A Frozen Foray in Chicago's Wicker Park

Can you believe it's already September?! This summer has certainly flown by for me and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. Before  the summer ends, I wanted to share this fun culinary tour I hosted in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. After an unseasonably hot and humid September start, I would have loved to revisit all these place for some cool treats. This folks, is a Frozen Foray in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood...

Wicker Park is a Chicago neighborhood just northwest from the Loop. Years ago, this area was home to Chicago's wealthy Northern European immigrants. Now, you'll find an eclectic mix of boutiques, restaurants, and everything in between. For the culinary tour I hosted, I zoned in on the frozen treats available all within a half mile from each other. Can you believe you can find 6 very different frozen specialties in this small area?! Here, let me show you...

The first stop of our tour is Just Indulge (1755 West North Avenue; Chicago, IL 60622). Here's a place that specializes in frozen custard. Growing up, I thought the only place I could get real frozen custard was in Wisconsin. Now, I'm thrilled to find my go to spot for it.

Frozen custard is very similar to ice cream, but what sets it apart is the amount of egg yolks. Frozen custard has more egg yolks incorporated into the batter, resulting in a smoother, richer texture. Just Indulge is owned by 2 sisters, one who had 15 years of experience in consumer product goods while the other had 11 years in accounting and finance. Together, they dreamed about having their own ice cream shop and before they knew it, their dreams became reality.

At Just Indulge, we got to try their chocolate and vanilla frozen custards. Both are staples that are available daily but the draw is definitely their 'flavor of the day.' At the time of our tour stop, they didn't have their flavor of the day ready, but I made sure to go back later to try it. Ah-mazing. The flavor was chocolate frozen custard with toffee bits, caramel swirl and broken pretzels swirled in. The combination of sweet, salty, creamy, sticky and overall deliciousness was well worth the wait!

Next stop, Crepe Crave (1752 W North Ave; Chicago, IL 60622). By the name alone, you wouldn't think frozen treats would be a part of their business. But once you step in side this little cafe, you'll be happy to know they have a large selection of gelatos to try.

Before we talk gelato, this little gem specializes in crepes. They currently offer 26 different sweet and savory crepes on their menu and the fun starts as you watch them make it in front of you. They make crepes so effortlessly, it makes you want to run home and make crepes for a day. A popular option is ordering a sweet crepe with a scoop of gelato.

So what's gelato? This sweet concoction is different from ice cream in that it contains less butterfat (4-8%, where ice cream has about 14%), has more sugar and has less air is whipped into it than ice cream. As a result, the texture is much more dense and the flavor is much more concentrated and sweeter.

For this tour I wanted folks to try something new rather than a plain old scoop of gelato. I introduced them to the beauty of an affogato. This is an Italian dessert beverage that traditionally consists of a scoop of vanilla gelato, which is then topped with a shot of hot espresso. The hot espresso slowly melts the gelato and if you love coffee ice cream, this is for you! A few of us got adventurous and instead of vanilla gelato, folks ordered different gelato flavors topped with hot espresso.

Since this tour was focused on sweet frozen treats, I wanted to squeeze in a savory stop so we wouldn't be sugared out too quickly. The problem? There's so many places to choose from! Now Chicago is known for it's deep dish pizza but for me, I prefer a nice thin crust. With this in mind, I incorporated a quick lunch at one of my favorite New York style pizza places called Santullo's (1943 W North Ave; Chicago, IL 60622).

Here, you can grab a huge slice of pizza (or a whole one) and it's pretty good. Two folks on the tour are New York transplants and even they gave this place a thumbs up! After enjoying our pizza, it was off to our next stop...

Miko's Italian Ice (1846 North Damen Avenue; Chicago, IL 60622) is quite unassuming at first glance. Slightly hidden off the sidewalk and down a few steps is a straightforward little Italian Ice stand. Little do folks know that behind a simple service window lies a plethora of Italian Ice flavors, all made fresh everyday with natural ingredients.

So what's Italian Ice? It's similar to sorbet in that it's made from fruit juices, concentrates and/or purees and is processed similarly to ice cream. A fruit and sugar mixture churns in an ice cream maker and doesn't ever include any dairy products. The difference between sorbet and Italian ice is that sorbet usually will include alcohol (vodka) as part of the mixture that's frozen, while Italian ice does not.

Each day, several batches of Italian ice are made and flavors rotate throughout the day. After talking to the owner, he says he makes small batches and usually uses seasonal fruit especially during the summer. On our visit, we had the following flavors to choose from:

After trying all these wonderful frozen treats, it was time for us to make our own frozen concoction! The next stop on our tour was iCream (1537 N Milwaukee Ave; Chicago, IL 60622). Here, the science of food was put into action where customers could create their custom ice cream flavor and watch as liquid nitrogen is used to make it within seconds!

As folks fall in line to submit their order, you'll notice a large board with so many options to choose from. First, select either ice cream, yogurt, or sorbet. Then pick the flavor, fresh toppings, and even the color of your creation. The fun part of it all is watching your ice cream being made right in front of you...

At the end of the counter, your order is placed into the bowl of a stand mixer and combined. Next, liquid nitrogen is added into the bowl, causing the ice cream mixture to freeze to the perfect temperature for freezing instantly. Before you know it, your name is being called to pick up your customized ice cream flavor! I ordered a coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup and shredded coconut.

This concluded the frozen treats tour because the final stop was closed temporarily due to loss of electricity. We all parted ways but on the walk back to my car, I noticed a few frozen yogurt place! Self serve frozen yogurt shops are a new and budding trend here in Chicago and Yo-Lite (1843 W. North Ave; Chicago IL 60622) is one of the new ones to join the others opening around the city. Frozen yogurt is a healthier alternative to ice cream in that it's made with yogurt and is lower in fat because milk is used rather than cream.

Here at Yo-Lite, you'll have a long wall of self serve soft yogurt dispensers with an array of flavors to choose from. Opposite this wall is a long bar of a slew of toppings including nuts, fruits, sprinkles, candy, dessert sauces, etc. Folks come in, grab a container and fill it with as much frozen yogurt they'd like. They have the option to top their yogurt as much or as little as they wish. Once they're done, their container of yogurt gets on a weighing scale and is paid for by weight. The trick is not to go overboard since you are pretty much controlling the quantity of yogurt and toppings in your container!

Well, who knew that Wicker Park was full of different kinds of frozen treats? If you find yourself in the Chicago neighborhood of Wicker Park on a hot summer day, there's quite a few places to choose from to cool off with something sweet! Enjoy the rest of your summer and cool down with something delicious...

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