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Cold Comforts

Chocolate (and Vanilla and Black Walnut and Saffron Honey) City: A guide to local ice cream, gelato, and more

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Anna Held, 5557 N. Sheridan, 773-561-1940. Behind the gilt-lettered awnings and plate glass on the first floor of the landmark pink Edgewater Beach building stands a soda fountain that first opened in 1927. The ambience trumps the ice cream: at the original marble counter and lone table are served--along with coffees, a few sandwiches, salads, and homemade soups--a standard selection of Blue Bonnet ice cream sundaes, splits, shakes, malts, and sodas. (EMT)

Australian Homemade, 3425 N. Southport, 773-281-3830. The staff says the ice cream is "made from Australian recipes." Apparently in Australia it is creamy and not too sweet, sticks to basic flavors like vanilla, strawberry, chocolate chip, and banana, and is served in crisp but yielding waffle cones at a higher temperature than usual here in the States--so you can really taste the flavor without waiting. (AA)

Ben & Jerry's PartnerShop, 1634 Orrington, Evanston, 847-869-2640. This B&J's is owned and operated by the community-based nonprofit Youth Job Center of Evanston. The ice cream selection is the same as at other B&J franchises (including Chicago locations at 338 W. Armitage and on Navy Pier). (LLS)

Bobtail Soda Fountain, 2951 N. Broadway, 773-880-7372. Nine flavors are made at this old-fashioned soda fountain, from simple triple vanilla to espresso. Unfortunately, scoops and sundaes come in plastic cups, even when you stay in the 12-seat red-and-white parlor--the homemade Belgian waffles make a better base. (LLS)

Caffe Gelato, 2034 W. Division, 773-227-7333. Gelato (Italian ice cream) has less air and butterfat than the American stuff, so the flavors stand out more. This sleek spot offers 18 seasonally rotated flavors, including bacio (chocolate hazelnut), frutti di bosco (berries), ananas (pineapple), and panna cotta. (SF)

Cold Stone Creamery, 21 W. Ontario, 312-280-5977. The ice cream's made on-site, and creating your own concoction is the deal at this outpost of the Tempe-based chain. Suggested combos include Apple Pie a la Cold Stone, Cocoa Banana Cabana, and Butter Fingers Fumble, but whatever you pick is mixed before your eyes on a freezing cold granite slab. There are additional locations--too many to list, and more every day. (LLS)

Double Rainbow, 3746 N. Southport, 773-472-3530. Along with classics like mint chocolate chip, rum raisin, and rainbow sherbet, this parlor offers yummy mixes like cinnamon caramel and blueberry cheesecake as well as contemporary flavors like green tea and dulce de leche. Worth a stop after a movie at the Music Box. (HK)

Freddy's Pizza, 1600 S. 61st, Cicero, 708-863-9289. This old-school Italian grocery, deli, and pizzeria has nine rotating fresh and classic homemade gelati, and reaches a zenith of intensity with its purple-and-white swirled frutti di bosco. It also offers about 15 flavors of Italian ice. (MS)

Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop & Soda Fountain, 830 N. Michigan, 312-337-9330. This place is great for a late-night fix downtown (it's open till midnight on Friday and Saturday), but don't go out of your way. The ice cream is unmemorable and the soda-fountain treats are merely adequate. During the day the store fills with tiny tourists clutching red bags from American Girl Place. (AA)

GP Franklin's, 4767 N. Lincoln, 773-293-1900. The old-fashioned soda counter in the entryway of this Lincoln Square eatery serves homemade ice cream topped with homemade hot fudge or gooey caramel, milk shakes, and malts. (LLS)

Homer's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, 1237 Green Bay, Wilmette, 847-251-0477. I can walk into this store and instantly be transported to when I was five years old, going out with my dad for an ice cream cone after a T-ball game. Every summer they make their own peach ice cream, and the peppermint's good too, full of the store's own crushed candies. Ninety percent of the workers are high school kids; the others are men who have worked there since I was a child. If you don't want to drive to the burbs, Homer's supplies more than 100 city restaurants, including Maggiano's, Nick's Fishmarket, Big Bowl, Mike Ditka's, Bob Chinn's, and Red Eyes, a new coffee shop at 4164 N. Lincoln. (MG)

Ice Dreams, 2865 N. Clark, 773-404-6850. The focal point of this nondescript joint, up the street from Landmark's Century Centre, is a freezer at the back of the room where bins of gelati and sorbet gleam in the fluorescent light. All flavors--from classic pistachio and lemon to all-American peanut butter cup and cookie jar to exotic saffron and honey--are made fresh in small batches. Get there early: on big movie nights the most enticing options tend to be gone by the seven o'clock show. (US)

Marble Slab Creamery, 940 Church, Evanston, 847-328-7330. You can mix candy, fruit, nuts, or all three into one of the 40 or so rotating homemade flavors at this branch of the Texas chain (one of three in suburban Chicago--the others are in Skokie and Libertyville). (LLS)

Margie's Candies, 1960 N. Western, 773-384-1035. The ice cream is average, but nobody cares--it's all about the atmosphere at this 83-year-old sweets shop, where little has changed for decades. Under the watchful eyes of numerous dusty dolls, you can get giddy over a turtle sundae--a Margie's classic featuring homemade hot fudge and caramel sauces. All treats come with sugary vanilla wafers. The tabletop jukeboxes, alas, are now just for show. (SF)

Mario & Gino's Gourmet Ice Cream Shop, 2057 W. Roscoe, 773-529-8664. Mario & Gino's carries two grades of gelato: "premium" and "gourmet." The premium product comes from local maker Al Gelato and is better than most American ice cream simply by virtue of being gelato. The gourmet version is made by a New York outfit called Ciao Bella. It costs 75 cents more per scoop than premium, and you can taste the difference. It is outstanding stuff, light and velvety smooth, with vivid but delicate flavor. (I had the hazelnut and the chocolate-chocolate chip.) The shop also carries Double Rainbow ice cream, Ciao Bella sorbet, and its own Italian ice. (AA)

Miami Flavors, 2504 W. Division, 773-227-2337. Chef Robert Bouyer's ever-changing array of Caribbean-inspired flavors may include avocado, cantaloupe, sour sop, guava, and corn, all made with fresh sugarcane syrup and less fat than most ice creams. (KB)

Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 S. Western, 773-238-7075. The specialty of this family-owned spot is the eponymous rainbow cone--a manually assembled scoop of chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, and "Palmer House" cherry-walnut ice cream plus orange sherbet on a pointy cake cone--but there are 17 single-flavor options as well. The atmosphere's efficient but fun: patrons line up in a roped queue to order from cashiers who yell back endearing shorthand like "baby white" (for a small vanilla cone) and "heebie-jeebie" (for chocolate peanut butter), and there are picnic tables behind the aging pink-stucco building. (KY)

Paleteria Jalisco, 4219 N. Kedzie, 773-583-9257. This shop supplies many of the pushcart vendors in Albany Park and has a walk-in storefront that sells the frozen bars for 15 cents cheaper. They have about two dozen ice milk and Popsicle flavors, including chili-dusted cucumber, guayaba, coconut, pina colada, rice pudding, pecan, cookie, banana, mango, chocolate strawberry, and mamey. (MS)

Penguin, 2723 W. Lawrence, 773-271-4924. While not for purists--the milk is powdered, the vanilla artificial--Penguin's gelato is nonetheless enlightening. Chocolate, cherry, and caramel rarely taste so unpolluted, and the eggy, marsala-spiked zambayon is a confounding pleasure. The store also makes pizza and empanadas, but the 20-some flavors of gelato take priority. (MS)

Petersen's Ice Cream, 1100 Chicago, Oak Park, 708-386-6131. It's the Oak Park institution's 85th anniversary, but the important number here is 18: that's the percentage of butterfat the ice cream still contains. The 30 or so flavors range from old-fogy faves like rum eggnog and black walnut to kiddie fare like blue moon and Oreo. Their ice cream counter has a full-service soda fountain, and in the adjacent rooms are a diner and a well-stocked candy shop. Or rather, shoppe. (KY)

Scooter's Frozen Custard, 1658 W. Belmont, 773-244-6415. It's easy to be number one when you're the sole contestant in your category. Scooter's gets a lot of attention for being Chicago's only frozen-custard shop, but the product tastes more like soft serve. (AA)

Sweeties Ice Cream, 3731 N. Clark, 773-868-1940. Sweeties offers the usual flavors to crowds from nearby Wrigley Field and the Metro, plus some nice extras like green tea and Almond Joy. If you have a taste for something more unusual, try the Green River float, made with the alien-green soda. Or ask to sample the Pop Rocks ice cream, which is filled with bits of fizzy candy and tastes, as one customer put it, "kind" (AF)

Sweet Occasions, 4639 N. Damen, 773-293-3080. Sandwiches, coffee, candy, and 14 percent butterfat premium imported from Madison's Chocolate Shoppe are available here and at Sweet Occasions' other location, at 1622 W. Morse. Ice cream flavors include superrich standards and fancy-pants concoctions like Fat Elvis, banana rippled with peanut butter and chocolate chip; Gaelic Delight, swirled vanilla and creme de menthe ice creams; and Root Beer Float, an understated but delicious swirl of vanilla and fizz. (MS)

Treats Frozen Desserts 3319 N. Broadway, 773-525-0900. For people who want to have their ice cream and eat it too: the soft-serve ice milk dispensed at this year-old chain is low calorie, low cholesterol, and 99 percent fat free--but mix-ins like Oreo crumbles, gummy bears, and granola are available for a premium. The frozen concoction comes in six flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and four specials from a rotating list of 65 that includes apple pie and green tea. As for that soda fountain vibe: as a friend remarked, walking by the 2224 N. Clark location: "It looks like a Web site." There's a third Treats in Glencoe. (KY)

Village Creamery, 4558 Oakton, Skokie, 847-982-1720. Outside there's nothing to indicate this storefront carries anything more thrilling than Baskin-Robbins, but the menu's filled with uncommon homemade Filipino ice creams. Among the many startling flavors are two coconut-based varieties, corn, avocado, purple yam, jackfruit, ginger, lychee, and, most flamboyantly, halo-halo, a hash of red and white beans, sugar palm, Jell-O bits, coconut, and Rice Krispies based on the popular Filipino dessert. Many flavors, like a pale green soother made from pandan leaves and large hunks of coconut, are lightly sweetened, letting the tropical elements do the talking. (MS)

Zephyr Cafe, 1777 W. Wilson, 773-728-6070. The ice cream is pedestrian and the setting faux art deco, but what Zephyr lacks in quality it makes up for in portion size and flair. On the menu are ice cream sodas, shakes, and sundaes like the Peanut Butter Strut, Frankenstein's Monster, the Grand Hotel, and a ten-scoop monstrosity called War of the Worlds. (CD)

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