Minty Fresh Scouting: Chicago Edition

Black Dog 2.jpg

How is it possible that Summer feels like it’s drawing to a close when we’ve just barely reached mid-August? It was down right chilly this morning on my walk with Maddie and I’m thinking seriously of making soup today – what’s that about?

But, you’ll be glad to know that I’m resisting this early onset autumn and persevering in my search for the Best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream with not one, not two, but three (I am seeking help at the gym…) different ice cream samples during our trip to Chicago last weekend. Honestly, when I think of the Windy City’s cuisine my mind goes more to deep dish pizza or pretzels not so much ice cream, but I have to say I was impressed by all three of the fine establishments I visited. They’re collected here for your minty pleasure.

The Scientific Part:

The rules are the same and Mint Chocolate Chip is the name of the game. (A rapper I am not.) I’m judging based on five criteria - Flavor and then the four “Cs” - Color, Creaminess, Chips, and Charm.

In my ideal world I want a dash of kitsch with my high-quality ingredients, so my preference is for pale green ice cream with intense mint flavor and deep dark chocolate shavings. Yes, I realize that this doesn’t make them ‘chips’ per se, but then they’re more smoothly incorporated with the ice cream. I’m giving extra points for a whimsical setting or special experience – that’s the Charm part.

The scoop on the contestants:

  Black Dog Gelato  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Black Dog Gelato | Image: Laura Messersmith

Black Dog Gelato (Ukrainian Village/Chicago)

“Black Dog Gelato creates gourmet gelato and sorbets combining the artisanal process with inventive and intriguing flavors. Gelato is made fresh daily in small batches and begins with the simplest ingredients:  milk, cream, sugar, eggs, freshly toasted nuts, seasonal fruits, and quality chocolates.”

  Bobtail Ice Cream  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Bobtail Ice Cream | Image: Laura Messersmith

Bobtail Ice Cream (Lakeview/Chicago)

“Bobtail is the only Chicago company that makes truly homemade, hard-pack ice cream. We specialize in classic, seasonal and locally-inspired ice cream flavors… use[ing] only top-quality ingredients. Bobtail combines three generations of Wilcoxon family recipes and small-town ideals with fresh-energy and an urban touch!”

PS: The Chicago Tribune says “Bobtail” a slang term derived from the nickname of the handle on an old-fashioned soda fountain. Fun fact.

  Graham's Fine Chocolate & Ice Cream  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Graham's Fine Chocolate & Ice Cream | Image: Laura Messersmith

Graham’s Fine Chocolate & Ice Cream (Geneva, IL)

The Graham’s site is a bit cagey on the details, but careful research across the Internet gleaned the following info and a revelation: it’s gelato! 

“Homemade. Hand dipped. The ultimate taste in fine chocolates. Using only the finest and freshest ingredients from around the globe, we combine taste with artistry to make our signature candies.”

After a gelato taste-testing trip to Italy, [owner Bob Untiedt] came home inspired to bring this creation to his customers. “Twenty-five years ago, when we started making gelato, it was just easier to say it was ice cream,” said Untiedt, who makes all varieties with a special gelato machine.  – BataviaSun.com

   Oreo Mint by Black Dog Gelato  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Oreo Mint by Black Dog Gelato | Image: Laura Messersmith

Black Dog’s Score:

Flavor – intensely minty flavor that built in intensity (5 of 5)

Color – the ideal shade of pale green! (5 of 5)

Creaminess – beautifully smooth and creamy - this is gelato after all (5 of 5)

Chips – I hate to dock points on a technicality, but actually they were Oreos… (2 of 5)

Charm – cute shop, but it lacked a certain I-don’t-know-what (2 of 5)

Total Score: 19/25

  Mint Chip by Bobtail Ice Cream  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Mint Chip by Bobtail Ice Cream | Image: Laura Messersmith

Bobtail’s Score:

Flavor – gently minty and refreshing (4 of 5)

Color – a pale white, bummer (1 of 5)

Creaminess – dense and creamy, excellent texture (5 of 5)

Chips – large, thin shards of semi sweet chocolate (4 of 5)

Charm – rocking an 1950s ice cream shop vibe in a way that tiptoes at the edge of kitsch (3 of 5)

Total Score: 17/25

  Green Mint Chip by Graham's Fine Chocolate & Ice Cream  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Green Mint Chip by Graham's Fine Chocolate & Ice Cream | Image: Laura Messersmith

Graham’s Score:

Flavor – gently minty would have loved a touch more cooling flavor (4 of 5)

Color – the perfect pale, Palm Beach green! (5 of 5)

Creaminess – quite creamy and smooth I should have realized it was gelato… (4 of 5)

Chips – large, thin shards of semi sweet chocolate – very similar to Bobtail (4 of 5)

Charm – old-fashioned, Wonka-style candy store + white Adirondack chairs for outdoor lounging (4 of 5)

Total Score: 22/25

Current Rankings:

For folks following these adventures at home, here are the current rankings of the ice creams and shops I’ve visited so far. Those top three spots are pretty hotly contested with representation from NYC, PA, and Chicagoland – see, no favoritism here!

1.     The Lands at Hillside Farms: 22/25

2.     Graham’s Fine Chocolate & Ice Cream: 21/25

3.     Ample Hills Creamery: 20/25

4.     Black Dog Gelato: 19/25

5.     Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream: 18/25

6.     Bobtail Ice Cream: 17/25

7.     Cayuga Lake Creamery: 16/25

8.     Sundaes and Cones: 11/25