For more than 25 years, the family of arctic artisans at Zarlengo's Italian Ice has infused real fruit and carefully selected ingredients into more than 50 varieties of temperature-defying delicacies, each carefully forged on-site and collectively voted Best Ice Cream in the Chicago Area by Chicago Sun-Times readers. Guests may commission miniature igloos in seasonal flavors such as pumpkin gelato or apple-cinnamon Italian ice (medium $3.25), or they can unite flavors such as mango, chocolate, and strawberry Italian ice with soft serve ice cream in an arctic cooler (medium $4.29). Natural ingredients such as fresh tangerines and bananas come together in real fruit slushes (medium $4.29) to enjoy a refreshing reprieve from their day jobs as still-life models, and hand-dipped novelties such as the Zar bar accommodate busy patrons with 10 varieties of chocolate-ensconced portability ($1.89).
The Wetzel name wasn’t always a source of pride. As a kid, Rick Wetzel grew accustomed to hearing, “Hey Wetzel, you pretzel!” on the playground. But the teasing inspired a quest for the tastiest soft pretzel, one that eventually blossomed into Wetzel’s Pretzels. After years in Nestle’s marketing department, Rick and coworker Bill Phelps channeled Rick’s soft-pretzel recipe into a chain of shops. They make hand-rolled, oven-baked pretzels that sit for only 30 minutes before being sold or chucked, an example that might be in the dictionary under "fresh," if Babe Ruth using his bat as a pool cue weren't already there. And though the buttered and salted Wetzel’s Original still occupies a spot on the menu, a flurry of imaginative flavors fills its other slots, from Sinful Cinnamon to Jalaroni, a cheesy pretzel scattered with pepperoni and jalapeños.
To Yes Asia Cafe owners Nancy and Tiger Huynh, their business in America is the end of a long journey that began with their families' attempts to escape to the US from Vietnam. Despite multiple tries each year, Nancy's family was always turned back. "There were scary moments," she writes on the café's website, "and I'm glad it's over." Tiger's family was luckier, drifting into a safe harbor after seven days in a tiny boat.
Today at Yes Asia Cafe, both Huynhs celebrate the cuisine of their childhoods with a menu of traditional pan-Asian and Vietnamese dishes. Like a poorly calibrated compass, banh mi sandwiches fuse East and West, stuffing crusty french bread rolls with fillings such as curry chicken and cured pork. Succulent morsels of barbecue pork and grilled beef mingle with cilantro, mint, pickled veggies, and peanuts in rice and noodle bowls. And an impressive drink menu cleanses palates with jasmine teas and jackfruit smoothies.
OMG…It’s Gluten Free fills gluten-averse bellies with a menu of sweet baked goods and savory meals, catering to the allergen-sensitive by ensuring each product is 100% free of gluten and peanut products. Diners share 10-inch pizzas ($9.75), covering doughscapes with toppings such as spinach and sausage ($2 each), and single servings of lasagna ($7.05) expertly mimic the taste and alluring scent of their glutenous cousins. Settle into a seat and peel apart a glaze-drenched cinnamon roll ($2.25), or tote a bouquet of corn dogs ($2.50) to feed friends at baseball games and dole out as weapons in fencing duels. OMG…It’s Gluten Free began when founder Julie Scianna, recently diagnosed with celiac disease, embarked on a quest to replace her dietary staples with gluten-free analogues, expanding her venture into the bakery and café as well as numerous grocery stores.
Paradise Smoothie's blender blades chew up fresh fruits and nutritious additions for a menu that showcases healthful, flavorful smoothies as well as a cascade of blended coffee drinks. Regular fruit-mix smoothies ($3.95) make appealing cocktails of a produce section’s worth of goodies, including pineapple, strawberry, and banana, with inventive additions such as lychee and avocado.