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Monday, July 22

Gapers Block

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Summer started right on time, and with a blast of heat we haven't seen in a while. The weathermen are predicting a scorcher, and what better way to cool off than with a nice ice cream cone? Last year's field report by Jenny Connell was so popular, we decided to survey the scoop scene again this year. Here are some of the Gapers Block staff's favorite places for frozen confections; while not a complete list, it's certainly a good starting point for satisfying your sweet tooth and cooling down from the inside out. Enjoy!

Margie's Candies
1960 N. Western Ave.
Rumors of a new location on Montrose have been bandied about, but this will always be the original and best place for ice cream in the city. Margie's was opened over 85 years ago, and both the cramped interior and the treats haven't changed much since. Beatles records and Chicago memorabilia decorate the space, which is also packed with mountains of hand-made candy, including truffles, chocolate-covered cherries, toffee, fudge and more. I have fond memories of coming in as a child and getting free samples from Margie herself, who would often sit behind the counter and smile as visitors strolled in. Her son, Peter, now runs the joint; he's often found behind the register helping customers and chatting with regulars.

Despite the name, though, Margie's is still best known for their spectacular ice cream creations, which include massive shakes and jumbo sundaes. Personal favorites of mine include the delicious Rasberry Sundae, as well as the decadent Turtle. Each order includes whipped cream, nuts, cookies and a cherry, and is served in a huge white plastic conch shell. You can also get sandwiches and dinner fare, but you'll rarely see anyone ordering food with such a tempting dessert menu. The only caveat is that lines can be long on nights and weekends as Margie's popularity has continued to grow with the neighborhood.

Margie's Candies

Connie's Family Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge
3269 Harlem Ave., Berwyn
Having recently moved to Berwyn, the first item on my "new neighborhood to-do list" was to find a new place to eat where I could become a familiar fixture. A Berwyn tradition since 1944, Connie's is one of those local family diner places with the usual club sandwiches and soup o' the day where you can finish your meal with a big-ass bowl of ice cream; and they definitely have a lot of ice cream.

In addition to sundaes and milk shakes, they serve an ice cream concoction called Chop Suey that has two scoops of ice cream, chocolate syrup and fruit salad. For the traditionalists, they have banana splits and ice cream sodas in chocolate, pineapple, wild cherry, vanilla and strawberry made with French vanilla ice cream. Connie's also has creations aimed at chocolate and strawberry fans.

Connie's isn't so much a place to go for the ice cream, per se, but more like a place to have some ice cream after you've had your BLT and navy bean soup. With a nod to the South Side's Gertie's, Pindo's and Huck Finn and the North Side's Margie's, Connie's gives you that hint of the familiar -- and when you're new to the neighborhood, that's definitely a good thing.

Bobtail Soda Fountain
2951 N. Broadway
Bobtail aims to offer the retro charm of an old-fashioned neighborhood soda shop for an audience that's used to something a little more Starbucksian, and they deliver on all counts. They serve 20 flavors of ice cream, including the usual suspects (vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream) and locally-inspired specialties like Daley Addiction (French vanilla and fudge) and the booze-infused Lakeview Barhopper (chocolate and bourbon) and Signature Sunset (merlot ice cream with chocolate chunks). Seasonal offerings for the summer include peach and mango sorbet, and every flavor is fair game for perfect shakes, malts and sundaes in addition to plain old scoops. All ice cream flavors are made fresh daily in-house. The shop also serves Intelligentsia coffees and teas, as well as sandwiches (try the grilled cheese) and warm desserts like pies and brownies. What more do you need? Try outdoor seating and free Wi-Fi.

3425 N. Southport Ave.
What first caught my eye the most was the word "Australian." Being familiar with Australians (dated one, friends and cousins went to university there, friends live there, etc.), this was something I had to check out. The clean, cool lines of the modern exterior extended to the inside and when I got up close and noticed that it was an ice cream cum fine chocolates store, it started making me salivate a little. OK, a lot.

Despite the modern setting, Australian makes home made ice cream and sorbet of various flavors (alongside fine chocolates of course) which change daily. Once a flavor is sold out for the day, that's it, it's gone. I'm not sure if it's some kind of gimmick or just because the home made quality of it demands it, but it works. When you walk in and look at the ice containers, you're drawn to the flavors that have less ice cream in them. Surely since they're disappearing quickly, they must be good! Better act quick!

Fortunately, the people have spoken and they are right. Australian's ice cream is the smoothest ice cream I have ever had. When you look at it, you can see it, too. It's not too frozen, with the little cracks and crevasses and hints of ice crystals that sometimes litter ice cream chains, but here are tubs that look like they were just folded by hand an hour ago.

I've ordered numerous flavors in the times I've been and none have disappointed. I also have it on good word that the sorbets are just as smooth and good. The ice cream goes down easy with just the right density and a single scoop on your choice of cone (chocolate-dipped or not — a free upgrade) satiates the after dinner palate like nothing else.

The Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream
5337 W. Devon
50,000 sidewalk stains can't be wrong, right? The sidewalk outside the Chocolate Shoppe is a testimony to its popularity: it's filled with adults lounging in comfortable chairs, kids getting gooey with melty ice cream, and everyone clearly enjoying the product and the summer.

This is good stuff, too — while the Chocalate Shoppe has 31 flavors like other ice cream stores, their ice cream is imported from Wisconsin and is rich and delicious. Their flavors have both the old standbys (chocolate, butter pecan, etc.) as well as some exotic varieties: Blue Moon, Fat Elvis and my personal favorite, Heaps Of Love. The shop is done up in a fantastic Wizard of Oz mural, and the owner of the store will occaisionally wander around with glasses of water and chat people up.

Sandwiched between a dance studio and a library, it's not uncommon to see masses of children or a bevy of bored teenagers hanging out. The library across the street, with its beautifully landscaped garden, is a welcome refuge in such situations.

I've tried a lot of ice cream, and the Chocolate Shoppe is my current favorite ice cream in Chicago. After biking on the North Branch trail, I always treat myself to a scoop of their Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup. After this, I can't go back to supermarket ice cream.

Evanston Creamery
1301 Chicago Ave., Evanston
Based in Madison, WI, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. boasts more than 110 flavors; I counted 48 of them on my visit to the Evanston Creamery. The Creamery is one of several spots in town that serve Chocolate Shoppe brand products — others include the company store Brian reviewed and the Sweet Occasions cafes — and, based on my experience, they're worth seeking out. As a vegan, I took a friend who could try the ice cream; she had scoops of Mint Avalanche and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough. My pal described herself as "picky" before we went but expressed complete satisfaction with both choices, complimenting the sweetness and the subtlety of the flavors. And, unlike a lot of places where the non-dairy contingent must simply look longingly on, I left the Evanston Creamery perfectly happy, too. From several options, I chose the Cinnamon Caramel Sorbet (heaven!) and the Vanilla Soy Cream (good, not great). Evanston may or may not have been the home of the first sundae, and you can naturally get them here, along with sodas, smoothies and cakes. The atmosphere's slightly lacking, and there's no restroom, but the frozen treats will not disappoint. Even if you're picky.

Tom and Wendee's Italian Ice
1136 W. Armitage Ave
Opened in the early '90s by, well, Tom and Wendee, this cozy, unassuming Lincoln Park shop makes an excellent variety of Italian ices, and it shows through their dedicated local following. From personal favorites like Black Raspberry and Pina Colada to Mango, Strawberry and Lemon, everything is made fresh in the shop and can be ordered in single servings to eat in or take away in pint, quart or half-gallon sizes. Unfortunately, this attention to quality comes through in the price — a small cup will run you $3.25 (tax included) — but, trust me, it's worth every penny. Unsurprisingly, Crain's once voted the shop the Best Italian Ice in the City. The portions are certainly generous (a medium is easily shareable), and you can get multiple flavors in each serving, allowing for some interesting and inventive flavor combinations. Outdoor seating is also available, which is perfect for ogling the steady stream of expensive automobiles and designer strollers that flow down Armitage Avenue.

Tom and Wendee's Italian Ice

Flavors On Avers
4528 N. Avers
Flavors on Avers is a wonderland, and given its location across the street from a school, it almost makes me want to be an elementary school student again. Hidden in Albany Park on Avers St. (two blocks east of Pulaski and Wilson), Flavors On Avers recreates a mythical candy store of old times — decorations on the wall, the comfy nooks scattered about the store, an entire wall of candy and the quiet outdoor seating away from the busy traffic.

And the ice cream? On a good day they might have 4 flavors, so don't come expecting variety. The ice cream is decent and dependable — while it won't rock your world, the incredibly warm and comfortable atmosphere of the store will. Most days we've been there they've had chocolate, vanilla and two special flavors, neither too far off the beaten path, such as butter pecan.

But unlike many other ice cream spots, the comforting atmosphere and very friendly owners make you want to stay and have another scoop. Or a sandwich. Or a cup of tea. Walking into Flavors On Avers and having a scoop of ice cream is like eating a warm memory you never really had but still crave. Absolutely delightful.

Scooter's Frozen Custard
1658 W. Belmont Ave.
I'd never had frozen custard until recently. I've had frozen ice, frozen ice cream, frozen ice milk, frozen yogurt and now frozen custard. There used to be a place on Rush Street downtown that sold frozen custard. I never got a chance to go since they closed down pretty quick. Maybe the frozen custard thing wasn't right for Chicago.

Or maybe the location wasn't.

Scooter's doesn't seem to be closing down anytime soon. I was visiting the old neighborhood and came across Scooter's on the corner of Belmont and Paulina. I passed it and told myself that I had to go — to not miss out on frozen custard.

So I went. A few times.

Scooter's calls their goods "concrete." It's a good metaphor for what they have going — smooth slabs of frozen custard with or without mix-ins. They have a large array of things you can put in your 'crete but not as many frozen custard flavors. Three at any one time, I believe — the popular chocolate and vanilla and a rotating special. This is a good thing. Sometimes, simple works best.

They do have recommended recipes such as the self-explanatory Chocolate Yum Yum ("Chocolate Custard, Scooter's Fabulous Fudge Nut Brownie Chip LIGHTLY blended and topped with a 'shot' of Hot Fudge."). It is yum. Yum. And it only comes in a small size. That's plenty, though, and it's nice to see an ice cream store pay attention to portions. They don't just do plain old mixed ice cream though — there are shakes, malts, sundaes, frozen custard pies, floats, Italian ice and parfaits. They also do catering with their "Sundae to Go" kits.

And you might even be famous: Scooter's lets you get creative with the way you want your custard and if they think it's yummy too, they'll name it after you!

The Penguin
2723 W. Lawrence Ave.
I don't know what possessed me to pop into the Penguin the first time I did. It's a rather small storefront on Lawerence, pasted over an old gas station sign, squished between a Korean restaurant and a laundromat -- it doesn't exactly let you know that they have fantastic Argentinian custard. But you know, they do.

I often take out-of-town visitors here because it's pretty unique. Unlike most ice cream places, the flavors at The Penguin reflect a different set of flavor priorities: instead of varied and exotic, their flavors are the art of simplicity. Cherry and lemon are both very good, as is dulce de leche. Some of the other flavors that have caught my eye are pistachio, almond and coffee.

And the ice cream iteself isn't like what you might expect when opening a Breyer's container. It's a gelato reminiscent of the Italian variety, but very rich. It isn't as sweet as most ice creams, but there's no question that the very rich and full flavor isn't because they used skim milk. The portions are quite big, so you'll easily make do with a single small scoop to get your fill. (In theory, The Penguin also has Argentinian pizza and empanadas, but I've never tried them.)

Baskin Robbins
various locations
Does Baskin Robbins need any introduction? Who among us hasn't celebrated at least one occasion with a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake? The company got its start in 1946, when Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins, who were brothers-in-law, opened their first ice cream store together in Pasadena, California. Today the company is the largest ice cream chain in the world.

When I recently visited Baskin Robbins for this review, I discovered all my childhood favorites were still there, including Mint Chocolate Chip, Pralines 'n Cream, Rocky Road and even Gold Medal Ribbon™.

I enjoy Baskin Robbins ice cream because it is inexpensive, but the company does not skimp on ingredients. Sundaes are made with real hot fudge and whipped cream, not chocolate syrup and that canned stuff that some ice cream parlors try to get away with. And they have chopped nuts sprinkled on top along with a maraschino cherry, just like a sundae should. Who cares if it comes served in a paper cup instead of a fancy glass bowl?

I'm also a fan of the Cappuccino Blast™ line of iced beverages. The coffee is blended with vanilla ice cream, so it is sweet, but not that sickly, sugary sweet you get from frozen coffee drinks at other chains.

Overall, the chain makes consistently yummy ice cream, for a good value, which is partly why it is the top dog in the business.

Treats Frozen Desserts
2224 N. Clark St.
This small chain of low-fat, low-calorie ice cream bars are spread throughout the area (Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Glencoe) and seems to have a pretty committed legion of fans. Not just for the diet-conscious, Treats offers a nice alternative to the staid soft-serve doled out by mega-corporate stands like Dairy Queen or Baskin Robbins. Not only are they half as bad for you, but they're possibly better tasting, too. You can get simple vanilla and chocolate swirls or dips in a cone or a cup, and you can take a variety of flavors (everything from Hazelnut to Cappucino) and "mess" them up by adding in toppings like Oreos, bananas, sprinkles, berries, granola, fudge, Reese's and Butterfinger. Of course, adding such things isn't in your best interest if you're counting fat and calories — but who cares when you're saving on the ice cream. I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to visit Treats, but I certainly enjoy having an alternative to Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerry's when I want a guiltless dessert fix. Thankfully, there aren't any errant side effects either, as the ice cream isn't laden with weird chemicals or additives.

Treats Frozen Desserts

Dairy Queen
3811 N. Southport Ave. and various other locations
A DQ opened in the city. Across from my apartment. The first time I ever had DQ was actually in another country, halfway across the world. I hadn't had it since and now almost a decade later, here was one opening right across the street from me. I had to go. It was calling me to revisit the first time I asked for an Oreo Blizzard.

On the night it opened, my girlfriend and I walked across the street and walked into DQ. There were a lot of people in there. I looked at the menu, unsure of what I wanted. The girlfriend ordered something new: a Brownie Batter Blizzard and I ordered, well yes, I ordered an Oreo cookie Blizzard. Classic. As I was getting ready to pay, the cashier told me, "It's on the house." Holy crap. Free ice cream — free DQ ice cream.* And it was good. As good as it was almost a decade ago.

Considering the long lines out the door and onto Southport, I figure people are remembering the last time they had DQ.

There's a DQ across the street from me. Dangerous.

Cold Stone Creamery
3755 N. Southport Ave.
For some reason, I've begun mixing up Cold Stone Creamery's name and calling it Stone Cold Creamery. I don't watch wrestling but I guess Stone Cold Steve Austin has somehow integrated himself into my subconscious. But that's a good illustration for what they do here at Stone Co-umm, Cold Stone. They mix stuff up. "Mix-ins" they call 'em. Oh, did I mention they're right around the corner from me, just 100 feet away from the DQ? Oh, maybe I should mention that the Australian is also down the street a few blocks away. Ahem.

While DQ's a good trip down memory lane and Australian can't be beat for the single scoops, Cold Stone is doing something that's a little bit of both. They're giving you the power to choose — what ice cream you want, what size you want and what you want in it. While I've never ordered more than two mix-ins in my recipe, I've seen others who have put in as many as five. That's right, five. I'll do something like a Like It size (small) of white chocolate ice cream, add a mix-in of strawberry and another of cake pieces, into a chocolate dipped waffle bowl and that's a meal. Others go to the extreme. To each his own, and that's the point here. You've got really good ice cream, with some of the really good stuff you might put in there yourself and a really good time for your taste buds.

It's like something you might make at home but with good ice cream making the whole thing oh so good. Mix away folks!

5845 N. Clark St.
It's not an ice cream shop, it's a Filipino grocery, but that doesn't mean you can't get good ice cream here. And what you'll find in Uni-Mart's freezer case isn't your run of the mill vanilla and chocolate (although you can get them, if you want) — it's flavors totally different from your standard Edie's or even Ben and Jerry's.

I stopped by this week to check out the options, and found jackfruit, ube (purple yam), halo-halo (a fruit and berry mixture) and Quezong-Queso — that's right, cheddar cheese flavored ice cream. They had avocado on a previous visit, but not this time. I only picked up a half-gallon of the queso due to the steep $12 price tag — hey, it is imported from the Phillipines.

From the picture on the container, I was pretty much expecting chunks of cheddar in vanilla ice cream. That sounded pretty weird, but turned out to be so even weirder — and so much better. It smelled slightly nutty and very buttery, and slightly salty butter was in fact the first flavor to come to mind as it melted on my tongue. It didn't taste like cheddar at all; it almost reminded me of buttered popcorn, but the sweetness kept it from going that far. There were tiny nuggets of cheese, but they practically melted, too, in the rich, creamy ice cream. It was really, really good in a completely unexpected way. So much better than your typical store-bought stuff. Next time, I'm picking up some jackfruit.

Many of the ice cream flavors found at Uni-Mart are also available freshly made at the Village Creamery stores in Niles and Skokie. If you're adventurous with your ice cream, it's definitely worth the trip.


Paul / June 27, 2005 8:56 AM

Great stuff, kids.

Pretty much legendary in OP is Petersen's on Harlem & Chicago. They have a formal sit-down ice cream parlor that also has a food menu but, I can't say I've ever had anything but ice cream there. Their peach ice cream is the stuff of dreams: rich and creamy with giant chunks of fresh peaches. It's a summertime staple.

Also noteworthy is that Petersen's provides ice cream to Cock Robin out in Brookfield, and that little ice cream shop whose name I forget in downtown Riverside, right by the Metra.

Y A J / June 27, 2005 11:13 AM

Don't forget Rainbow Cone at 93rd-ish south on Western.

The original rainbow cone includes a layered combination of chocolate, strawberry, palmer house, pistachio ice cream and orange sherbet. Palmer house is kinda like the fruit cake of ice cream - warm yellow color spotted with candied fruit. It tastes better than it sounds, really.

Dr. AgoniZe / June 28, 2005 10:30 AM

Gertie's (3689 S. Archer Ave.) deserves it's own review, but it is out of the way for us Northsiders. I'm down for organizing a trip down to the "Bizzaro World" Margie's.

~L. / June 28, 2005 10:59 AM

I have to second the comment above about Gerties. Also, my recommendation is the cocolate malt. It's the only place I can go where they put enough malt in, and also leave it just blended enough so that there are some little chunks of malt. Mmmmm....

Maureen / June 28, 2005 1:20 PM

Australian Belgian Chocolate (I had it at their stand in the State Street Marshall Fields) is probably the best ice cream I've ever tasted. Sweet but not too sweet, rich and creamy. Mmmm...

Jen / June 28, 2005 3:22 PM

Bobtail at Broadway and Wellington is fantastic! My favorite is the Signature Sunset...who thought Merlot in ice cream would taste so good?!?

snax beatleman / June 29, 2005 8:31 AM

although it's not ice cream, the best italian ice in the world comes from aberdeen and taylor. mario's is a wood shack whose proprietor is an unstable goon with mob connections, but the crowds that block taylor every summer night are a testament that the man knows his ice. extremely reasonably priced, all flavors are good but i recommed the watermelon.

gena / June 29, 2005 1:11 PM

sweet occassions right under the damen stop ont he brown line is glorious, and they are soon expanding to many other locations in andersonville and wrigleyville.

Ramsin / June 29, 2005 2:54 PM

snax- I was supposed to review Marios, I used to live right up the street when that was my neck of the woods. My bad.

But it isn't fair of you to say Mr. DiPaolo has mob ties. Mr. DiPaolo and his wife and actually really hardworking honest people from what was once a rough neighborhood.

But he's no hood.

richard / June 29, 2005 5:16 PM

Uptown Sweets at Magnolia and Wilson! They serve Petersons Ice Cream and an extensive collection of penny candy.
Finally, civilization has arrived in Uptown!

victor / June 30, 2005 10:47 AM

I would recommend "Miami Flavors" on the Division/Western area. Some of the fruit sorbets one of a kind in Chitown. Ask for th specials. Try Guava, Guanabana and Tamarind. Unusual flavors and very addictive.

Lill / June 30, 2005 12:52 PM

Sadly, Miami Flavors is closed and gone. I suppose the owner, Robert, must have gone back to Miami. If anyone hears of his return, please post! He was a talented ice-cream maker.

Stewart / July 1, 2005 10:59 AM

I'll second Rainbow Cone. It's well worth the trip for northsiders.

trachea / July 2, 2005 3:29 PM

It doesn't look like an ice cream parlor; Kolatek's (a polish grocery store on Harlem in the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago) has European-style ice cream for the summer. It is fantastic!

The Brown Cow (on Madison in Forest Park) does look like an ice cream parlor, all the way to the marble top tables and iron chairs. They carry Double Rainbow ice cream, also fantastic. I think they have a kids storyteller/musician in on the weekends.

snax beatleman / July 3, 2005 10:24 PM

ramsin - i too lived in that nieghborhood for a while, and dipaolo was considered so dangerous that even the crackheads that panhandled by the projects spoke his name in hushed tones. i remember him going away a couple of years ago for a few months because he thrashed a senior citizen. I won't even mention the hour long shouting match he got into with my roommate while we were standing on the roof of a building adjacent to one of his properties. but don't take my word for it - i googled his name, below are a couple of the more juicy results:

if i had access to lexis i'm sure i could bring up a much more interesting list.

the fact that such an obvious thug owns so much property in a connected neighborhood like little italy seems a bit shady, but than again i'm not a journalist......


About the Author(s)

Ken Meier, Alejandra Valera, Kris Vire, Naz Hamid, Brian Sobolak,Matthew Peck, Alice Maggio and Andrew Huff are staff members of Gapers Block.

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