound discovery, proving definitively to me that I did not know everything about Chicago chow. Go for the friendly owners as well as the great ice cream. UPDATE The key thing at Penguin is too sample extensively. All those in the know, know that when the Penguin stuff sits around, it rots. Rookies occasionally complain that is not all its cracked up to be because they end up with a stale flavor. Try before buying.

Bittersweet (1114 W. Belmont, Chicago) - Ice cream's a new addition, but everything else is so delicious, I have high hopes. UPDATE: Sheila and I have had their ice cream a few times each summer. I never see anyone else order the ice cream when we go, nor do I remember too many comments on the board. Too bad. You can really taste the egg yolks in this stuff. A recent lemon verbena tasted like frozen pastry cream, and that is a compliment. Do try.

Homer's (1237 Green Bay, Wilmette) - I only get the Prairie Berry. Very rich ice cream. UPDATE: Interestingly, in 2002, we had one poster glorifying their hot fudge and another poster saying she liked everything BUT the hot fudge.

Oberweis (various locations) - Great, high fat ice cream, fair sundae toppings. Extreme right wing politics keeps Ms. VI away.

Soups and Scoops (2534 N. Clark, Chicago) - It promises homemade gelato, and the coupon offers 50% off the second scoop. Very close to Wiener Circle. UPDATE: Never did more than see an ad, anyone ever try. There's another place close by, see Ice Dreams below. Anyone ever try?

Zephyr's (Wilson and Ravenswood, Chicago) - Modern take on the traditional ice cream parlor. Full coffee shop menu as well as sundaes, soda's, etc. Their ice cream has a strong yellow tint that seems un-natural to me. Cathy2 is a bigger fan than me. She's written, "The whipping cream is made with a rich high-fat cream. They make their own ice cream. For years, we always got individual 2-scoop hot fudge sundaes until one day we ordered "War of the Worlds." You cannot beat a 10-scoop ice cream sundae with 4-toppings, slivered almonds, cookies, cherries and my special request of extra-extra whipping cream for $8.95. We always have someone who digs out their favorite ice cream flavor at an inconvenient location -- causing everyone to use their spoon to balance this monster sundae."

Sweeties (Clark, near Wrigley Field) - AnnieB mentioned this place in the last ice cream round up. I've never been, but here's what she said, "The owners are nice, Sweeties serves a good value of soup/chili/jambalaya in different sizes, a pasta of the day for around $5 (some of this stuff is only in winter) and a full array of ice cream, candies, and penny candy. The ice cream comes from someplace that is supposed to mean something to folks around here. Everyone I've been there with (used to work right around the corner) thought it was quite good ice cream. The berry smoothie things are good. The penny candy is a hoot. The ice cream cakes and pies look really good and I've heard that they're quite delicious. It's a nice change of pace in the area, fun with kids on game day."

Rainbow Cone (9233 S. Western Ave) - This should have been an obvious choice for the Westernathon, but they were on vacation during our adventure. Amazingly, I have never had the famous cone in its home setting. I've only had it at Taste of Chicago. For those who are unfamiliar, the Rainbow cone is a combination of ice creams (and orange sherbet) on a cone. Perfect for those who cannot make up their mind. I know some people find the amalgamation of flavors counter-productive. Paul Mollica's sez, "I don't know why anyone would drive here for anything but a Rainbow Cone. You will not mistake this for a high-quality, riot-of-butterfat product; the sauces and whipped cream are run-of-the-mill; and they don't sell corn or yam flavored scoops. But try it anyway."

Massa (North Avenue, near Johnnie's Italian Beef, Elmwood Park) - Massa makes its own gelato, mostly from cans of base imported from Italy. The stuff is smooth and rich and mostly very good. Sometimes, especially during the summer, there will be true homemade flavors made from various fruits. Look mostly for the stuff with handwritten signs.

Village Creamery (two locations 4558 Oakton, Skokie and 8000 Waukegan, Niles) - Village Creamery is mostly famous for its various Filipino flavors including very purple (ube) yam and sweet corn. In addition, they do a variety of gelato-ish flavors using the same imported bases as Massa. UPDATE (8/15/03) I think Zim sez it best, "that quite a bit of the appeal to their ice cream resides in offering flavors unavailable elsewhere."

Scooters (1658 W Belmont, Chicago) - Scooters claims to be the only place in Chicago selling true frozen custard, custard in the style of Ted Drewes in St. Louis or Kopps in Milwaukee. Being pretty un-experienced with real custards, I cannot really place this place against the standards, but I found it plenty good. When I first went, I thought they swirled the ice cream instead of letting it fall into a bin for scooping. This led to a bit of controversy on chowhound, with Scooters vehemently denying it. On my second visit, they clearly were scooping. Scooping, for those who wonder the fuss, produces a much better mouth fee than swirling. Here's what the Ultimo, GWiv, said about Scooters, "The husband and wife team who own and operate Scooter's are very friendly and were quite open to my questions. No, they are not part of a chain, this is their only store, yes they have been to Kopp's in Milwaukee many times and think it is exceptional. Scooter's, while the same style as Kopp's, is 10% butterfat, as opposed to Kopp's 13.5-14%. I can say, having been to Kopp's just last Saturday, that Scooter's compared favorably to Kopp's though, as a Milwaukee native, Kopp's will always remain #1 in my book. The custard was a reasonable $6 per quart and when I asked for a cup of coffee they made a fresh pot using Intelligentsia coffee. Based on one brief visit I quite like Scooter's, though what's not to like about good custard"

Ice Dreams (2865 N. Clark, Chicago) - I have never been. Here's what Joan had to say, "a new ice cream place opened last week. they have gelato and American ice cream (their term). the 2 flavors of gelato i tried were very good. the mango tasted like it was made with super ripe fruit. the bacio (hazelnut and chocolate) was plenty nutty tasting and not overly sweet, which is my biggest problem with most ice cream. i actually prefer Eddy's frozen yogurts and light ice creams to most of the sweeter and more caloric ice creams i try in ice cream shops." UPDATE: 3/28/04 - Tried, sampling plenty of flavors. Tasted weak and overly soft. Apparently no base, but also extracts. UPDATE 4/29/04 - Shannon Clark disagrees with my assessment. He likes the place.

Snookelfriz (Green City Market, Clark near North Avenue) - Joan discovered this very interesting sounding ice cream being sold ONLY at the Wednesday Green City Market. Here's her comments, "There's some new and tasty ice cream in town, but don't get too excited unless you can get to the green city market, Wednesdays between 7am-1pm in Lincoln Park.

Margie's Candy (Western/Armitage/Milwaukee) - This is pretty much it when you are talking about classic ice cream parlors within the Chicago city limits. Cramped and sometimes suffering from surly servers, but still capable of glamorous sundaes and other treats. I loved my recent turtle sundae. Cathy2 presented a dissenting view, "I love whipping cream, thus my first spoonful was the whipped cream. Right there, I was disappointed as the whipping cream was lower on the fat scale, thin and not too pleasant. The ice cream wasn't outstanding. The hot fudge was a very generous quantity, which tasted like Nestle's semisweet morsels. I'm glad to have tried it for simply the experience."

Petersen's (1104 Chicago Ave, Oak Park) - You would think that I'd have more to say about a rather famous place in my home town, but I am not a huge fan of Petersen's. Their ice cream itself is good enough, just not really wow-ful. The hot fudge is very poor and reminds me mostly of Smuckers. Petersen's has two sides, a restaurant side and a counter side. I mostly stick to the counter which is for cones. Petersen's changed ownership about a year ago, and the new owner makes some excellent candies, especially the caramels.

Marble Slab (940 Church Street, Evanston/7154 Carpenter Road, Skokie) - I have never tried. Zim, who with Joan, is the primary scout of ice cream places had this to say in 02, "There are about 15 flavors, each very rich, but not assertively flavored (with the exception of the lemon custard I tried) because the shtick here is the mix-in on the slab and I guess if the flavors were stronger the mix-ins wouldn't go as well...A couple minor gripes: about those waffle cones, they offer a number of different dips and flavors, but they didn't on the ones we tried out have much real flavor to them and more annoyingly feature a large nickel-size whole in the bottom for your ice-cream to leak out of. Maybe because it was new and the line was long of folks who have never been there before and were tasting flavors and the staff hadn't had a chance to get into a groove of doing the mix-ins on the slab, the line moves glacially. I think it will get a little quicker as the newness wears off the but the slab mix-in thing ensures that it will stay a little slow. Also did i mention it's kinda steep for a waffle cone - $3.50"

Sweet Occasions - (4639 N. Damen, Chicago) - Has gotten some recent attention on the board. In 02, I said, "black raspberry truffle was their most popular choice...This IS their best. Smooth cream, toothsome chocolate pieces and strong fruit flavor...The chocolate also possessed a pleasing smooth texture. Chocolate flavor played a role, but it did not overpower. Butterfat also played a role, but also did not really get out there. I suppose in wine ratings, balance can be key, and this ice cream was balanced nicely between texture, flavor and richness, but I guess I want a little more than balance."

Hartigan's Ice Cream (2909 Central St., Evanston) - Mentioned in passing by Zim, who notes it serves cedar crest dairy ice cream from Wisconsin. Any other info?

Coffee Chicago/Double Rainbow (Broadway and Berwyn, Chicago) - This coffee shop sells this brand of ice cream, reputably famous in SF. When I lived nearby, I never remembered it being anything special. In 02, Harry V wrote, Strangely they did not have the only ice cream flavor I really like -- vanilla. I had the butter pecan and my girlfriend had strawberry. Both were authentically, overpoweringly flavored -- disagreeably so in my eyes, but likely to win plaudits from most, I suppose. I'd prefer ice cream to taste like cream, some sugar and vanilla are also nice. I'd bet Double Rainbow's vanilla would be excellent, based on the lovely richness of the ice creams we tried." See also Brown Cow below.

Double Rainbow on Southport (?) - In July, 02, Zim mentioned a Double Rainbow outlet on Southport that was quite crowded. I do not know if this branch still exists, nor do I have any idea of its quality. Any comments?

Chocolate Shoppe (5337 W Devon, Chicago) - A converted Baskin Robbins in the under-explored Edgebrook area. GWiv noted, "The ice cream, which I have only had once, was good, though not exactly to my taste. I can't really describe why I wasn't thrilled, maybe I wasn't in the mood for ice cream at the moment...Chocolate Shoppe hails from Madison, Wisconsin and is practically a Madison institution, to the extent they had a spot on Food TV's Food Finds. The Devon location is a pleasant place, friendly service, chairs inside and out to relax and directly across the street from the Chicago Public Library, Edgebrook Branch."

Evanston Creamery/Chocolate Shoppe (1301 Chicago Ave, Evanston) - Also took over a Baskin Robbins in Evanston. Zim sez, "usually I'm not a big fan of store bought chocolate ice cream as their is little discernible darkness to the flavor, this was really pretty nice, not too sweet, good chocolate flavor and with good texture as well." Note, Chocolate Shoppe ice cream is also served at Sweet Pea in Highwood (Sheridan) and Miami Sweets (see below).

Sugar Shack (630 W. 26th St, Chicago) - Hot Dill Pickle threw this place out as an example of decent soft serve ice cream in Chicago. CMC disagreed. See below.

Hole in the Wall Custard (901 1/2 N. Oak Park Ave Oak Park) - A very good soft serve. This may not be custard like Scooters makes custard, but I am always happy getting a cone here. In fact, I get a kid's cone because that is all I ever need to be satisfied. Of course, I always get it dipped in Chocolate.

Toots Drive Inn (4354 N. Central Ave Chicago, IL) - Old Shack serving soft, possibly tastee freeze, ice cream. I have wanted to try for ages. Anyone? UPDATE 4/29/04 - Paul Mollica comments, "The main attraction is sitting at the corner of Montrose and Central on a hot summer day and having ice cream melt down your hand. "

Buffalo's (Arlington Heights Rd. and Lake-Cook Rd, Buffalo Grove) - Pretty much everyone agrees that the original Buffalo's on Irving Park and its subsequent incarnation in Skokie were great. Whether this local greek in Buffalo serves anything like the original is open.

Dave's Ice Cream & Italian Ice (1451 W. 18th St, Chicago) - This place does not look like much, but Zim reported in 02, "the tamarindo Italian ice on offer there was really very good, dark brown almost black, with strong not washed out flavor and no cloying sweetness."

Cold Stone Creamery (Various locations including 1533 N. Wells, Chicago) - Franchise'd chain trying to take over the ice cream world with the old Steve's formula of mixing in things into plain ice cream, but with the gimmick of doing it on a sub-zero slab (the cold stone). I tried once to sample the Old Town location, but the line moved so damn slow, I gave up. UPDATE: 6/5/04 - Damn corporate, but the ice cream was pretty damn good too. In a way, the mix-in detracted from the good ice cream that straddles traditional USA ice cream with softer, more intense gelato or Euro style ice cream.

Hershey's Ice Cream Premium (5723 Dempster, Morton Grove) - Zim once noted that this place had halo-halo and Hawaiian Ice Cream. The Ultimo, being the Ultimo, once tried to try, but could not find it. No one else has done a report as far as I can tell. UPDATE: According to Kenny from Rogers Park, this place is now a branch of Village Creamery.

UPDATE: Mario & Gino's in Roscoe Village, next to the excellent Village Tap and down from Hot Doug's, JeffB sez, "which serves the very good Al Gelato and the pretty good Double Rainbow"

UPDATE (8/12/03) - Gayety's Ice Cream (3306 S. Ridge, Lansing) - Formerly on the SE side of Chicago, moved to Lansing. Mags Thomas, who brought the place to my attention on chowhound had this to say, "Homemade ice cream and truly fantastic homemade chocolates, specializing in dipped fruits, nuts, and all the standards one would expect. I don't know what's in their chocolate recipe, but it's out of this world...oooh and their hot fudge."

UPDATE (8/12/03) - Swiss Gourmet (Clyborn and Webster, Chicago) - I forgot about this place where we took four of Hannah's friends for her fifth birthday. I really do not remember the ice cream as anything special, so perhaps this comment from chowhound rings true: "Very, very disappointing. Low butterfat content, all the way down in the "ice milk" category. All style, and no content. The service was mediocre too, in the best "I'm just working here for the money, but I'm really an artist" tradition."

UPDATE (8/14/03) - Mitsuwa Food Court - Adam Stephanidies notes that there is a place in the food court selling ice cream in various Asian flavors. Adam sez, "[they have] plum wine, yuzu (described as "Japanese citron"), and calpico (not sure what this is; the server told me it was a popular Japanese drink), along with more conventional flavors. I had the yuzu and the calpico; both were very good." UPDATE 4/29/04 - Paul Mollica makes the worthy reminder that "There are two ice cream vendors, the one in the food court and another at Hippo Bakery (on the north wall). Both sell different products and are equally worthwhile." UPDATE 4/20/04 - Zim adds, "Mitsuwa, to make things even more confusing-both ice cream stalls are now called pastry house hippo, only one is in the actual bakery - that's the one I like, but it has far fewer selections. specially good were the black sesame and the ginger, the calpico is at the other stall in the actual food court, there I liked the plain "milk" flavor the best, the sesame being overly grainy."

UPDATE (8/18/03) - Miami Ice Cream and Sweets - New shop on Division specializing in tropical flavors. Claim to be homemade, although some of the gallons had factory labels! (UPDATE 8/24/03 - A visit to Chocolate Shoppe sourced a lot of those suspect flavors!) On the other hand, the chocolate chip I had was clearly homemade. Lots of interesting flavors in the Village Creamery realm. (UPDATE 4/28/04) Stirs-the-pot got an early start on the ice cream season, saying of the just opened for the summer, Miami Sweets, "The banana was ultra creamy, full of fresh banana flavor and the Dominican chocolate had a dark, dusky, earthy cocoa flavor."

UPDATE 9/20/03 - Maggie Moos - A Cold Stone Creamery, mix in place with a location in Lincolnshire. Do not know of other locations. The ice cream was rich, pure and intense. I'd skip the mix-in next time.

UPDATE 4/28/04 - Brown Cow - Madison near Circle, Forest Park - Brand new storefront on the Forest Park strip. They told me that after many samples, they decided to offer Double Rainbow from San Francisco. Chowhound LO sez, "Creamy, not too sweet/sugary, and very fresh tasting. We had the white pistachio and sampled the strawberry. Such a difference from the overly sweet and bland stuff at Petersens' and Oberweiss nearby. They said they rotate their flavors weekly or biweekly, I can't remember. Service was very friendly and prompt. The setting is cute -- an "old fashioned" ice cream parlor."

UPDATE 4/28/04 - Australian Home Made - Wabash side, Marshall Fields - da Loop - Jeff B sez, "I had a cone and a truffle yesterday. The ice cream was pretty good, a light chocolate with dark chocolate shavings mixed in. Very fatty, so not like gelato, but also very smooth and soft (almost like custard), so not like American ice cream. The flavor was good, surprisingly not very sweet, letting the chocolate dominate. However, I was disappointed by how airy, that is, not dense, the ice cream was. UPDATE 4/29/04 - JeffB notes a second Australian Home Made stands ready to open near the Brown Line El Station on Southport (between Belmont and Addison). And if you cannot get there or there, John M notes that neighborhood scuttlebutt has an Australian Home Made opening in Edison Park at Northwest Highway and Oliphant, where the Fannie May used to be.

UPDATE 4/28/04 - Cafe Borgata - 455 N. Northwest Hwy., Park Ridge - Michael M. sez of gelati sampled, "The nocciola was the best, but overall I was underwhelmed. But the thrill of gelato, to me, is the texture due to low overrun and egg yolks and the fresh vivacity of the dairy flavor supporting the intensity of the main ingredient. This was fine as gelato goes, but not amazing."

UPDATE 4/28/04 - El Condor - 2349 N. Milwaukee - Not ice cream but sorbet on a stick, intense fruit bars, served with the sticks at a jaunty angle. Note, while I am including El Condor, I cannot possibly catalogue all the palateros, coco de nieve and other assorted street vendors found around Chicago. If they have bricks and mortar, however, I will include them.

UPDATE 4/30/04 - Culver's Custard - Cathy2 sent out an e-mail on frozen custard. It reminded me that I should include Culver's on the run-down. It may not be Kopps or Ted Drewes, but it can be satisfying enough. This web site lists Culver locations in Illinois, some not in the Chicago area as well as a few other frozen custard stands.

UPDATE 4/30/04 - Kabul House (3320 Dempster St, Skokie, IL) - I know a lot of restaurants make their own ice cream, but unlesss you can go into a place JUST for a scoop of ice cream, I doubt I will include them in this summary. I am, however, including Kabul House. Because while one can find around town, double diget butter-fat ice cream, fany flavor gelato, tropical specialities and frozen custard, is there any place offering Persian ice cream? Well, Zim reports that Kabul House is. Zim thinks they might bet it from Mashti Malone of California. Zim plugs the rosewater, noting it is not the overpowering rosewater sometimes encountered. Maybe they will serve you just a scoop.