Monday, July 9, 2012

The Italian Ice Scene

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-Chicago's Summertime Snack

It's been a hot summer so far in Chicago and while that sucks for those without AC it's a good thing for the Italian Ice stands around the city. They open each spring ready to quench the palates of Chicagoans throughout each summer. It took me long enough but it seems as if each summer's past I would forget to do my Chicagoland Italian Ice round up. In the end all that it led too was me getting to document pretty much every one still around. Italian ice is as much a part of Chicago summers as the Cubs and White Sox are. Many people call it the cousin of gelato, I call it my favorite non alcoholic summertime snack. I've been eating it since my youth. I was always the kid who wanted Italian Ice rather than ice cream. So I present to you the best roundup on the internet of Italian Ice stands in the land where it's best. Chicago. Ya Philly I'm looking at you. Here are ten summertime stands that make this claim true.

Mario's Italian Lemonade

An all time Chicago favorite on Taylor Street

It's only fitting that for the first stop we head over to Taylor street where many of the Italian immigrants who came to Chicago settled in at. Mario's has been a part of the neighborhood and now the entire city since the 1950's. It's a piece of Chicago. Mario's doesn't sell Italian ice they make Italian lemonade. All of it's flavors have some lemon in it. A distinct trait of Mario's lemonade is the fact that rinds of lemon come in each cup no matter which flavor you get.

Fresh fruit flavors

As is the case at all ice places there are certain flavors that are better than others. At Mario's its all about which signs are hanging up above the local high school kids taking your order. Which is another thing you count on from each ice stand in the city. They all give summertime jobs to high school students from the neighborhood. At Mario's the fruit cocktail and lemon are most popular I almost always go for the fruit cocktail mixed with either watermelon, cantaloupe or if its in season, peach. All these flavors not only include the lemon rinds but also fresh fruit from the specific flavor you get with fruit cocktail being apples and whatever else is around. It's all good.

Mario's Italian Lemonade

As far as value goes, Mario's is the best at that too. Who doesn't love the fact that their cups can be anything from comcast water tank cups like those at corporate offices or some random regional fast food chain? Many already consider it the best and only Italian ice place in town. I cant pick a best but Mario's is to Italian Ice what Al's Beef is to Italian Beef. It's of course fitting that both are across the street from each other. Making it one of the best and most authentic 1-2 punches in town. Mario's like Al's is the most unique in terms of flavor and each place has that classic old school atmosphere that's fading fast in Chicago. You can get a bucket of Mario's Lemonade served on ice to take back most anywhere in Chicagoland. At $8.50 sometimes I just get my own to spoon chunks out of as the hot summer days go by.

Container of Watermelon/Cantaloupe to go

Tom and Wendee's

Over on Armitage just off Clybourn is a longtime favorite of mine and many others. Tom and Wendee's celebrated it's 20th year last summer and I've been going there since day one. Before I had a car this was one of my favorite places to ride my bike too and eat an ice at. It was a part of my childhood summers and now remains in my adulthood summers too. The place has remained the same since day one with a few things I remember from then that are no more now. They used to have a blueberry ice but parents hated the stains they created so they stopped making it. They also they used to have a microwave inside and sell frozen White Castle sliders.

A locals favorite (Incl. me) in Lincoln Park

Those sliders along with their fresh homemade Italian ice was a great day of snacking for me. The posters identifying the fruits of the world are still on the walls inside and the red raspberry and watermelon are the same as they ever were. Both are my favorites from here and to this day the best representation of each of those flavors around. Lots of real fruit. I dont like ice cream all that much because I'm not big on chocolate but other customers swear by T&W's chocolate and toffee flavors. Tom and Wendee's these days is now one of the old timers in the city. Deservedly so. One of the best in the game.

Watermelon ice from Tom and Wendee's

Annette's Homemade Italian ice

Not too far from T&W's is Annette's Homemade Italian Ice. Like most other ice stands, Annette's is a summertime walk up window. Loved by people of all ages including local high school kids that grew up on it and young families new to the area about to make it a piece of there summer. It's run by a husband and wife team and they also serve ice cream, soft serve yogurt, shakes and such but if you don't get their Italian ice you're missing out.

Another locals favorite in Lincoln Park

Annette's just like Tom and Wendee's isn't cheap so some write it off because of the pricetag compared to other places but aside from the fact rent is ridiculous in Lincoln Park and it only makes it harder when your earning season is a few months long, they use real fruit. No artificially colored flavor syrups like you see on sno-cones are used here. The flavor list is long but if you see a flavor which you enjoy as a fruit get it. If you like tart fruits like grapefruit and blood orange, theirs are great. Others love the passion fruit and black cherry. I cant get enough of their Pear-Apple which is pretty much what I get every time I go here. It's so refreshingly addictive I could eat it out a bucket all day long on a hot summer day.

Blood Orange and Grapefruit Italian Ice from Annette's

Anthony's Homemade Italian Ice

The next neighborhood over in Lakeview is another resident who's been around a while now. Anthony's was founded by a guy who owes me some money but that's for me and him. I wont hold the fact he's tried conning me into account here. Sorry but I'm real. No BS here. Originally over on Armitage avenue not far from where the two LP heavyweights are, Anthony's moved into Lakeview where the competition was none. What really helped though was when they started making their own homemade ice.

Locals favorite in Lakeview

Making homemade ice was the right move and now Anthony's serves the people walking up and down that part of Southport in the summertime. You cant get good real deal Italian ice in the freezer section of your grocery store aisle. It needs to be a certain consistency which is achieved with getting the temperature right and then working thru each batch of ice to make it smooth. Anthony's achieves these goals with great flavors like their black cherry, coconut and cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe Ice from Anthony's

The IceBox

Over on Broadway the Soupbox has been serving soups to the people of the Lakeview area since 1995. The idea was to offer 12 different soups on those frigid cold days people needed something to warm themselves up. To make up for lost customers during the warm months, Soupbox expands during the summer months to the Icebox. They still serve the soups year round which are popular during the winter but I find their summertime Italian ice to be much better.

a Locals favorite on Broadway in Lakeview

Icebox uses real fruit in many and most of if not all their flavors. The nice thing about Italian ice stands is that you can try the flavors before you decide. If theres a couple that you really like then you can always get two flavors in one cup. There's options people, don't be afraid to try a few and then decide which flavor a certain place does best according to your tastes. At the Icebox I enjoy their red raspberry which is right there with Tom and Wendee's but not quite as good and also their cherry. Some places that serve cherry use syrup but at Icebox you can see the big whole cherries inside the ice. It's an excellent rendition and my favorite cherry ice around town.

Red Raspberry/Cherry Italian Ice from The Icebox


Over in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area they have a popular summertime walk up stand called Miko's. They make their ice fresh and have been doing so since 1997. The owners were former building rehabbers that started making Italian ice as a hobby. Eventually that lead to this location as well as one in Logan Square and also another out of state in Moblile, Alabama.

a Bucktown locals favorite

Miko's just like it's Italian Ice bredren in Lincoln Park and Lakeview. It sits along a strip with some shopping and makes for a great stop for passerby's looking to cool down on a hot summers day. They have quite a few flavors but there's only one I can ever get and that's because its so damn good. Nobody does a better mango than Miko's. It's what you want when you cant stop sweating and need to feel like your somewhere tropical where its pleasant to be when its this hot outside and not in the city.

Mango and Watermelon Italian Ice from Miko's

Johnnie's Beef

Italian Ice is for the most part a summertime treat which isn't even available do to most places being seasonal operations. But that doesn't mean I don't eat it year round. Johnnie's Beef on North avenue in Elmwood Park (read more HERE) is a Chicago food 'mecca'. They serve what many consider to be the best Italian beef sandwich in Chicagoland. Their combo sandwich (beef and sausage) is one of the best sandwiches in the world. Johnnie's is in my regular rotation and has been for years. It's the only place I eat Italian Ice at during the winter time.

World Famous Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park, IL

Johnnie's serves Italian ice but if you don't like lemon than your shat out of luck. Its all they do. But proving the "pick one thing you do good and do it right" rule they make the best lemon ice in the city. It goes perfect with any of their sandwiches and makes for a great cooling effect when the hot peepers from a beef and or sausage hit you. Johnnie's is the only place I order lemon flavored Italian ice from and it always hits the spot.

Better than having his mug staring at me while I eat...

Gina's Homemade Italian Ice

Back in 1977 there was a storefront on Roosevelt road in Berwyn which was supposed to be a pizza place but was never finished. In came a lady named Gina who purchased the building one hot summer. Using a recipe she had learned back in Italy she decided to bring Italian ice to the neighborhood when it was really in need. Here we are in 2012 and Gina is still there to greet all of her longtime loyal customers. She and her ice are both a real treat.

A longtime locals favorite of the Southwest Suburbs

2012 is Gina's 35th year and even though it was my first time trying it I was treated like a regular each time I've been in since. I like their lemon which I tried when a friend got it and enjoy mixing that with cherry for a nice combo of flavors that compliment each other well. The cantaloupe is good too but its their strawberry thats become my favorite. You can taste the little pieces of it in each bite and it does me right on a hot summertime night.

Cantaloupe Italian Ice from Gina's

Freddy's Pizza

Freddy's Pizza and Grocery is a longtime chibbqking favorite. You can get the entire story on them HERE. It's one of of those places every neighborhood should be fortunate enough to have. Whether its groceries, bread or lunch and dinner they got it all and then some. It's amazing what they fit inside of the small little store with a heated tent attached where people dining in on their family style Italian dishes can eat at. If it's Italian Ice or gelato your in need of Freddy's does those too. Real well if I may add.

Longtime locals/chibbqking favorite in Cicero, IL

I'm an Italian ice guy but many people swear by Freddy's gelato. I can tell you this much, if it's as good as their pastas, lemon chicken, Italian sausage & Peppers, bread and Italian Ice than its got to be good. Their ice is great and the price is right. I feel like its a joke when I pay a $1 for a small one that in reality isn't all that small. Especially considering the price. The best Italian ices are made with real fruit and since I'm a fruit over chocolate guy that's why I like Italian ice so much more than ice cream. But at Freddy's some swear by their chocolate and I swear by their pistachio. It's out of this world and made with real pistachio nuts. You can taste chunks of them inside. I like pistachios so I can see why I like this but its not salty or nutty for that matter. I don't know how else to describe it except damn good.

Selection of small ices from Freddy's including pistachio in front

Zarlengo's Italian Ice & Gelato

Over in Chicago Heights Zarlengo's is a family owned business that's been serving the community with their desserts since 1983. They do a handful of treats like gelato and their famous 'Zar Bars' which are hand dipped ice cream bars. They started off serving them just dipped in chocolate but now offer up to 10 different varieties. Zarlengo's is a place I seek out when near there. They have some fantastic homemade Italian Ice.

Longtime locals favorite in Chicago Heights

Zarlengo's is a gem and has some really great flavors you don't see everywhere else and of course they use real fruit too. I have been trying to go thru the flavors of Zar's and haven't had anything I wouldn't get again while doing so. Just like some of the other places on this roundup they have a menu that changes and so it depends on whats on it when you go as far as what to order. I've enjoyed the blueberry, pink grapefruit, black cherry and others but their apricot ice is one of the best Italian ices I have had from anywhere. I get that when I see it. I love the fact when you stop in here on a Saturday you can feel the buzz in the air and its not just coming from the kids, its their parents that cant wait to get some too.

Zarlengo's Italian Ice never fails

10 Flavors You Should Try

- Peach @ Mario's
- Lemon @ Johnnie's Beef
- Watermelon @ Tom & Wendee's
- Apricot @ Zarlengo's
- Pistachio @ Freddy's Pizza (Cicero)
- Pear-Apple @ Annette's
- Mango @ Miko's
- Strawberry @ Gina's
- Cherry @ The IceBox
- Cantaloupe @ Anthony's

Mario's Italian Lemonade
1066 West Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(No Phone)

Tom and Wendee's
1136 West Armitage Avenue
Chicago, IL
(773) 327-2885

Annette's Homemade Italian Ice
2009 North Bissell Street
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 868-900

Anthony's Homemade Italian Ice
3442 North Southport Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 868-4237

The IceBox (SoupBox)
2943 North Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 935-9800

Miko's Italian Ice
1846 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 645-9664

Johnnie's Beef
7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL 60707
(708) 452-6000

Gina's Homemade Italian Ice
6737 Roosevelt Road
Berwyn, IL 60402
(708) 484-0944

Freddy's Pizzeria
1600 South 61st Avenue
Cicero, IL 60804
(708) 863-9289

257 West Joe Orr Road
Chicago Heights, IL 60411
(708) 754-9080

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The johnnies in Arlington Heights has a wonderful watermelon ice as well.


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