I made the trek to Little Village on the coldest weekend of the year for one reason and one reason only: sweet-potato empanadas. I’d heard El Nopal Bakery’s (3648 W. 26th St.) were particularly delicious, “perfect with coffee or hot chocolate,” according to one Yelp review. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for desserts that are sweet without being overwhelmingly sugary, and root vegetable–filled bundles seemed to fit the bill. Our first meeting would not be delayed by a little snowfall. Of course, when I arrived, shivering, at El Nopal’s brick storefront around 2 p.m. on a Sunday, the bakery had already run out. No matter. I’d noticed that every person in front of me in line had ordered a concha: a round sweet bread topped with sugar-shell ridges. So I asked, in broken Spanish, for two chocolate ones. They cost less than a dollar each even though they were huge—my hand barely covered one of them. I took a last look at the mint-green interior, which is almost worth the trip itself with its racks of Aztec-looking statuettes and doll-like wedding-cake toppers. Then I stepped back into the cold. When I made it back to my (blissfully warm) apartment, I brewed a cup of coffee and bit into the concha. The powdery cocoa topping was less sweet than I’d feared, dissolving into the light, fluffy pastry instead of overwhelming it. The bread itself was perfectly moist—so much so, in fact, that the second concha didn’t at all taste stale at breakfast the next morning. The empanadas may still be the star at El Nopal, but the conchas are a worthwhile winter snack. Photo credit: Nathalie Lagerfeld, GrouponRead More
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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (Lakeview | 3404 N. Southport Ave.) On a bitter, snowy late-Sunday winter evening, I ventured out to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams to get my fix of my favorite flavor: The Buckeye State. When I lived in Ohio during college, I'd developed a taste for the dark-chocolate-and-peanut-butter candies known as buckeyes—an edible version of the nuts that give the state its nickname. Jeni’s blends flecks of them into a vanilla ice-cream base to make each scoop a delectable balance of salty and sweet. Those who are a bit more adventurous can blend multiple of the shop’s 20 flavors in one bowl or cone: even a small order comes as two scoops. – Christie Succop Vanilla Soft-Serve with Vietnamese Cinnamon Caramel Topping at Belly Shack (Logan Square | 1912 N. Western Ave.) With the right flavor, even a cold dessert can warm you up in winter. Here, a sprinkling of Vietnamese cinnamon did the job, cutting the coolness of vanilla soft-serve with a slight note of spice. The lightly burnt flavor of housemade caramel (and a drizzle of chocolate) helped keep things toasty, too. Still, I found it a little challenging to finish a heap of ice cream with the mercury hovering at nine degrees outside. Next time, I might follow dessert with a mug of hot Intelligentsia coffee or Rare Tea Cellars tea before trudging back out into the snow. – Nathalie Lagerfeld My Missed Dessert Connection at Black Dog Gelato (Wicker Park | 859 N. Damen Ave.) We've all had a lost romance—a casual flirtation that could have been so much more, if only you could remember a name. I met mine on a cold December night at my favorite dessert haunt, Black Dog Gelato. The sweet, creamy gelato was the color of graham cracker, with a light aftertaste of cinnamon. I only had the one scoop, but it was rapture. Given the abundance of mysterious flavor combinations at Black Dog—sour-cherry root beer and maple cayenne bacon—it's no surprise I've forgotten what my beloved scoop was called. They all tempt, of course. But none of them can compare to my lost cinnamon love. Whatever your name, I'll always remember you. – Sleepless in Chicago (Adam Bass) Photo: © Stephanie Bassos, GrouponRead More
1. Hearth Holiday Blend from Bow Truss Coffee Roasters ($9.50 per 8 oz. bag; larger sizes available) For the friend who buys everything from Urban Outfitters Blending beans from Guatemala, Sumatra, and Ethiopia, this holiday roast chases away midwinter chills with “notes of cherry cordial, cinnamon, molasses, and fudge.” More importantly, though, the label will look great next to all of the other things in your friend’s house that have vaguely screenprinted-looking geometric patterns and line drawings of forest animals on them. Get gift ideas from Bow Truss founder Phil Tadros. 2. Cascara Finca Las Lajas from HalfWit Coffee Roasters ($10 per 6 oz. bag) For the tea drinker who resists conversion I’ve always wondered what happens to the rest of the coffee plant besides the bean. Well, apparently, some of it gets made into cascara, aka coffee cherry tea. Producers dry out the flesh of the fruit after it’s been separated from the bean, then brew it into a tea that “tastes similar to dried black cherries, but with a slightly more savory quality,” according to the blurb here. It can also be tossed in with some herbs to create a drink similar to cider—after which you can maybe start talking to your inveterate tea drinker about trying a roasted brew. Available online or at The Wormhole (1462 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Read Groupon Guide’s profile of HalfWit Coffee Roasters. 3. Celebration Blend from Intelligentsia Coffee ($18 per 12 oz. bag; larger sizes available) For the traditionalist Now that Intelligentsia has shifted its headquarters to Los Angeles, it’s hard to really call it local anymore. Still, its Celebration blend is worth a sip, with spice and honey flavors that evoke a hot toddy. 4. Personalized Holiday Blend from Passion House Coffee Roasters ($180 for minimum order of 12 12-oz. bags) For a large and caffeine-loving extended family Your choice of name and holiday-themed graphic adorns the label on each of 12 or more bags perfect for mass-gifting to relatives. Read Groupon Guide’s profile of Passion House Coffee Roasters. 5. Hullabaloo Holiday Blend from Metropolis Coffee Company ($15 per 1 lb. bag; other sizes available) For the friend who hosts an annual holiday party With its “silky” texture and sweet “fruit notes,” this brew could provide the mid-rager caffeine pick-me-up that any true holiday reveler needs. “Party on,” the label urges—we will indeed. 6. Ten-Dollar Nickel from Gaslight Coffee Roasters ($10 each) For the friend who still sends you handwritten letters You can argue that giving a gift certificate as a holiday gift is a bit impersonal, but the handmade look of these round wooden tokens might change your mind. Each one comes in a packet decorated with a loop of ribbon and a red wax seal, in keeping with Gaslight’s old-timey aesthetics. Best of all, the nickels can be redeemed for anything in the café, so your giftee can nibble on a sandwich during their visit if they’ve already OD’ed on caffeine. 7. Handmade coffee mugs from Bridgeport Coffee Company ($16.99 each) For the recent grad short on dinnerware Handmade by ceramics artist Jay Strommen, these jewel-toned caffeine receptacles will be the crowning glory of any 22-year-old’s otherwise empty kitchen cabinet. Just remember to buy them some ramen to put in it, since they probably haven’t eaten in days. 8. Old Dank Nic from Dark Matter Coffee ($15 per 12 oz. bag) For the friend whose drug of choice isn’t usually caffeine With notes of cinnamon, cocoa, and gingersnap cookie, this brew doesn’t evoke the scent of its titular substance so much as it does the snacks one might crave after indulging in it. Although the label claims that Old Dank Nic was “created to please the whole family,” the smoky cover art and madcap promotional video seem to target a slightly more specific audience. Also check out Purple Snow, a Dark Matter roast that honors record label The Numero Group's fiftieth release, Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound. Photo credit: Timothy Burkhart, GrouponRead More