As cities go, Chicago isn't an ice cream town. Who can blame us? We spend nine months a year trying to stay warm; ice cream isn't high on the agenda. But by the time July hits, with its "not the heat, it's the humidity," we're singing a different tune.
What follows is not an exhaustive list of Chicago sources for frozen dessert... but it's a good place to start.
Rainbow Cone. In putting together this list, it became clear that there's a definite correlation between the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood and the number of ice cream emporia.
The more rich white people, the more ice cream. But the far South Side has Rainbow Cone (9233 S. Western Ave.), which begins to make up for the disparity. This place is Old School Chicago, with folks lining up for the establishment's eponymous five-flavor pile-up. It's the kind of place that demands you roll down your window and turn up your radio on the way home.
Speaking of old school, it doesn't get much more legit than Margie's Candies (1960 N. Western Ave), the hot fudge mecca of the near west side. Crowded, kitschy, and ancient, it has served the Beatles and most of the children of Bucktown.
Whatever you think of his politics, Oberweis runs a mean dairy. Again, this place (1528 W. Fullerton Ave) is a good bet for sundaes, but it's also one of the last places to grab a glass quart of milk, and my favorite place for an emergency housewarming gift (ice cream pie beats wine any day). Having Facets across the street is a nice bonus.
If you life far north, you can always hit DQ (951 W. Howard St). This place has an identity crisis. Is it Chicago? Is it Evanston? Who cares, sometimes you just need a Blizzard.
If you live in Old Town/Lincoln Park, you've got so many ice cream choices it's sick. Cold Stone Creamery (1533 N. Wells, w/ locations in Lakeview and Bucktown as well) is a good place if you want to watch someone slave over your ice cream. This is where you pick the flavor, pick an add-in, and stand back while a serving wench with arms like popeye kneads and beats the two together by hand.
There's the perennial favorite, Ben and Jerry's (338 W. Armitage). Tons of flavors, tie-dyed t-shirts, and just enough counter-culture doublespeak that you an almost forgive their new "Carb Karma" product line. Et tu, Jerry?
Speaking of ice creams for the killjoys (er, health-conscious), there's a new kid in town by the name of Treats. With outposts in Boy's Town (3319 N. Broadway) and across from Francis Parker School (224 N. Clark), Treats is low in fat, carbs, calories, and -- I'm sorry to report, but is anyone surprised? -- flavor. The only thing this stuff tastes like is chemicals.
Better choices for the fat-phobic can be found on Armitage between Halsted and Racine. The most popular establishment here is Anthony's (2009 N. Bissell), just east of the Armitage El stop. Anthony's has Homer's Ice Cream, soft serve, and italian ice... I suspect it was probably one of the first places to serve the stuff outside of Taylor Street. Down the street, there's Tom and Wendee's (1136 W Armitage) . This place is pretty bare bones, and is strictly about italian ice. Of course, they have a wide interpretation of the stuff, which includes chocolate toffee-chip and chocolate mocha. A reason to love this place -- their "rollerblades welcome" policy, which may explain the lack of decor (less to knock over?).
Those who have had Ciao Bella (1133 W. Fulton) will tell you there's no going back -- and with pints available at Chicago's upscale grocery stores, there's no need to. But for those who need to taste, re-taste and deliberate, Mario and Gino's in Roscoe Village (2057 W. Roscoe) is a great place to try myriad flavors (pear? Guinness? Who knew?). Mario and Gino's also stocks the locally-made al Gelato and their own Italian ice, and San Francisco's famous Double Rainbow Ice Cream.
Double Rainbow has a stand-alone joint on Southport (3746 N. Southport); the ice cream's good but the service, when I've been, has been a bit on the surly side.
Southport Avenue further proves my money-ice cream connection theory with the opening of a new Australian ice cream place mere blocks from Double Rainbow. The place is called -- get this -- Australian Homemade (3425 North Southport, also available at the Marshall Fields on State). With outposts in Sydney, New York, and Tokyo, and a 2001: Space Odyssey design scheme, this place is too cool for school. What makes it Australian? You got me. A quick poll of its staff members yielded "Uh," "They told us, but I don't remember," and "I don't know, but we use really fresh ingredients. Want another sample?" Thanks, guys. The lines here tend to be long and full of women who carry their dogs in tote bags.
For knowledgeable staff, head to Scooter's (1658 W. Belmont). When I asked "what makes custard custard," I got a chemistry lesson. I'll save the discussion of freezing points, butterfats, and ice crystals for another time; suffice to say that custard at Scooter's isn't as fattening as it tastes, that it tastes pretty damn good, and that it's just about the only custard made locally. The downside? Only three flavors a day (chocolate, vanilla, and a wildcard).
I've saved my favorite for last. The Penguin (2723 W. Lawrence) is the only place in the city to get Argentinean ice cream. The South American cousin of gelato, this ice cream probably migrated with the "golandrinas," the same Italian and Galician migrant workers who gave birth to Tango. The Penguin, which has been around for a few years now, is run by a husband, wife and father-in-law out of a tiny storefront tucked away next to a Korean restaurant and a laundromat. Blink and you miss it. But once you find it, you'll be back. Not only can you get the now ubiquitous dulce de leche ice cream (Argentineans had been inhaling it for years before H�agen-Dazs popularized it here), but you can also try Sabayon con Almendras, a marsala wine-flavored ice cream studded with caramelized almonds, or their incredibly light pineapple sorbet.
We've got six weeks of hot weather left if we're lucky. Enjoy! And if you come across any new ice cream places, please let me know.