Chicagoland + Reading Material

I’m spending the weekend in the greater Chicagoland area to celebrate the bridal festivities of my sister-in-law, which if all goes to plan will result in lots of great food and wonderful times. I didn’t want to leave you hanging though and so without further ado I present a smattering of Internet fun for your amusement.

Reading Material:

Berries are seriously such divas! Good thing Food52 has some strategies to keep them fuzz-free a few days longer and free us from the tyranny of their delicate constitution.

Did you hear about the kerfuffle the New York Times caused when they suggested that peas belonged in guacamole? (No. Just, no.) Well, a writer from The Atlantic made the recipe. Allow me to preview: “I don’t believe in wasting avocados on an abomination.”

Lovely photography and a little French lesson courtesy of Buzz Feed. Hoping I might be the sortable kind of person…

And while we’re on the subject of French, a blast from the past: a piece from The New Yorker detailing several days of Julia Child’s promotional tour in 1974.

Remember when I spent last summer scouting the best mint chocolate chip ice cream? If Eater is right and these artisan ice cream makers have their way next summer it will be the best salt & pepper, bourbon, green tea swirl.

Minty Fresh Scouting: Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Pop-up

Gotham West Market NYC  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Gotham West Market NYC | Image: Laura Messersmith

It seemed appropriate for the beginning of the Labor Day weekend to do one last – for now! - post on my search for the Best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. So far I haven’t found the “perfect cone” but I did come close and while the official search is over I will remain alert for new contenders for the throne.

For this chapter I stopped by West Gotham Market in Hell’s Kitchen to check out the pop-up location of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and try their take on a refreshing mint ice cream. Here’s the scoop from Jeni’s on Backyard Mint:

“Peppermint has a strong, sweet scent, and it also has a high concentration of oils, which are essential in flavoring ice cream. When you roughly chop fresh peppermint the way we do, the leaves are bruised, which opens the oil pockets. In our world, bruising is just the thing to do when you’re cold-soaking peppermint in cream. Soaked overnight, the peppermint scent is locked into the cream, ultimately giving Backyard Mint ice cream it’s cool, subtly sweet flavor and remarkably refreshing herb-garden finish.”

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Pop-up NYC   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Pop-up NYC | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Scientific Part:

The rules are the same and I’m judging based the contenders for Mint Chocolate champ 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.

Special Comment on the Score: Normally I just let the numbers tell the tale, but in this case I want to point out that the Backyard Mint is mint only, not mint chip - which makes me a little sad on Jeni’s behalf because I actually think this might be the best ice cream I had all summer, but it scores poorly due to the color and lack of chips. Rules are rules even if it’s tough to be objective, so here’s my recommendation: buy the Backyard Mint and stir in some chocolate shavings for the ultimate scoop.

Backyard Mint by Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Backyard Mint by Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream | Image: Laura Messersmith

Jeni’s Score:

Flavor – beautifully, clean clear mint flavor that truly tastes like the herb (5 of 5)

Color – peppermint pattie white, oh dear (1 of 5)

Creaminess – gorgeously smooth and creamy, love! (5 of 5)

Chips – alas, there were no chips at all, but then this was just Mint ice cream (1 of 5)

Charm – Gotham West Market isn’t exactly charming, so much as ‘cool’ but it does have great outdoor space (4 of 5)

Total Score: 16/25

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Pop-up NYC  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Pop-up NYC | Image: Laura Messersmith

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

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.     Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: 16/25

8.     Cayuga Lake Creamery: 16/25

9.     Sundaes and Cones: 11/25

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

Minty Fresh Scouting: Cayuga Lake Creamery

Cayuga Lake Creamery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Cayuga Lake Creamery | Image: Laura Messersmith

Everyone needs a summer project; a goal to work toward over the hottest months of the year; a plan that will give meaning to an otherwise lazy series of days. I considered this question carefully and arrived at the most obvious answer: visit as many ice cream shops as possible in search of the best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice cream.

Why Mint Chocolate Chip? Mainly, because it’s my all-time favorite flavor, but also it seems like most shops offer an option that combines mint and chocolate. I’m willing to consider gelato, novelties and sorbet, but ice cream is really what I’m after. If you have recommendations on places I should try I’d love to hear them!

My fifth stop in my quest for the minty-est ice cream cone in the land took place in the gorgeous hills above Cayuga Lake in Upstate New York. I was back home visiting my family and of course had to take advantage of being back in dairy country to taste some local flavors at the aptly named Cayuga Lake Creamery, which sits above the aforementioned lake.

Cayuga Lake Creamery  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Cayuga Lake Creamery | Image: Laura Messersmith

According to their site:

“Our homemade ice cream is made on the premises in small batches for excellent quality control. We start with a 14% butterfat mix from our dairy, Upstate Farms. We then add the finest ingredients available – from down the road and around the world – to create our flavors.”

Mint Chocolate Chunk: Mint ice cream (we use white mint) with lots of chocolate chunks.”

I would have liked to give higher scores here, but the lack of minty-ness and pale color really hurt Cayuga Lake Creamery’s chances. This is not to say it isn’t worth trying since the ingredients were high quality, but I’d probably go for a different flavor next time.

The Scientific Part:

The five criteria are Flavor and then the four “Cs” - Color, Creaminess, Chips, and Charm.

I like 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.

Mint Chocolate Chunk by Cayuga Lake Creamery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Mint Chocolate Chunk by Cayuga Lake Creamery | Image: Laura Messersmith

Cayuga Lake Creamery’s Score:

Flavor – not that minty and also unfortunately a bit strawberry-ish due to cross-pollination (2 of 5)

Color – a peppermint pattie white, sigh (1 of 5)

Creaminess – wonderfully and thick creamy (5 of 5)

Chips – dark chocolate pieces, yum. (4 of 5)

Charm – roadside stand way out in the country, corn fields clearly visible (4 of 5)

Total Score: 16/25

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!

1.     The Lands at Hillside Farms: 22/25

2.     Ample Hills Creamery: 20/25

3.     Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream: 18/25

4.     Cayuga Lake Creamery: 16/25

5.     Sundaes and Cones: 11/25

Cayuga Lake Creamery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Cayuga Lake Creamery | Image: Laura Messersmith