We drove into Chicago not once but twice in the last couple of weekends to visit Aunt Amy and her new apartment. She lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood, only a few blocks from the actual Wicker Park. Daniel had fun there; he got to run around like a maniac (one of his favorite activities). Afterwards, we had more fun checking out a couple of ice cream shops around the area.
Cold Stone Creamery is less of an ice cream shop and more of a shoppe. The ice cream was stored in large tubs behind a clear glass window along with containers of various chopped items: nuts, candies, cookies. I had a small cup of French Vanilla and asked for some ginger snaps mixed in. The barrista – sorry, server; I forgot this wasn’t Starbucks – scooped out a shiny mass of ice cream and set it on a (cold) stone cutting board behind the window. She proceeded to massage it with a pair of thin wooden sticks. It looked like she was making an ash tray at summer camp. The ginger snaps were gently laid in the depression in the middle, broken apart and gently folded into the mixture. I was impressed. If you have ever wrestled with a box of ice cream, trying to pry out a chunk with a cold metal scooper, you would have been impressed too. It reminded me of watching the guys flip pizza dough at Italian restaurants when I was a kid.
I Cream is a new place. I think it has a better take on the future of ice cream than Dippin’ Dots. Any ice cream shop (or shoppe) will scoop to order. I Cream takes it a step further by actually making the ice cream on the spot. They had four main “types” of foundation: ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet. They also had something called “hot pudding”, but since it was the first eighty degree day we’ve had, I didn’t see anyone actually order that. Each foundation has various subtypes. You can get regular ice cream, light, organic or soy based. I picked light ice cream. From there, I could choose from a long list of flavors. I didn’t count them all, but it was at least as long as the old Baskin-Robbins list I remember as a kid. If the flavor you picked didn’t lend itself to much color, you could also add in a dash of red, green, blue and so on. They had clear tubs of toppings and mix-ins. While this was the future of ice cream, I went with the old standby of crushed Oreo cookies. A pair of gentlemen dressed in industrial white added the ingredients to an industrial mixer plus a flash of liquid nitrogen from a hose dropping down from the ceiling. My scoop of ice cream was thus created with a flourish of foggy condensation that reminded me of a trick by David Copperfield.
I didn’t order the same thing at both locations, so I can’t make an exact comparison. The ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery was creamier (go figure) and very smooth. I have eaten enough ice cream in my life (more than enough actually; one of the reasons I’m on Weight Watchers) to know high quality ingredients. The ice cream at I Cream was unlike any I’ve ever tasted. It was very light and airy, almost the crystalline consistency of a snow ball. Very tasty and welcome on a warm afternoon. Which one was better? The jury is still out on that; I think we’ll have to visit Aunt Amy a few more times before I issue a final decision.