Dining and food culture in Chicago

Mangonada: It’s Cool, It’s Popular and You May Never Have Tasted One

Fast Food/Street Food, Ice Cream, Mexican 1 Comment »
Delicias de la Morelia/Photo: Rob Gardner

Delicias de la Morelia/Photo: Rob Gardner

By Robert Gardner

Ever had a mangonada?  Perhaps you know it as mangollada, chamoyada or even its common variants such as the diablito or vampiro.  It’s spicy, salty, and frozen; it’s out there; and we’re guessing it’s something you’ve never heard of, let alone sampled.

In Chicago as well as suburbs like Melrose Park and Cicero, Latino stores are serving up mangonada to the many thousands who love it. We believe, within the next few years, the mangonada will be as talked about in Chicago as Italian beef or Vienna Beef hotdogs. While we have not visited all the mangonada-rias of Chicago, we suspect there are now more of them than there are Italian beef and hotdog joints combined. Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen Out: When the State Went After Artisanal Ice-Cream Makers, Nice Cream Decided Not to Melt

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 By Giovanni Wrobel

Kris Swanberg began making ice cream immediately after getting laid off as a CPS teacher, calling her product Nice Cream. Her all-local organic model became popular in stores, gaining the attention of Whole Foods and eventually the Illinois Department of Public Health, who recently shut Swanberg down for not having a dairy license and not following the regulations. Swanberg’s business, however, is still at a point where the regulations are cost prohibitive to keep Nice Cream local and organic. Instead of rolling over, this time she’s drawing her line in the sand and sticking up for her beloved ice cream and that of other Illinois artisan creamers.

What originally intrigued you about making ice cream besides the ice cream maker you received for your wedding?
That’s it really! (Laughs.) I just started doing it at home and I couldn’t stop thinking about different flavors and different ideas.  Read the rest of this entry »

Confection Perfection: How Black Dog Gelato is elevating a classic

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By Giovanni Wrobel

Gelato is a culinary must for starry-eyed Americans with Euros to burn on trips to Italy and elsewhere in Europe. But can this velvety smooth Italian cousin to ice cream claim its rightful spot in our local pantheon of desserts, or is it destined to remain in il purgatorio as a filler choice in old-line Italian restaurants, served in freezer-burned fruit bowls with mint garnish?

One pastry chef and store may not suffice as oracle for such questions,  but Jessica Oloroso, an erudite artisan who owns and operates Black Dog Gelato, has done much in a short time to bring gelato the acclaim and patronage it deserves.

Oloroso started her own business as a supplier to local restaurants and coffee shops throughout Chicago. She left her position as pastry chef at Scylla, a Bucktown restaurant best known as the launching pad for “Top Chef”-winner Stephanie Izard, purchased ice cream machines, and set up shop in Kitchen Chicago, an artisan communal kitchen, where she began work on her techniques and unique recipes.

Oloroso echoes the drive of many start-up business owners: “I really didn’t want to have to work for anyone. I wanted to go off on my own. I honed my particular path, which is ice cream and gelato, using basic skills I picked up in school and then lots of trial and error in the kitchen. I did a lot of reading and research too.” Read the rest of this entry »

411: Ice Cream, You Scream

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For me, a good bowl of ice cream is—and has always been—sitting at home with a pint of double chocolate chip and watching re-runs of “I Love Lucy.” This weekend’s Chicago Luxury Ice Cream Festival turns the dairy-loving world upside down with more than twenty-five decadent vendors for all lactose fanatics to enjoy. Pastry chefs, chocolatiers and animal-friendly creameries will gather together in the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to showcase their best sweets. The venue seems an odd choice, considering it’s usually full of field-trip groups on the midwest Wilderness Walk, but the grill section on the museum’s rooftop terrace sounds like a perfect evening setting.

Last year, Clandestino supper club chef/owner Efrain Cuevas served homemade chocolate and pequin chile ice cream. This year, local favorites like Black Dog Gelato and nationally recognized creameries like Toscanini’s of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who The New York Times claims has “the best ice cream in the world,” will vie for your adoration with The Great Chicago Brain Freeze competition, earning your votes through taste tests. For $25 admission, organizer Jeff Reid says you’ll get demonstrations/workshops and exclusive samples not available to the public. (Dee Fabbricatore)

Chicago Luxury Ice Cream Festival at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 North Cannon Drive, July 30-31, 7pm-10pm, $25.

DIY Summer: Merlot Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream

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Homemade ice cream takes happily to a few shots of liquor—my creamy bourbon caramel and vegan whiskey ginger soy ice cream are two perennial hits at summer barbeques—but making the leap to wine can be intimidating. I’ve been working on it since those teasing hot days we had in mid-April, and the magic formula turns out to be one-part wine, two-parts cream, one-part whole milk. If going vegan, substitute soy creamer/yogurt and soymilk or coconut cream and coconut milk (though I’d be wary of adding anything other than a very fruity white wine to the coconut combo; I have a hunch white zinfandel might be strangely good). I’ve tried champagne ice cream and regular cream/milk with great success; it works just fine with last night’s flat remains. But the big winner so far has been a merlot chocolate chip. As with cooking, the better the wine, the better the result, but merlot, or syrah/shiraz in a pinch, works best because of its lack of complexity—no big reds here.

For one quart of ice cream:
Heat one pint of heavy cream and one cup of milk over low heat and add one to one-and-a-half cups of sugar. Stir slowly until dissolved. Let cool, then add one cup of merlot and mix in a standard ice cream mixer. Add a cup of chocolate chips when just frozen and stir. (Monica Westin)

Hot Plates: My top ten tastes of summer

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Photo: Brent Hieggelke

By Michael Nagrant

1) Taylor Twosome: There’s nothing like a slushy cup of Mario’s watermelon- or cantaloupe-chunk-studded Italian Lemonade and a nutmeg-spiced combo Italian Beef from Al’s. Despite plenty of comers, they’re still both unparalleled originals. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say visiting these institutions wasn’t an excuse to chill on a nearby Taylor Street stoop and watch the inevitable black-socked sandal-wearing old Italian dudes hunkered down in aluminum folding lawn chairs snoring under their rattan-weave porkpie hats. If those guys have turned in early, there’s always a beer-soaked 16” softball game down at Sheridan Park worth catching. Al’s  #1 Italian Beef, 1079 West Taylor; Mario’s Italian Lemonade, 1068 West Taylor

2) Beverly Bi: A freshly ground and griddled buttery patty sandwiched between a fresh pillowy bun from the Soulian family’s Top Notch Beefburger in Beverly just ain’t complete without a five-colored scoop of orange sherbet, pistachio, strawberry, chocolate and Palmer House (Venetian Vanilla with cherries and walnuts) ice creams at the orange adobe palace of The Original Rainbow Cone. Top Notch Beefburger, 2116 West 95th; The Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 South Western Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Chicago Restaurants, 2000-2009

Brazilian, Burgers, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, French, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Ice Cream, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, New American, Organics, Pastry, Punk Haute, Seafood, Steakhouse, Trends & Essays, Vegetarian 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant



Since 2000, Chicago has gone from being a Rat Pack-worthy steak-and-potato-slinging stereotype to a destination for international culinary travelers. Chicago’s affordability, its diners’ willingness to suspend disbelief and its proximity to the sublime bounty of the Midwest all play a role in that transformation. Most important to the renaissance are the places that put everything together to inspire our collective culinary imagination, the best restaurants that opened in Chicago this decade.

The history of cuisine was written in the kitchens of millions of chefs, but we only remember a few by name, guys like Escoffier, Careme and Robuchon. There are probably only three Chicago chefs, as of now, who have a shot at making that list: Jean Banchet, Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz. Though Achatz started making a name for himself at Trio, Alinea was the game changer, the restaurant where every aspect of dining from menus and silverware to the wine service and emotional content of the food was reimagined.

Love it or hate it, this was ground zero for what is now today’s communal table free-for-all. More importantly, Avec was the place that launched a thousand salumi, the fringe of Chicago’s now-burgeoning charcuterie movement. Koren Grieveson’s restrained soulful style is still the late-night hang of choice for chefs.

You probably don’t remember Gerhard Doll or David Hayden, the chef-stewards who drove the good ship Avenues through a successful seafood-driven era, but there’s no doubt you won’t forget the Pop Rock and foie-lollipop fantasia, the convenience-store chic of Graham Elliot Bowles. Without Bowles’ whimsical, accessible style, the emotional roller coaster of Grant Achatz’s cooking and the theater at Homaro Cantu’s Moto likely wouldn’t have quite captured the nation’s imagination, nor garnered Chicago cuisine the countless magazine features it received mid-decade. Today, Curtis Duffy, the culinary love child of Achatz, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, is executing some of the most exciting cuisine Chicago has to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Ice(cream)man Cometh

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Matt Allen, aka Ice Cream Man, is the Johnny Appleseed of ice cream. For five years he and his crew have heroically traveled the country giving away ice cream completely free of charge. Allen, who hiked the Appalachian Trail and walked from Mexico to Canada before getting seriously involved with ice cream, is both an entrepreneur and an adventurer. “I had to do something that was new, that hadn’t been done before,” Allen says. “I realized, holy shit, you can do anything with an ice-cream truck. It’s mobile, everyone loves free ice cream.” Currently featured on a Web series titled “Road Tripping,” Ice Cream Man is hitting major summer music festivals, doling out frozen treats and filming intimate artist performances. The Web series is being put on by Babelgum.com, which was originally interested in producing a music series in the U.S. Each webisode usually features an artist performing a song or two in front of Allen’s ice-cream truck. “Our whole mission is to give away half a million [pieces of] ice cream,” says Allen, who gave away about 45,000 pieces of ice cream at last year’s Lollapalooza. Ice Cream Man will be at the Pitchfork Music Festival this coming weekend, handing out fruit bars and ice-cream sandwiches to dairy-starved attendees.

Natural Dogs: Drew’s Eatery offers the best in organic hotdogs

Hot Dogs/Sausages, Ice Cream, Lincoln Square, Organics, West Loop No Comments »

drews-eateryBy Sarah Klose

Hotdogs and liverwurst: two things I wouldn’t eat as a child. My aversion to eating hotdogs stemmed partly from wondering what the heck was in them. Since my mother told me “all beef” meant any part of the animal, this aversion lasted into my adulthood.

Recently, I passed Drew’s Eatery and noticed his green leaf logo and “organic hotdogs” sign. Was this an oxymoron along the lines of “military intelligence,” or could these hotdogs really be healthy? I decided to bite into one—a fire-roasted red-pepper, jalapeno-pepper, organic-chicken and turkey-sausage one, to be exact. Surprisingly, the hotdog was delicious as well as oh-so-healthy. I decided to talk to the owner and learn more. Read the rest of this entry »

Partners in Crime: Going Down Under for the Beverly-Bi

Beverly, Burgers, Ice Cream No Comments »

rainboconeBy Michael Nagrant

Most people are familiar with the Taylor Street Twosome, but how many know about the Beverly-Bi? The Taylor Street Twosome is the tradition of sucking down a nutmeg-spiced Italian beef, with your knuckles slathered in gravy and flecked with stray giardiniera, at the original Al’s, followed by a saunter across the street for an icy sweet-plastic-spoon dip into a wax-lined paper cup of Mario’s Italian Lemonade.

The Beverly-Bi isn’t quite so easy, as you need a bit of willpower and have to walk about seven blocks to complete it, but it’s no less venerable than the Taylor Street Twosome. But, unless you come from a long line of far Southwest Siders, it’s probably not as well known.

The “bi” begins with a stop at Top Notch Beefburger in the neighborhood of Beverly. Top Notch was established in 1942 at 925 West 79th Street by Armenian immigrants John and Asanette Soulian. The location moved a couple of times before settling in at 2116 West 95th Street in 1984 and is currently run by second and third generations of the Soulian clan.
Read the rest of this entry »