No matter how full you might be, in the summer, there’s always room for a few bites of ice cream. Here are our favorite places around town to enjoy the cool, sweet delight.
James Beard-nominated pastry chef Dana Salls Cree could be considered Chicago’s ice cream queen. She’s written an ice cream cookbook and her new frozen ice cream novelty shop in Logan Square is inspired by the nostalgia of popsicle trucks. From custard bars dipped in chocolate shells to fruity buttermilk sherbet bars and colorful water-based truck pops, there’s something for every taste at Pretty Cool Ice Cream. The corner shop’s tiered seating is reminiscent of a kid’s play area and the whimsical murals are a perfect backdrop for Instagram shots. Flavors like fire cracker, rainbow chip, or orange creamsicle appeal to kids and kids at heart, but there are also more sophisticated options like La Rifa Blanco Marfil single-origin chocolate or mango lassi.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Jeni’s now has six locations in Chicagoland including the newest on Randolph Street in the West Loop. This spring, Jeni’s launched a new dairy-free line made with coconut cream that’s as luscious and full-bodied as traditional ice cream. Flavors include cold brew with coconut cream and roasted peanut butter and strawberry jam. Plus, new for summer there’s orange blossom chiffon, made with juicy buttermilk frozen yogurt, and Atlantic Beach pie — a tart lemon custard swirled with buttery, saltine gravel. These seasonal flavors debuted this month and are only available in scoop shops by the scoop and hand-packed pints.
Two young local entrepreneurs have launched a new dairy-free ice cream alternative made with five or fewer ingredients. Co-founders Jessica Gartenstein and Erik Nadeau came up with the concept of this new better-for-you ice cream as undergraduate students at the University of Chicago. Gartenstein was diagnosed with celiac disease and dairy sensitivity as a teen and had a hard time finding dairy-free sweets that were as tasty as the real thing. Frönen’s recipes are based off of Nadeau’s grandmother’s fruit-based ice cream, and comes in four flavors: chocolate, strawberry, cinnamon, and banana coconut. Everything is made in Chicago and available in more than 100 Chicagoland stores including Whole Foods, Sunset Foods, Foxtrot, Mariano’s, Fresh Farms, Potash, and Pete’s Market. Plus, you’ll find them at local colleges and universities including University of Chicago, DePaul, Northwestern, and Lake Forest College. Look for their booth at the Taste of Chicago this summer too. Not bad for a company that’s just one year old!
With more than a dozen locations in Illinois, including Evanston, Naperville, Mount Prospect, and Bolingbrook, Andy’s is spreading the love of frozen custard throughout Chicagoland. Frozen custard is creamier than traditional ice cream, with more butterfat and less air. At Andy’s the slow-churned custard is made fresh hourly to maintain the rich texture. There are only two flavors — vanilla and chocolate — but you can mix-in a variety of toppings in a concrete (similar to a Dairy Queen Blizzard) or make your own sundae. Summer specials include the blackberry concrete, key lime pie concrete, and peach sundae.
Decisions can be difficult when constructing your perfect ice cream cake. Choose from 10 different ice cream flavors, all made with organic milk and cream, and decide if you prefer crumbled brownies, blondies, or cookies as a base. Rachel Kamins launched Bartleby’s in 2018 after working for Ben & Jerry’s and Zingerman’s Bakehouse and calls herself the “caker, baker, and ice cream maker.” Fittingly, she makes everything, from the ice cream to the crushed cookies and brownies to all her sauces, from scratch. There are also giant ice cream sandwiches and ice cream pies if that’s more your jam. Delivery is available within a 15-mile driving radius of zip code 60618. Orders placed online require 48 hours advance notice.
Executive Pastry Chef Erika Chan has a thing for ice cream sandwiches. These “Chan-wiches” are works of art, with rotating flavors of ice cream sandwiched between housemade cinnamon, chocolate spice, or chocolate nib cookies. Black walnut, Irish cream, and lemon gingersnap sandwiches have all been hits, but blueberry cheesecake is Chan’s personal favorite. “We bake real cheesecake then blend it into the base so the ice cream tastes remarkably similar to the real thing,” she says. You can purchase individual ice cream “Chan-wiches” at The Publican and six-packs are available at Publican Quality Meats.
The frozen Greek yogurt at Ema is much healthier than what you’ll find at Pinkberry, topped with a drizzle of savory extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. Chef CJ Jacobson makes his own Greek yogurt culture at Ema, then adds sugar and cream. “Our yogurt only has three ingredients in the mix,” he explains. “It’s real yogurt enriched with cream and lightly sweetened while other frozen yogurt shops have a lot more ingredients in their options.”
There are always two flavors of soft serve available at Saint Lou’s Assembly, rotating on a monthly basis. Past flavors have included Fruity Pebbles sprinkled with cereal, salted caramel, and popcorn and Mai Tai topped with freeze-dried pineapple. The flavor rotation is often inspired by Saint Lou’s own diners through Instagram contests where followers can submit ideas for inventive ice creams.
The dessert menu at Cold Storage is all about ice cream, served in the style of a classic ice cream parlor. “Part of the fun of Cold Storage is the nostalgia factor,” Pastry Chef Leigh Omilinsky says. “It’s really playful.” You can try to tackle the epic narwhal sundae with eight scoops of house-made ice creams and sorbets, or opt for one of Omilinsky’s new summer sundaes. There’s coffee and donuts with coffee hot fudge and baby donuts on top, or the Chicago mix sundae — an ode to the caramel-cheddar popcorn combination that Garrett Popcorn made famous. Of course, Omilinsky makes her own popcorn mix, along with caramel sauce and scoops of both caramel and cheddar popcorn ice cream.
A Lincoln Park summer staple, the line at Annette’s Italian Ice is consistently longer than at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams down the street. Although they’re most famous for vegan-friendly house-made Italian ice, they also serve fat-free frozen yogurt and traditional ice cream by Ashby’s Sterling. Flavors and toppings are scrawled on a white board to choose from. On a hot summer day, cool down with refreshing citrus flavors like lemon and blood orange.
The wildly over-the-top ice cream confections at BomboBar are Chicago’s answer to Black Tap’s milkshakes. These colorful creations are topped with all manner of sprinkles, mini bomboloni, and candy, and the dozen or so flavors of gelato on rotation are all made fresh from scratch daily. Flavors like birthday cake, banana split, and cookie monster dough are especially kid-friendly. BomboBar began as a takeout counter attached to Bar Siena in the West Loop, but just in time for summer they opened a new, bigger location in Old Town with the same flavors, but also serving wine and burgers. There’s space to sit here and you can peer inside the gelato case as opposed to ordering blindly.
Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table, and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate, and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.