July is National Ice Cream Month and here are the top Chicago spots where we’re making the rounds to celebrate. I don’t know about you, but no matter how full I am, I can always make room for ice cream, gelato, sorbet, or frozen yogurt. On a hot summer day, these desserts hit the spot.
Fifteen dollars might seem like a lot to spend on an ice cream sandwich, but this isn’t your typical ice cream sandwich. Pastry Chef George Kovach‘s beautifully plated foie gras Ice Cream Sandwich at this Michelin-starred brewpub is worth every penny, sandwiched between yeasty housemade rye wafers with a rich, foie-flavored ice cream. He even makes his own colorful sprinkles using beet, spirulina, charcoal, carrot, and passion fruit. The Band of Bohemia building was formerly a factory that built Oreo cookie machinery, so Kovach was inspired to create this elevated Oreo cookie dessert with a savory, frozen twist. 4710 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, 773-271-4710
The Alfa-lato — an alfajor ice cream sandwich mash-up — is one of the most popular items on the menu at family-owned Frío, an ice cream shop with locations in Evanston and Lakeview. Alfajores are a favorite Argentine dessert — cornmeal cookies filled with dulce de leche. With the alfa-lato, cookies made with maizena corn flour are sandwiched with a generous scoop of your choice of gelato or sorbet. The cookies come in vanilla and chocolate flavors, made by a local Argentine baker. Try it with Dulce de Leche, Vanilla Rum Raisin, or Avocado ice creams. You can even rim your Alfa-lato with shredded coconut and rainbow sprinkles or dip it in liquid chocolate for a decadent hard shell coating. 1301 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8767; 3721 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, 773-799-8683
This summer at Jeni’s, try your favorite flavor in the new buttercrisp waffle cone. “The slightly extra saltiness beautifully highlights the sweetness of our ice creams,” Jeni Britton Bauer explains, “the way a salty crust enhances the sweet filling inside a pie.” Britton Bauer is a big advocate of the simple pleasure of eating unadorned ice cream and many of her creative flavors have mix-ins from cream puffs to salted honey pie. Her scoop shops (she has 34 now around the country) are famous for the sweet smell of freshly pressed waffle cones. Peach Buttermilk Tart and dairy-free Salty Caramel just launched this month as scoop-shop-only flavors and come August look for Sweet Corn & Blackberries along with Almond Milk Cortado. 3657 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-666-5490; 1419 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-877-5880; 3404 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, 773-348-7139; 1505 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 872-802-4668; 900 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-799-8809
Executive Chef Frank Mnuk wanted to revive a classical dessert when he put Baked Alaska on the menu at Untitled. “I wanted to have something on the dessert menu that dates back to the original supper clubs back in the day,” he says. His version is a little out of the ordinary though, assembled with a bûche de noel mold to best showcase the layers of vanilla gelato, fresh raspberry sorbet, and Italian meringue torched tableside. “The raspberry sorbet helps cut through the richness and creates a balance.” 111 W. Kinzie St., Chicago, 312-880-1511
Servers actually card diners ordering the Sundae Fundae at River Roast — trust us, it’s really that boozy. Executive Chef Cedric Hardin soaks Amarena cherries in Tullamore DEW Irish whiskey and pineapples in Chairman’s Reserve spiced rum overnight to garnish ice cream that packs its own drunken punch. “We wanted chocolate ice cream at first but decided to make our own ice cream flavored with Guinness beer,” he says. “Everyone loves whiskey, rum, and beer.” Hardin tops it all off with a bourbon butterscotch sauce, whipped cream, and housemade potato chips, for a crunchy, salty kick. 315 N. LaSalle Drive, Chicago, 312-822-0100
Imported halva and cherry preserves from Greece play a starring role in a cinnamon and chocolate ice cream dessert at Avli Taverna, the new Lincoln Park restaurant opening in August from the Avli Estiatorio team in Winnetka. In Greece, cherries are considered a delicacy, offered to guests when they visit your home. Here, they offer a tart accent to the sweet and smooth housemade ice creams — cinnamon vanilla and Callebaut chocolate — layered with light, airy halva. This recipe, and the rest of the menu at Avli Taverna, was developed by consulting chef David Tsirekas and founding partner Louie Alexakis. 1335 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago
Pastry Chef Patricia Kim makes an assortment of housemade ice cream and sorbet at this Lincoln Park neighborhood bistro from Heath Crunch to Strawberry Saba. The seasonal Key Lime Magic Shell Sundae is the most glamorous though, with coconut-graham blondie brownie chunks strewn in a bowl with key lime ice cream covered with a white chocolate shell and pineapple compote. “It was a lot of fun for me to create something out of my taste bud comfort zone and end up with a sundae that I really liked,” Kim says. “The ultimate reward was seeing Ryan [O’Donnell, Ballyhoo Hospitality founder] smile like a little kid when he tried it. Anytime my desserts can bring out the little kid in us makes me a happy pastry chef.” 2075 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-525-2522
Pastry Chef Tucker Critchfield fondly remembers a childhood eating Cherry Mash candies straight from the freezer. “I was inspired by that flavor combination and decided to recreate it as an ice cream sandwich,” he says. “We’re using cherries from Ellis Family Farms out of Benton Harbor, Michigan, and dark 85 percent Vahlrona Chocolate to recreate that chocolatey cherry combination, but in a more sophisticated way.” The tart cherries are showcased in a multitude of ways — candied, as a cherry marshmallow, bourbon cherry anglaise, and the star of the show — cherry crème fraîche ice cream. 101 E. Erie St., Chicago, 312-667-6793
As their name suggests, Lucky Fish is best known for fresh seafood flown in daily, but Executive Chef Fructoso Sandoval hopes you save room for dessert too. His Frozen Mango Soufflé is topped with a scoop of housemade mango ice cream, inspired by desserts he used to make back home in Michoacán, Mexico, with mangoes plucked from his own backyard. “It is the perfect summertime dessert,” he says of the soft and creamy dessert, more like a semifreddo than a traditional soufflé. Of course, Sandoval gets his mangoes from Mexico and he makes mango salsa to serve with several of the entrees at Lucky Fish too. 1349 Shermer Road, Northbrook, 847-236-1411; 532 Sheridan Road, Highwood, 847-291-1411
As you head out to enjoy one of these frosty treats, take a moment to remember that there are many around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. Do your part to change this by joining the fight to end world hunger.
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.