Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
So, in the spirit of this selection: Brain Freeze!
Address: 1537 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Hours: Mon-Thu closed, Fri-Sat 2:00–11:00 p.m., Sun 2:00-10:00 p.m.
Getting there: Half a block from the Damen stop on the blue line; also, a 15-minute walk from the Clybourn stop on the Metra
This futuristic ice cream parlor combines fresh ingredients and liquid nitrogen to create ice cream treats before your very eyes. Patrons control every aspect of their order, including texture, flavor, color and toppings, making this Wicker Park establishment a culinary experience like no other. Nothing like a little weird science to bring some life to your date!
Despite the fact that I am lactose intolerant, ice cream is impossible for me to resist. That said, if you are, like me, lactose intolerant and an ice cream junkie then trying iCream is worth the pain. iCream has reinvented the process of making ice cream, with delicious results. Everything at this ice cream parlor is customizable, from the flavors and mix-ins to the color. For example, you could have blue ice cream that tastes like mangoes with strawberries stirred in.
iCream's treats have a value that transcends mere novelty: I opted for the shop's signature dish, a mix of chocolate and cream soda flavors with a swirl of Nutella lovingly referred to by the staff as "That Guy from Florida," and I was blown away. The texture is not like other ice creams; it's smoother and lighter. I would assume the difference is due to the fact that all of their ice creams are mixed in front of the patrons in liquid form, then frozen with a burst of liquid nitrogen to be rendered edible. It should be noted that patrons can choose between one or two flavors for their concoction, but that these flavors will mix completely into one in the final product. While the chocolate cream soda combo in "That Guy from Florida" was stunning, I can imagine that some flavors might not be as conducive to mixture.
iCream's staff is extremely helpful when navigating the vast sea of possibilities surrounding its treats. When given the option of combining dozens of flavors, toppings and colors into one dish, it helps to have a guide who has already overseen a number of such crises. And a crisis it is: the menu at iCream is rather overwhelming. Sarah and I both spent several minutes lost, trying to make up our minds about who should order what. Fortunately, the staff members know their way around and are happy to impart their knowledge to newcomers.
While it may be fairly nondescript from the outside, iCream has a delightful interior that juggles the seeming contradictions of cold modernity and friendly nostalgia. But this is not iCream's only paradox: Located smack in the center of Wicker Park, iCream is suitably hip, but not unapproachably so. It's easy to feel at home in iCream. Of course, some of the nostalgia it inspires in me may stem from the the fact that Star Wars was playing on a TV in the seating area while we were there; it's easy to draw parallels between the bursts of vapor from the liquid nitrogen dispensers and the insidious steam that freezes Han Solo in carbonite... Alas, not the episode they were airing.
Date Factor (4/5)
iCream is a fun date place, to be sure. Its tasty snacks and all around coolness (haha, get it?) make it a destination worth the Metra ride and subsequent walk. Plus, the transit time can result in good conversation. Don't be intimidated by the menu. It's a safe bet that whatever you order will taste pretty good, but don't be afraid to ask for help either: I get the feeling the people at iCream are used to helping out newcomers. Furthermore, there are a lot of great boutiques, skate shops and record stores around iCream, as well as some eateries offering more substantial food if you're so inclined. iCream may be a bit pricy, but sharing the experience (and general deliciousness) with your sweetheart is well worth it.
iCream serves the absolute freshest ice cream that I have ever had, and that freshness makes a world of difference. I ordered a berry sorbet, which is juice-based as opposed to dairy-based. iCream uses Naked Juices for their sorbet base, so I rightly suspected I was in for a treat. At the suggestion of the clerk, I added lemon flavoring to my sorbet to bring out the sweetness of the berries, and I topped off my order with granola. The sorbet was amazing! The texture was somewhat lighter than a traditional sorbet because the super cold liquid nitrogen creates smaller ice crystals than traditional ice cream freezing methods. The flavors were deliciously powerful: Even in the middle of winter, I felt as though I was eating a scoop of summer sunshine.
iCream offers ice cream, shakes, sorbet, frozen yogurt and hot pudding, and there are plenty of options for special dietary needs (which apparently John didn't notice). Just check out their menu here. The portion sizes are reasonable; my small sorbet was approximately the size of a baseball, and John's medium ice cream was about one and a half times that size. The biggest downside to the iCream experience was the price tag. John’s and my order cost more than $11, which is quite expensive for two frozen desserts.
iCream’s staff is jovial and considerate. The endless options can seem a little overwhelming, but the scientist-chef was endlessly patient with us, his indecisive customers. The freshness of iCream’s products comes at not only a monetary price, though. John and I waited about five minutes for our order, but that wait time could have easily ballooned to 15 or 20 minutes if the parlor had been busy. Thankfully, the ice cream production line is in full view of the seating areas, so the wait is filled with thrill. iCream is no place for a hurried bite of something sweet, though.
As soon as I walked through the door, I knew iCream was going to be a memorable date. Four KitchenAid mixers housed behind a plastic sneeze guard are featured prominently at the front of the shop. These are no ordinary mixers, though, for they are connected to liquid nitrogen lines. Vials and syringes of flavoring fill the wall behind the cash register. Several futuristic tables and chairs line one side of the restaurant while a counter with circular stools faces the street. A large flat screen television plays movies like Star Wars, and a PA system overhead quietly plays indie music. iCream is the perfect balance between a laboratory environment and an approachable (but trendy) ice cream parlor.
Date Factor (4/5)
iCream is definitely worth checking out with your sweetie. Although not particularly romantic, the novelty of creating your own frozen treat is an experience that you and your date are unlikely to forget or regret. The iCream experience adds a little exciting variation to the typical dinner date repertoire. iCream is a fun and casual location for a first date or an established couple alike. After all, who doesn’t love the feeling of being a kid in a candy store?
While it may be far from campus and a bit on the pricy side, iCream offers an ice cream experience that you can't find anywhere else. Whether you want to blaze a new trail in the history of frozen desserts or try a new twist on a classic combination, iCream is well worth a try. Just don't forget the old trick of holding your thumb to the roof of your mouth (or pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, if you're germ-conscious) to ward off brain freeze: If you scarf your ice cream down as quickly as John does, you'll need it.
If you had an experience at iCream or have any suggestions for future locations, leave us a comment below. Any Valentine's Day dining suggestions are more than welcome!