Much Ado About Ice Cream
Nothing says summer like an ice cold scoop of happiness
Photo courtesy of Graham’s Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream
As we celebrate our nation’s founding, even the sunniest optimist has to concede we are a divided nation. We are red or blue, not red, white and blue. So let’s focus on something we can all agree on, a national treasure of summertime — great ice cream. A bowl or cone of delicious ice cream is the perfect antidote to disharmony and unhappiness. As Tim Paul, a manager of the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park, says, “No one is ever angry in an ice cream shop. Or if you come in angry, you won’t be angry for long.”
We’re lucky. This is the golden age of ice cream. Just as we have craft beer, artisan pizzas and independent coffee shops, premium ice cream shops abound. Back in the day, we were thrilled to have 31 flavors at our disposal. But today the wild, bold flavors at shops make those offerings seem so tame and quaint. Ice cream today has real fruit and authentic taste. And a premium ice cream shop is a short drive or even just a long walk away for virtually all west suburbanites.
Tasty Treat, Westmont
Customers have a hard time deciding what they like best about Tasty Treat — the size of the scoops, the price or the quality? So, in between scoops, they rave about all three. “The quality is excellent. It’s a lot to eat. For $2? Anywhere else, you’d be paying $5,” says Bill Davie of Westmont as he enjoys his Prairie Berry, a mix of blueberry, strawberry and raspberry. He likes his ice cream so much he can’t resist joking, “And it’s completely healthy. No calories.”
Tasty Treat has been packing them in for nearly 20 years. The mom-and-pop shop, short on fancy décor but long on down-home atmosphere, serves Wilmette-based Homer’s, a premium ice cream. “Nothing artificial. No fructose,” says Tina Kasson, the folksy Tasty Treat owner with pride. So you can taste the bananas and macadamia nuts in the Banana Mac. The cappuccino ice cream is, well, coffee died and gone to heaven. The Rum Raisin is addictive. “People go crazy over it,” says Kasson.
Kasson turned her tavern into an ice cream shop in 1999 and ever since has relied on word-of-mouth (or taste-of-mouth?) to build her ice cream empire on Cass Avenue. “I never had to do a day of advertising. The high-school kids come and they tell all their friends,” she says.
Kasson and her staff treat everyone the same — royally. “So many places look at you as just another customer. They don’t recognize you as a person. When you come in here, we say hello,” she says.
Unlike other ice cream shop owners, Kasson has a ready answer when asked how she resists indulging in her product all day: “I ran a tavern, right?”
Tasty Treat is located at 19 S. Cass Ave. in Westmont. (630 968-8387).
Tates, La Grange
From the vintage photos and knickknacks on the wall to the oversize red lawn chair outside (“I don’t have a sign, so I use the chair to get attention,” says high-energy owner Maria Marciniec), Tates abounds in character and old-fashioned charm and tastes. “We are an old-fashioned parlor. So we carry fudge ripple and butter pecan, flavors like that.” A large sign in the store rightly proclaims: “There’s Nothing Modern About Us.”
But charm can fade. Taste is what counts. And Tates’ premium ice cream has been a longtime favorite of La Grange folks. Marciniec makes the ice cream in the back — 24 batches a day. For each batch, it takes her 20 minutes to mix the flavors in by hand. Chocolate lovers opt for the rich peanut butter chocolate or the triple chocolate. The fruit-inclined order the to-die-for Bordeaux Cherry.
Other favorites are ice cream sodas and milk shakes. Remember the scene in the movie “The Founder” where McDonald’s tycoon Ray Kroc cuts costs by eliminating the milk from his milk shakes? That kind of cutting-corners thinking is heresy here. Marciniec knows the simple secret to a great milk shake: “more ice cream.”
The customer is king at Tates. Patrons can write a desired flavor on the white board. For sale today is Blueberry Sea Swirl, a concoction suggested by a 4-year-old enchanted by the flavor he saw in a story book.
True, a whole gallon of premium ice cream can be bought at less cost at a grocery store. So why go out? “It’s a family experience,” says Marciniec, who bought the business in 2010. “You always see someone you know here. It’s a gathering place.”
Tates is a cherry on top of normal life. “You win the baseball game. You come to Tates. You lose the baseball game. You come to Tates. You skin your knee. You come to Tates. Ice cream makes you happy,” she says.
It also makes you carefree as a child. At Tates, adults often bypass a regular table and instead squeeze their frames into the one tiny table, and families play the 4-Way Countdown game on the tables while relishing their ice cream.
Tates is located at 25 S. Ashland Ave. in La Grange (708 352-4848).
Batavia Creamery, Batavia
Ice cream-wise, Kirk Janson, 47, was once a wayward youth. And then a wayward adult. As a 9-year-old, he scooped ice cream — 31 flavors — in his parents’ ice cream chain store. Then for 15 years he scooped 31 flavors in his chain ice cream shop in Naperville. But he realized the selection was limited, and the quality, though good, was not great, at least in
his educated estimation. So in 2006 he opened the Creamery in Batavia. It’s ice cream heaven. The variety and quality are off the charts, customers agree.
The Creamery offers 44 flavors and rotates in another 150 or so. Janson is like a mad ice cream scientist. Every week he trots out a few new flavors. Some have taken root and have become seasonal. The Firecracker in early July is berry ice cream with pop rocks. Pumpkin Pie arrives in October and Eggnog shows up in December. Otherwise, you can count on favorite flavors fiendishly blended in surprising but delicious ways. Tennessee Toffee combines whiskey caramel sauce and toffee bits. Scouts Honor (the names are consistently inventive) swirls together mint, fudge and cookies. Monkeying Around blends chocolate chip and banana.
Batavia Creamery is located at 4 N. Island Ave. in Batavia (630 482-3729).
Oberweis, multiple locations
A chain has to hurdle a higher bar to make this list. We want to alert our readers to hidden gems, to tell them about places they may not be aware of. But it would be criminal not to include Oberweis. Its ice cream is super premium — a startling 18 percent butterfat. Premium ice cream has a low overrun of air, giving it a dense texture and a higher fat content. A 14 percent butterfat ratio qualifies as premium. Oberweis ice cream is so rich that a plain vanilla or chocolate cone is a decadent experience. But don’t cheat yourself — go one step beyond decadence and enjoy Chocolate Peanut Butter, Black Berry or Butter Brickle, made with pieces of toffee candy. (Find west suburban locations at www.oberweis.com).
Kilwins, Geneva, Elmhurst, St. Charles, Wheaton
Kilwins was born in Petoskey, MI in the 1940s and its ice cream is so good, so reminiscent of a lazy, sun-soaked vacation day, that it seems to transport you to a simpler time and place. Yet the ice cream is contemporary, not skimping on originality or inventiveness. You won’t regret getting the New Orleans Praline Pecan, the All-American Two Berry Pie
or the Traverse City Cherry.
Kilwins is located at 407 S. Third St. in Geneva (630 232-7122); 148 N. York St. in Elmhurst (630 903-6056); 100 N. Hale St. in Wheaton, (630 668-2353) and 132 S. 1st St. in St. Charles (630 549-7943).
Kimmer’s Ice Cream, St. Charles and Wheaton
The slogan on the pink wall says it all: “Homemade with Love.” Since opening in St. Charles seven years ago and in Wheaton two years ago, Kimmer’s has become a cult favorite. The ice cream is so authentic, well, that it does not seem real. Consider its strawberry ice cream. It has no dye. “People look at it and say it’s so white it looks like vanilla. But it has real strawberries. When they taste it, it’s like ‘Wow,’” says Isaac Yates, who owns the shops with his wife, Kimmer Elam. Both are in their 20s.
Normally, someone who names an ice cream shop after herself would be guilty of chutzpah. But in Elam’s case it’s perfectly reasonable. From an early age, her destiny was ice cream. She worked at a Baskin-Robbins and then at a Cold Stone Creamery while studying at the University of Iowa, where she drew up business plans for ice cream shops before attending Ice Cream University in New Jersey. She and Yates were married last year.
Kimmer’s ice cream is made in the back of the shop — nice and slow. “Commercial places do it fast and whip more air into their ice cream. It comes out light and flaky. Ours is dense and creamy,” says Yates. The milk, sugar and cream that go into the ice cream are local — from Wisconsin. The shop’s brownies and cookies come from the Moveable Feast in Geneva, and its espresso is from Arcedium Coffee in St. Charles.
The shops carry 32 flavors — 17 regular and 15 in rotation. The top seller is the scrumptious Caramel Sea Salt. Another favorite is Aztec Hot Chocolate, flavored with chili powder, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. It’s a two-for-one taste bud experience — the familiar taste of premium chocolate gives way to a satisfying hot-chocolate aftertaste. The White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie isway, way better than it sounds. Or try the Parent Trap, a mix of vanilla, peanut butter ribbon and Oreos.
Kimmer’s waffle cones also are homemade. Its signature cone is the trademarked Sparkle Cone, dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with “disco dust” (edible glitter). The shop holds birthday parties for children, who can propose their own creation. A sixth-grader suggested one of the flavors now sold to the general public — the Sweet 6-3, a blend of caramel, chocolate-covered pretzels and chocolate chips.
Kimmer’s is located at 1 W. Illinois St. in St. Charles (630 762-9480) and 109 E. Front St. in Wheaton (630 765-7704).
Brown Cow, Forest Park
This old-fashioned ice cream parlor is — old. The space held burlesque shows in the 1890s before turning into a movie theater in 1910. You can still see the outline of the projector booth high on a wall. Connie and Matt Brown opened the parlor in 2004, and its appeal — both the ambiance and the ice cream — is timeless.
For the uninitiated, “Brown Cow” is a play on words. A brown cow is a root beer float, and the shop’s delicious namesake float is made with homemade root beer. The sundaes here also are superb. The Turtle Temptation is top-notch. But the main draw is the ice cream. The shop carries 28 flavors — homemade, ultra-premium ice cream. “It’s extremely creamy and extremely delicious,” says Sue Hoyer, a teacher in adjacent Oak Park, as she savors a scoop of peanut butter chocolate.
Near the entrance, even before you get to the ice cream barrels, is a triple-decker glass display case graced with a wonderful assortment of ice cream sandwiches, ice cream pies and ice cream cakes. Absolutely divert your eyes unless you plan to drive home with a treat for later.
Just for fun, bring a gaggle of friends and order the mammoth 21-scoop Trough for $49.99. The parlor sponsors a Trough contest in July. A crew of guys once finished it off in three minutes, seven seconds.
The parlor also has a small bakery, with mini-apple pies from an old family recipe.
Brown Cow may sell ice cream but its real draw is deeper and grander. Its allure is suggested by the shop’s subdued, brownish light, similar to a tinted old-time photo. “We’re typical Americana,” says Paul, a manager and 11-year employee.
Brown Cow is located at 7347 Madison St. in Forest Park (708 366-7970).
Every Day’s a Sundae, Downers Grove
Vacationers in South Haven, MI know to stop at Sherman’s for its flavorful, high-quality ice cream. Downers Grove residents know they can walk, bike or drive to their own downtown to savor Sherman’s. The Urban family ran a blueberry farm in South Haven and provided the essential ingredient for Sherman’s blueberry ice cream before opening the Downers Grove ice cream store in 1992.
The new owner of Every Day’s is Jonathan Kaufman, and he’s no fool. The super-popular Sherman specialties are still here, such as Mackinac Island Fudge, Marion County, Moose Tracks and Blue Moon. Kaufman is no rookie when it comes to local retailing — he owns Wells Street Popcorn a block away and in Oak Park. He carries 42 ice cream flavors. He knows the best way to win over customers — let them sample and then sample some more. “Try this and try that. It’s all good,” he says.
Every Day’s a Sundae is located 990 Warren Ave. in Downers Grove (630 810-9155).
Graham’s Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream, Geneva, Wheaton
The chocolates here are so popular that the ice cream tends to get overlooked. That’s a colossal culinary mistake. Here’s an idea — order a Dark Chocolate Bitter Chip and enjoy it on the attractive screened porch or outdoor patio and take the box of chocolates to go.
Graham’s Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream has two locations: 302 S. 3rd St. in Geneva (630 232-6655) and 119 W. Front St. in Wheaton (630 221-1199)
Petersen’s Ice Cream, Oak Park
Begun in 1919, venerable Petersen’s was once a destination ice cream shop, one of the very few places with premium ice cream. Old-timers grouse that it’s not what it was. But it remains a popular old-fashioned parlor with above-average ice cream and an authentic old-time aura no other shop can possibly match.
Petersen’s is located at 1100 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park (708 386-6131).
Colonial Café, Naperville, St. Charles, four other locations
Everything but the kitchen sink? You can get the Kitchen Sink, too, when you come to Colonial Café, a full-service restaurant. The Sink consists of two bananas, two scoops each of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, chocolate, strawberry and pineapple sauces, gads of whipped cream and topped with almonds and the requisite cherry. It’s not meant for a single person — not that people of a certain age don’t try. “Teenagers take it as a challenge,” says Manager Pedro Huesca. Why the name? That’s obvious when it arrives: the dish looks like a kitchen sink. “People ask to buy it. But it’s not for sale,” says Huesca. He’s partial to the peanut butter fudge dish, a decadent indulgence topped with a Reese’s. Also memorable is the Turtle Sundae, served in a 1950s-era tall, thick glass. By the time you’re halfway finished, you’ll be so groggy with sugar you’ll swear your dining partners are beginning to resemble Richie, Potsie and Ralph Malph.
Colonial Café is located at 1101 S. Washington St. in Naperville (630 420-7722); and 1625 E. Main St. (630 584-4647) and 522 Randall Rd. in St. Charles (630 443-8338).
Frost Gelato, Naperville
When in Naperville, do as those in Naperville do — die and go to heaven by enjoying the pistachio gelato here. Or the sea salt caramel gelato. Or one of about 20 other tantalizing flavors at this international chain. Except for the milk and sugar, the ingredients are from Italy. Travelers who come back from Rome often do not rave first about the pasta or Vatican or Colosseum but the gelato. Save a few bucks and travel to Naperville for authentic gelato.
Frost Gelato is located at 50 S. Main St. in Naperville (630 210-8457).
La Michoacana, Aurora, Downers Grove, Naperville, elsewhere
Think outside the cone at this shop. La Michoacana carries dozens of Mexican ice cream treats including paletas (fresh fruit ices). The almond tequila ice cream is also wonderful, as are the Helado de Fresa con Crema (strawberries and cream ice cream) and the Helado de Pinon (pine nut ice cream). Visit once and you’ll most likely make a return visit.
La Michoacana is located 6313 Woodward Ave. in Downers Grove and 592 S. Rt. 59 in Naperville.
Brain Freeze, Elmhurst
Ice cream shops that stick around need to entice — there has to be flavors you can’t get in the grocery freezer or at a humdrum ice cream shop. This cute shop near the train tracks in downtown Elmhurst is known for its Red Bull Brain Freeze, an Italian ice energized with Red Bull. It’s a winner. “It’s kind of a slusher,” explains Kristen Hoel. She and her husband bought the business in 2011. Also recommended is the Pirate’s Booty, caramel ice cream packed with M&M’s and Oreos; and the irresistible Tennessee Toffee, toffee ice cream strewn with toffee pieces and a caramel whiskey ribbon. Scrawled on the chalkboard outside the store is a slogan that succinctly sums up the allure of ice cream -— “You Can’t Buy Happiness But You Can Buy Ice Cream.”
Brain Freeze is located at 110 W. Park Ave. in Elmhurst (630 478-3909).
More Summer Treats
Gina’s Italian Ice, Berwyn
It’s a ramshackle storefront, not the kind of place that would catch your eye and cause you to pull over. But Italian ice aficionados know that Gina’s in Berwyn rivals Mario’s in Little Italy or any other Italian ice shop. Since 1977, Gina has stuck with her original recipes, handmade with fresh fruits bought locally. A small cup of lemon or lime or one of the other 10 flavors is a lot more Italian ice than you think, but treat yourself and order a large anyway.
Gina’s is located at 6737 Roosevelt Rd. in Berwyn (708 484-0944).
Andy’s Frozen Custard, Countryside, Bolingbrook, Naperville
The kitschy large cone out front says it all — old-fashioned custard. It’s thick and rich and a plain white cone is incredibly satisfying. Or opt for the Mint Oreo concrete, bursting with flavor.
Andy’s is located at 260 S. Weber Rd. in Bolingbrook (630 378-9590); 3104 Anna Marie Ln. in Naperville (331 444-7001); and 5745 S. La Grange Rd. in Countryside (708 579-0015).
Dairy Queen, Villa Park
Most DQs seem retro without even trying. But the one in Villa Park has a special vibe. From the two walk-up windows, close to traffic on St. Charles Road, to the two red tables behind the squat, red-roofed shop, this DQ is like a time machine to a simpler era. The ice cream is a blast from the past, too —cones for only $1.69, hot fudge sundaes, peanut butter parfaits, banana splits and triple chocolate brownies. Indulge in the 1,500-calorie Royal Blizzard Reese’s for a reasonable $5.29. Take home a box of Dilly Bars for $6.39.
Dairy Queen is located at 211 E. St. Charles Rd. in Villa Park (630 832-2010).Edit Module