Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bobtail Year: Flavor Battle: Peanut Butter

December is month seven of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre. 

Ever since I tasted Bobtail's flavor Sloth, I've craved more of their peanut butter ice cream. Bobtail's regular ice cream menu features two unusual flavors that center around peanut butter: Peanut Butter Chip and White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup. But which is better?

Peanut Butter Chip (left)
Here we have a peanut butter ice cream base with chocolate flakes. The base overcomes the issue of many peanut ice creams: they are so stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth that they forget to be dessert. This one is simultaneously feeling viscous and light, all while being addictively sweet. The flakes are generously distributed throughout, but like pretty much any flavor that features Bobtail's chocolate chips flakes, they are not strong enough to effect the flavor in a big way. The flakes add a delicate brittleness, but the chocolate flavor doesn't really permeate into consciousness until after the mouth warms back up, adding a nice touch of semisweet to the aftertaste. Best to take a break between spoonfuls to get the full effect.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup (right)
Like the Peanut Butter Chip, this flavor overcomes a common issue: most chocolate candy ice creams use a vanilla or sweet cream base, when a chocolate base would be far more sensible. Curiously, Bobtail chose to have a white chocolate base instead of chocolate. And a wise choice it was, providing more fullness of flavor than one typically finds in Bobtail's chocolate base. It also complements the peanut butter cups well, a mix-in that brings toothsome chunkiness to each bite in which they appear. Together, the base and mix-in balance one another perfectly. The only issue is the inconsistency in which the cups appear; while there were plenty of bites with more than one cup, there were far too many bites with no cups, especially as I neared the bottom of my pint.

Verdict: You can't lose...but you are more than a winner--a peanut butter champion!--if you get a scoop of each.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chicago's Twelve Doughnuts of Christmas

Endgrain's holiday doughnuts (r-l): Peppermint (Best!), Mint Chocolate, Gingerbread
'Twas the holiday season and fryers did fry
Colorful, tasty and festive delights!
There's no better way than to cap off the year
With doughnuts resplendent with holiday cheer!
Do-Rite's Hot Chocolate.
Also on their holiday menu:
Chocolate Candy Cane,
Gingerbread Old Fashioned
and Christmas Cookie

I first dash to Do-Rite, whose works I admired.
The best was Hot Chocolate, so rich and inspired!
Choc-o-late Candy Cane also had zeal.
(Christmas cookie and gingerbread had less appeal.)

Endgrain had gingerbread, too--just okay--
Plus two tasty doughnuts with peppermint glaze.
The one topped with chocolate got all of the press,
But I liked the one with red sugar the best.

Then over to Doughnut Vault, teeming with hype,
But they had sold out, which did cause me to gripe.
No chocolate peppermint doughnut for me
Nor gingerbread doughnuts, sold by the three.
Holiday Cookie doughnut from Firecakes.
Also on their holiday menu: Eggnog
and Chocolate Peppermint Bark.

At Firecakes I ended my wintry sojourn.
Their choc-o-late peppermint bark I did scorn
And their custard-y eggnog did drive me away,
But their holiday cookie gave reason to stay.

Twelve holiday doughnuts--so tempting to buy--
But these three wise doughnuts you simply must try:
Number three is Doughnut Vault's Gingerbread Stack.
They have it year round and I've meant to go back!

Endgrain's Peppermint gets second place.
So airy and sweet with a candy cane taste!
But the toasted marshmallow with choc'late so yummy
Made Do-Rite's Hot Chocolate the best in my tummy!

Like Santa, my stomach was giant and round.
So many doughnuts will pack on some pounds!
As I waddled down Hubbard Street, I yelled 'neath my cap,
"Thanks for the doughnuts! Now I need a nap."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Done Right

Thanksgiving is...cozy and welcoming with the spicy scent of brewing cider.

Thanksgiving is...stuffing your face with another mouthful, even though your stomach might burst.

Thanksgiving is...the culmination of all of the tastes of the season with the final bite transitioning a person into winter.

Bobtail's Sweet Potato Pie ice cream is...the taste of Thanksgiving, transporting me home. But rather than talk about this delicious flavor, I'm going to talk about family.


This year I spent fall break in Spain, staying with my friend Louise in Barcelona. Her friends organized a Thanksgiving dinner in honor of some folks who’d recently moved from America. Half-expecting a paella-stuffed turkey, the meal was a delicious and hilarious hodge-podge with a few vague parallels to American Thanksgiving, like turkey being substituted with fried chicken. But, in a way, it was not unlike most Thanksgiving dinners I’ve had since moving away from home, feeling both joyous and incomplete. It feels as though the best any celebration could hope to be is second place because, for me, Thanksgiving is everyone packed in around the table during a crisp fall afternoon in Hampton, VA.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to live in the same city as one set of grandparents and my aunt’s family. We all liked one another so much that we spent birthdays and holidays together. Thanksgiving morning would start by giving gratitude at the morning church service and end at my grandma’s house. Once there, my brother Brian and I would ditch our ties and, while finishing touches were made on the food, my cousin TR and I would help out by raking the yard. We would inevitably finish leaf duty early and join my dad in the ritualistic sneaking of food from kitchen.

Eventually after being shooed away from our dutiful taste testing, the table would be set. There was always a surplus of food: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, yams, green bean casserole, Jell-O salad, rolls and, one of my favorites, a cylinder of canned cranberry sauce. Brian’s birthday is in late November, so every few years, it would fall on Thanksgiving. It’s a good thing Brian likes turkey.

With so many people—Grandmama, Grandaddy, Aunt Shelia, Uncle Terry, my cousins Breea and TR, Mom, Dad, Brian and me—there wasn’t enough room at the table, even with the leaf put in. Each side of the family had a delegated member that had to sit on a small folding chair of questionable stability. This honor fell to the youngest member of each family—TR and me—because picking on the youngest is an age-old tradition. Both TR and I later grew up to be the tallest members of families, which I believe we willed into happening so we’d never have to sit in the smallest chairs again.

Each time the family sat down together you could expect a few hilarious things to happen: Uncle Terry would cause trouble by bringing up politics, Granddaddy would make a comment that the rest of us would regard as racially insensitive, we would hear about the crazy trouble some of Breea and TR’s friends had gotten themselves into and someone, usually me, would spill on the carpet.

One year, Grandmama had new carpet put in and we were all warned to be extra careful not to spill. Of course, no one ever tries to spill; it just happens. When I was the first to spill on the new carpet, there was a mild uproar that gradually turned into laughter. I was actually given a prize for being the first.

These traditions of the family all getting together—something we did for every birthday and holiday—continued as each of the kids started growing up, going to college and moving away. We all enjoyed spending time together. One year TR had finally had enough. “What’s wrong with us?” he asked. “We’re all so normal! None of us fight or get into much trouble! We all like each other!” And we all had to laugh because TR was right, but we liked it that way.

Friday, November 22, 2013

They're not the best, but...

Repost from Reddit.
The local Redditors in Kearney, Nebraska report that the donuts are pretty good, which to me sounds better than a'ight.

(Thanks to Jamie for the Reddit thread that sourced the title and picture.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Helado Puertorriqueño en Heladeria Lares

The couple up front is selling lottery tickets. Resist(!) so you can buy ice cream.
"Can I try the Bacalao ice cream, please?" I asked.

"Bacalao?" Based on her tone, she was wondering if she had translated the word incorrectly for me. Why else would a person want to try it? It's not like there weren't other options and each customer was allowed a mere two samples.

But I needed to make mine count. When in Puerto Rico, right?


The girl behind the counter gave me both a taster spoon with Bacalao on it and a horrified expression. Soon a nauseating bite of ocean water clouded my sense of bewildered amusement. This was Heladeria Lares and I was eating Salted Cod ice cream.


Located about ninety minutes west of our hotel in San Juan, not far from Camuy River Cave Park and one hour from Rincón Lighthouse on Puerto Rico's west coast, the town of Lares is comprised of a steep hill. At the top is the town square, tucked amongst colorful are-they-closed-or-vacant businesses. Among them is Heladeria Lares, the most universally revered ice cream shop in Puerto Rico based on my research. Through its open entryway are eight ice cream freezers. And inside are 40-50 different flavors.
While I would've eaten it just by
treating the freezer like a trough, sadly
the front did not open for customers.

For shy eaters, they feature the standard fare one would expect to find at any purveyor of frozen dairy delicacies: vanilla with chocolate chips, chocolate, chocolate with chocolate chips, cookies and cream, strawberry cheesecake, amaretto and vanilla with caramel and chocolate. These are mostly tucked in the back though, signaling that they are not the main event.

Most abundant are the fruit flavors. Some are flavors we all know well, such as banana, strawberry and orange. Others are recognizable tropical fruits, such as pineapple, passion fruit, papaya, guava and mango. Still more are less recognizable tropical fruits, such as acerola, soursop, tamarind, sea grape, breadfruit and guama (aka ice cream fruit).

But fruit isn't the only produce represented in the flavors at Heladeria Lares. Garlic, ginger, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot and corn ice creams are also available. For those seeking nuts and legumes, there's pistachio, peanut, almond and peanut with almonds.

Then there are other, more culturally specific flavors to excite more adventurous eaters. Some of these are inspired by traditional desserts found around the island, such as sweet plantain, coconut with cinnamon, sweet rice, dulce de leche, almond cake and sesame seed candy. Others are inspired by traditional entrées and side dishes, including rice and beans, pumpkin soup, arroz con gandules and fried and salted cod. (With crazy flavors like this, it's no wonder that the guy from Bizarre Foods has also been there.)

Sweet plantain (tan), rice and beans (yellow),
acerola (pink), chocolate with almonds and orange.
There were even more flavors, but taking pictures of eight display cases in a crowded ice cream shop is mad hard, yo.

Wanting to embrace the widest possible spectrum of flavors, I settled on four flavors, ranging from familiar to unusual. I was quick to choose acerola, a pink cherry whose tart juice I drank at dinner the night before (San Juan's Jose Enrique, whose red snapper ranks as a Top 3 meal of my life), falling in love instantaneously. Also in my bowl was rice and beans, which was a pleasant surprise during my sampling phase. It was subtly sweet and earthy with a mildly gritty texture. I immediately regretted getting the sweet plantain, which had more of a banana flavor than I'd expected. (Curséd fruit.) And while the chocolate with almonds was forgettable and far-from-rich, my date's orange was so refreshing and citrus-y sweet that I had no trouble helping her finish it.

Undoubtedly, some American customers will be surprised by the texture of the ice cream. Given its crystally and thin texture, plus how light it is--think melty pushpop--I wouldn't be surprised if the non-fruit flavors are actually ice milk, or something similar. The fruit flavors are assuredly a water-based sorbet. But while the texture can be jarring and the (probable) use of milk instead of cream drastically altered the experience of my chocolate with almonds, I think that ultimately most customers would enjoy Heladeria Lares for its off-the-beaten-path charm and its brightly-flavored fruit sorbets, not to mention its stranger flavors available for sampling.


Vocabulario de Heladeria Lares 
(Lares Ice Cream Shop Vocabulary)

acerola: a pink cherry, which according to Wikipedia is also known as Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepemyrtle
ajo: garlic
Stack the scoops high.
almendra: almond
arroz con dulce: sweet rice (rice pudding)
arroz con gandules: Wikipedia says: "Arroz con gandules is a combination of rice, pigeon peas and pork, cooked in the same pot with Puerto Rican-style sofrito."
arroz con habichuela: rice and beans
bacalao: cod
batata: sweet potato
bizcocho almendrado: almond cake
calabaza: pumpkin
cazuela: pumpkin soup
china: a Puerto Rican slang for orange
chocolate con almendra: chocolate with almond
chocolate con pedazos de chocolate: chocolate with chocolate chips
coquito acanelado: coconut with cinnamon
dulce de ajonjoli: sesame seed candy
dulce de leche: Similar to caramel in texture, taste and color, dulce de leche uses sweetened milk, sometimes goat's milk or coconut milk. 
fresa: strawberry
guama: ice cream fruit (or Wikipedia)
guanábana: soursop
guayaba: guava
guineo: banana (Side note: For anyone crazy enough to like the fruit that is best forgotten, Lares is home to an annual banana festival, so this might be especially good...for what it is, at least.)
jengibre: ginger
lechoza: papaya
maíz: corn
maní: peanut
maní con almendra: peanuts with almonds
pana: breadfruit (Thanks to curiouskitty for the help on this one.)
parcha: passion fruit
piña: pineapple
plátano dulce: sweet plantain
queso con fresa: strawberry cheesecake
Two sample limit: cruelty to afficionados
tamarindo: tamarind, which is used in making sweet and sour sauce
uva playera: sea grape (Is it a grape? Is it something so much more? I didn't get to try it, sadly.)
vainilla caramelo y chocolate: vanilla, caramel and chocolate
vainilla con galletas: cookies and cream (vanilla)
vailnilla con pedazos de chocolate: vanilla with chocolate chips
zanahoria: carrot

Note: I have elected to use the "International" tag because this food is representative of the culture that already existed before Puerto Rico was a U.S. territory.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bobtail Year: Wrecking Ball

No comment.
October is month five of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

Let's pretend there is no Miley Cyrus and a wrecking ball isn't a method of transport for naked, hypersexualized 20s-somethings with androgynous hairstyles--this is already my best post ever--but that it is nothing more than a steel sphere used to level buildings. Through this lens we will analyze Bobtail's latest flavor.

HISTORY - PATH OF DESTRUCTION. Though Bobtail was likely the first to create a Wrecking Ball ice cream, numerous companies claim to be the inventors of the wrecking ball. The most well publicized claim of ownership is Henry Bath & Co. who possess documentation claiming use of such a device to break up an iron ship in the late 1800s. (Steel beats Iron, Iron beats Aluminum and Aluminum beats Steel by covering it and turning it into a disco ball.) But it is hard to imagine civilization without big, heavy things being used to smash its inferiors to bits. The concept is so basic that it is a wonder anyone can claim to have been the first. Similarly, can anyone really claim to have "invented" white chocolate? It is made by extracting cocoa butter from cacao. A person can no more invent cocoa butter than they can invent oxygen and hydrogen by boiling water. All anyone can do is make sweet use of white chocolate, something Bobtail has ably done.

Keep that tongue in your mouth.
FUNCTION - INSTRUMENT OF DESTRUCTION. Unlike other cranes, which are used to create, wrecking balls are used to destroy. The mighty weight is controlled by a motorized moveable pulley system, the same we see used by cranes. They are sleek, but theirs is a violent function. Kinetic energy gives the smooth, round form hanging from a chain its wild streak of red, like the raspberry swirl in this white chocolate ice cream. The swirl creates a tang amongst the sweet, creating a flavor best described as "pink." Bobtail's flavor also features hunks of raspberry, which were unadvertised but quite welcome.

RESULTS - IN THE WAKE OF DESTRUCTION. Gracefully cutting through the sky, wrecking balls mustn't be wielded with wild abandon. Like a boomerang, this beautiful behemoth of steel returns to its source--push it away and it will come back--but unlike a boomerang, a wrecking ball leaves wreckage in its path wherever it goes. The shards left behind may resemble the toffee or chocolate covered peanuts that remain when the ice cream melts away. And Wrecking Ball has more delicious chunks than any Bobtail flavor I've ever eaten. Grab a spoon and shovel it in your mouth like a bulldozer.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Flavor Battle: Chicago's Autumnal Doughnuts

The season's best:
Do-Rite's Pumpkin and Apple Caramel from Glazed & Infused
A few years ago, I did a survey of the pumpkin ice cream/gelato/frozen custard around Chicago. Now I have done the same with the pumpkin doughnuts in the Windy City. (If you need to brush up, you can also read a complete review of Chicago doughnuts and brief history.) For gluttony's sake good measure, I also tried other autumnal doughnuts that are available. Here they are, in order of favorite pumpkin doughnut to least favorite:

Do-Rite Donuts - Pumpkin cake doughnut with cream cheese dollop and pumpkin seeds
The cream cheese dominates each bite it is in, but Do-Rite uses it sparingly, unlike its competitors. This is a wise decision since there are so many other noteworthy features to this doughnut. The pumpkin seeds add a fabulous textural element. The doughnut itself is springy like a cider doughnut. The pumpkin is a constant, subtle presence carrying throughout under the glaze, but it isn't overtaken by typical spices of cinnamon and nutmeg. All of these factors make it easy to say that Do-Rite's pumpkin doughnut is the best. They're also offering Carrot Cake doughnuts with a cream cheese dollop in the middle. They are tasty, but completely overshadowed by the Pumpkin doughnut.

Firecakes - Pumpkin cake doughnut with pumpkin mousse and caramelized pecans
This doughnut most resembles the pumpkin doughnut holes my mom would fry up on fall mornings. A simple pumpkin flavor with a soft exterior, rolled in cinnamon-sugar. The pecans are the perfect autumnal topper for the chilling air. Add their texture to the granulated sugar and the smooth, soft mousse and you've got decadent attention to detail. Everything is good about this doughnut, but the pumpkin flavor isn't popping out as much as I'd like, which is surprising. The mousse in my doughnut, which should serve that function, instead had a coffee aftertaste. Firecakes is also offering Banana Goat Cheese Walnut, whose existence I've ignored due to the presence of the enemy fruit.

Endgrain - Pumpkin cake doughnut
Buried underneath that thick layer of glaze might be a superior doughnut, but I would never know. The texture is superior: dense without being heavy, airy without a touch of staleness. Also available is Salted Caramel, which has all the tasty stickiness it implies. These guys know butterscotch and caramel and apply it generously.

Glazed & Infused - Pumpkin chocolate chip cake doughnut with cream cheese frosting and vanilla glaze
As a whole, the treat is good, but is it pumpkin? The pumpkin flavor is not strong enough to be noticeable under the cream cheese and glaze. The chocolate is a nice touch but it would have been a nicer touch if it were in tandem with a strong pumpkin flavor. As for the rest of the menu, Glazed & Infused changes its menu each season and among the new doughnuts, none is as good as the Apple Caramel cake doughnut. With bits of apple in the dough, a gooey dark caramel, a cinnamon glaze and peanuts, Glazed & Infused's Apple Caramel is the best seasonal doughnut of all, beating out all of the pumpkin doughnuts.

Dunkin' Donuts - Pumpkin cake doughnut
A very bright, artificial orange. I taste the spice, but not the pumpkin. A light glaze to sweeten the deal. A solid reminder to go local.

West Town BakeryPumpkin Cream Cheese Doissant
The flavor is good: lots of cinnamon sugar, a few pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top, flaky dough and cream cheese. There are downsides, too: the pumpkin taste isn't much of a presence and the drizzle of white (frosting?) clashes with all the other flavors. But the main issue is I felt I had consumed my weight in grease, something I've felt about all of West Town Bakery's doissants. Also offering an apple butter doissant, which I will not be trying. I'm not sure I'd survive another drowning by grease torpedo.

Krispy Kreme - Pumpkin doughnut & Pumpkin Cheesecake doughnut
Each year I tell myself to ignore Krispy Kreme's pumpkin doughnut. There is a significant amount of spice in the doughnut--more than most "pumpkin spice" concoctions one finds this time of year--but the glaze is so thick it leaves me grabbing for a beverage to kill the sugar burn in my mouth. This year they also featured Pumpkin Cheesecake, a filled doughnut with white frosting and gingersnap cookie crumble. Not terrible, but the filling had two distinct moments that didn't overlap: the sour cream cheese beginning and the pumpkin spice ending. Verdict: the only item worthy of getting at Krispy Kreme is the original glazed...which is still plenty reason to go.

Dunkin' Donuts - Pumpkin Pie doughnut
A mere two bites contained any filling, which was pumpkin pie colored, textured like marshmallow fluff and tasted like room temperature plastic. Like many Dunkin' Donuts, it had far too much cloying frosting, but at least it got the horrible taste of the filling out of my mouth. This was by far the worst doughnut I ate and is among the worst doughnuts I have ever consumed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Origin of the Squashasaurus Rex

Halloween haunts may be chilling the autumn air, but there wasn't any booing heard during the Eighth Annual Pumpkin Challenge, my month-and-a-half mission to consume as many varieties of pumpkin edibles as possible. This year a new schedule was enacted, which bumped the Challenge earlier than previous years and unwittingly shortened it from 47 days to 45.* Even then, the delicious plague of pumpkin fever has spread so much since I began the Pumpkin Challenge that I was still able to excel at discovering the blessed food on many a romp, scoring my second highest tally ever: 46.

But things weren't always this easy. Imagine yourself in a less prosperous pumpkin time, an age before we were all the ravenous Squashasaurus Rexes we are today, devouring anything that so much as casts an orange shadow. So close your eyes, little one, and be transported to the haunting past of less than a decade ago...

Okay, my bad. It's a blog--you read with your eyes, I said to close them, blah blah blah--so please lift your eyelids once more and read the next paragraph:

Eight years ago, the absolute earliest a person could find pumpkin products was October 1. Any pumpkin inquiries made before then were met with repulsed, are-you-stupid eyes from every college student in an apron. "Of course not. It isn't October yet." But even when October came, it wasn't easy. Anything more extreme than pumpkin muffins or doughnuts were viewed as frivolity, not respectable gastronomic pursuit. The unenlightened powers-that-be (and their condescending aproned lackeys) believed pumpkin to be a novelty item meant only for carving at Halloween and eating as pie in November. But the light of change was shining through the eye holes of jack-o'-lanterns in homes across the nation: the people wanted more. An epicurean revolution was taking place in countless kitchens, internet recipes acting as leaflets of protest, spreading the cause as far as the green vines of internet freedom could stretch. And the people's voice did not die down, affecting social change and stirring pumpkin mania to the obsessive level we enjoy today.

Here's how I celebrated another year of pumpkin prosperity:

pumpkin walnut crunch bagel; pumpkin schmear (cream cheese spread); pumpkin butterscotch white chocolate walnut cookies; pumpkin doughnut; pumpkin pasta with spinach, mushrooms, hazelnuts and Parmesan; pumpkin churros; pumpkin fudge; pumpkin-apple mash; pumpkin muffin; harvest cookie with pumpkin seeds; pumpkin coffee cake; pumpkin chili; pumpkin-chocolate hot fudge; pumpkin baked French toast; pumpkin whiskey butterscotch cream puff; pumpkin-n-spice flax granola bar; vegan pumpkin chocolate chip cookie pie; pumpkin ice cream; pumpkin spice M&M's; salad with pepitas; baked pumpkin stuffed with gruyere, creme fraische, bread with lamb chorizo; pumpkin cream cheese loaf cake; curried pumpkin pizza with feta and kale; pumpkin cheesecake swirl brownies; snap-o-lantern ice cream (pumpkin with gingerbread cookie dough); pumpkin dinner rolls; lentil pumpkin salad with arugula and feta; sage and balsamic pork chops with creamy pumpkin polenta; pumpkin pie with sweetened condensed goat's milk and balsamic; pumpkin and kale risotto with pine nuts; pumpkin spice granola with pumpkin seeds; pumpkin cream cheese doissant (doughnut/croissant hybrid); pumpkin chipotle salsa; pumpkin sugar cookies with maple glaze; oatmeal pumpkin cookies with maple glaze; pumpkin cupcakes; pumpkin cheesecake croissant; chocolate chip pumpkin bread; spooky swirl frozen yogurt (Pumpkin Pie and Marshmallow twist); burger topped with fried pumpkin caramelized apple and Swiss cheese; pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon whipped cream; pumpkin spice Raincoast Crisp; pumpkin pie bark; pumpkin pie Blizzard; pumpkin cream cheese muffin; pumpkin spice cake

Italics indicate it was homemade by me

It was a great Pumpkin Challenge this year. I feel great. Almost as great as this red panda playing with a pumpkin.

* While this year's Challenge ran from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15, previous years ran from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31. The loss of two days occurs because (1) there is no September 31 and (2) the true second-half of September is the 16th, not the nice round number I elected to start on, the 15th. That being said, having the challenge run 45 days is its own nice round number.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hunting the Wild Ophelia

Currently grazing in 48 states. (Sorry, Dakotas!)
Katrina Markoff's Vosges has a new little sister by the name of Wild Ophelia and, as with any family, sibling comparison is inevitable. In both brands, chocolate is the star with each bar's namesake ingredient merely providing an atmosphere to the chocolate's overall flavor, never stealing the spotlight. Where Wild Ophelia most distinguishes herself is this: while Vosges invites taste buds to "travel the world through chocolate," Wild Ophelia leads palates in domestic travel through its use of distinctly American flavors. Here's a bar-by-bar review of the Wild Ophelia product line, in order of my favorite to least favorite:

Sweet Cherry Pecan (41% cacao)
This soft milk chocolate melts quick and easy on the tongue, reminding me of European milk chocolate. What it leaves behind--a chewy fruit and a hint of salt and nut--are a fine reward to an already satisfying bar.

Southern Hibiscus Peach (41% cacao)
The best part of eating this bar is when the hibiscus kicks after the chocolate has melted away, creating sparkly crackles of tartness to round off each bite. If this bar lived up to its packaging's bold claim that "each bite is purely peach," it would be a chunky success surpassing many chocolate bars, but chunky chocolate bars are not Katrina Markoff's style. As is, it still a unique delight.

Salted Chowchilla Almond (41% Cacao)
The salt is no subtle presence, but it successfully cuts the sweetness of the chocolate to a level where I kept craving more, bite after bite. Never the champion of salted chocolate, this bar could make a convert out of me. The bits of nut add a nice texture, similar to what one gets with brittle or Almond Roca. Though the concept may not seem fancy or overtly gourmet, this is simply a delicious chocolate bar.

Beef Jerky (44% cacao)
While beef jerky works better in milk chocolate than bacon does in Vosges' Mo's Bacon Bar (a treat best enjoyed in its dark chocolate variety), I was hoping the Wild Ophelia bar would have a smoky flavor or something else to distinguish itself from it's better-known cousin. In truth, it pretty similar except for a few chewy bites.

Get thee to a rodeo, er, nunnery!
Mount Sequoia Granola (70% cacao)
The granola featured in this bar is made by Milk & Honey, a Chicago company whose product has me loving breakfast again and swearing off cereal. Whether the almonds and dried cherries in their Original Cafe Mix, the peanuts and cacao nibs in the Rick Bayliss Mexican Mix, or the husky flavor of their Pumpkin Spice mix, their granola offers tons of flavor...which is why I was disappointed by how completely overwhelming the dark chocolate was in this bar. The granola seemed to only offer textural diversity and in no way affect the flavor.

Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips (70% cacao)
Anyone familiar with Vosges' 70% chocolate won't find much of anything different in this bar. The dark chocolate is the only thing one tastes. The only hint of potato chip is the texture (which isn't even half as crunchy or satisfying as a chocolate covered potato chip) and the only hint of barbecue is when a bit of potato chip gets stuck in one's teeth to be found later. Coming from a Katrina Markoff, who so often uses salt in her chocolate, it is a wonder that a flavor showcasing potato chips doesn't taste the least bit salty.

New Orleans Chili (70% cacao) 
An earthy, yet sweet bar with cayenne pepper that goes straight for the back of the throat, creating instant heat. Sadly, the chili doesn't affect the flavor. I'm not sure that the bar offers anything new except for how long the after burn lingers.

Also available is Peanut Butter & Banana (41% Cacao), which due to the presence of the untouchable fruit shall remain untasted.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bobtail Year: Cubby Crunch

The taste is somewhere between sweet victory and redbrick with an ivy garnish.
Image made using Wrigley Field sign generator

September is month four of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

So far during my Bobtail Year I have reviewed short-run flavors that have only been available for a week or so. This month, I revisit my favorite year-round Bobtail flavor, Cubby Crunch. How good is it? Well, before I give you the play-by-play, it's time for another ice-cream-themed song.

Lemme hear ya! Ah-one! Ah-two! Ah-three!

Take me out to get ice cream

Take me out to Bobtail
Buy me a big bowl of Cubby Crunch,
Spoil my dinner, I'll eat it for lunch
Cause it's chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles
Toffee, Oreo chunks

Give me ONE, TWO, THREE tasty scoops
Of that Cubby Crunch!
...Let's get some cones!

We're broadcasting live from inside the Friendly Confines of Bobtail Ice Cream. The summer may be over but fans are hungry for more. More baseball and more ice cream! And there's no better way to wrap up the season than right here, enjoying some Cubby Crunch.

Batting at the top of the line-up is the VIC himself, Vanilla Ice Cream. It's no secret to fans everywhere that throughout his career, the VIC has been been a solid foundation for pretty much every flavor he's played for. And his tenure with Cubby Crunch may be a highlight of its storied career. A line-drive single with no outs.

Batting second, we have Chocolate Chip. Though an MVP when he's played for other flavors, Chippy has had some trouble performing with Cubby Crunch. When asked about Chip's lacking performance, manager Robert "Bob" Tail had this to say: "We're a championship flavor and that's what counts. Not every batter in the line-up can be an all-star." I guess the Chipster has been a little overshadowed by his incredible teammates, but we're glad to have him. Sacrifice bunt. One out, runner on second.

The flavor used to be dyed Cubby blue.
Bobtail nixed it to be more natural.
Batting third is a flashy, youthful player we all know. Every time Rainbow Sprinkles has made an appearance it's been like fireworks. When he debuted with Cubby Crunch, he showed
the same sweetness his brother Jimmy has been known to bring to other teams. Rainbow hits a stand-up double, advancing The VIC to third. One out.

In the clean-up spot is Oreo. Now this guy may seem like a tough cookie, but inside he's just a big softy. And I mean literally: scouting reports say he's a sandwich cookie with a sweet and creamy middle. He's easily the chunkiest player Cubby Crunch has, but he's a perfect team player, never stealing the spotlight for too long. Intentional base on balls. Bases loaded with two outs to go.

Batting fifth is Cubby Crunch's best kept secret, Toffee. With Chocolate Chip not creating the impact everyone expected for the team, Toffee has more than picked up the slack. It's still a little early to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if this player ends up being the MVP. Crack of the bat...it's going...going...gone! Toffee hits a grand slam! Cubby Crunch wins! Cubby Crunch wins!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Flavor Battle: Doughnut Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cue up the Jock Jams, ladies and gentlemen.
In this corner is Firecakes, current title holder for Best Gourmet Doughnut in Chicago. Their doughnut ice cream sandwich features a glazed yeast doughnut in the shape of a ciabatta roll. Customers have a choice of different two or three homemade gelato fillings, a selection that recently included vanilla, cinnamon and peach. I chose the glazed yeast doughnut with cinnamon gelato.

In the other corner is former title holder Glazed & Infused, offering four distinct combinations, each with a unique doughnut and gelato pairing. Two options are an apple fritter with salted peanut gelato and a Terry's Toffee doughnut with milk stout gelato. I was more intrigued by the other two: the lemon cake doughnut paired with blueberry french toast gelato and the chocolate frosted chocolate cake doughnut paired with nutella gelato with pretzels.

(FADE IN: flashback dream sequence montage)
"What what! Menu just got more gangsta with doughnut ice cream sandwiches! Put 'em in ya mouth!"
-Firecakes, July 20, 2013

"Holy swollen belly, Batman! I'm over here like, 'Cronuts? So over.'" 
-Huffington Post, August 7, 2013

"What up, my people?! We havin' a one-off doughnut ice cream sandwich partay at Black Doggy Dogg at the end of the month! Gelato in the hizzy!"
-Glazed & Infused, August 21, 2013

"Be there or be a straight-up rhomboid."
-Numerous note-worthy media outlets, Aug. 20-29, 2013

"Check it: Sold out. In 90 minutes, suckas!"
-Glazed & Infused, Aug. 29, 2013

"Yo yo yo, playa! We still got the OGs fo' ya oral cavitay!"
-Firecakes, August 30, 2013

The gauntlet had been thrown down. And my taste buds were acting as referee.

Glazed & Infused chose wisely to tag team with Black Dog Gelato, who make my favorite Chicago dessert. With both halves offering unique flavors, it seemed a powerful combo. But G&I chose poorly to use cake doughnuts, whose heaviness laid a choke hold on Black Dog's gelato, as did the overly sugary choco-frosting. The clear winner among G&I's sandwiches was the lemon cake doughnut with blueberry french toast gelato. Its subtle glaze gave a nice burst of citrus, though the density of the doughnut completely swallowed the underrepresented tangy-sweet gelato.

Firecakes, rather than exploring ambitious flavor combinations, leaned on simple classics. The glaze at Firecakes is among the best I've had and pairing it with a simple cinnamon gelato accomplished what neither of the Glazed & Infused sandwiches did: it enhanced both flavors. Only one arm can be raised at the end of a match and from the first bite I knew Firecakes had won, leaving G&I down for the count, no tap out. Added bonus that Firecakes' product is less expensive. Served in a coffee sleeve for easy portability, Firecakes' sandwich is a mere $4, compared to the $6 and $8 offerings from G&I.

Given the success of the party Glazed & Infused threw, there will undoubtedly be future events, likely with new doughnut/gelato combinations...and possibilities of a future grudge match. Here's hoping the champion also considers offering other options eventually, like a chocolate-glaze on the doughnut.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cherry Republic

Welcome, Comrade. We've been expecting you.
The end of summer. The beginning of autumn. This is the line one walks when taking a September trip to the fingertips of the oven mitt that is Michigan's lower peninsula. It is a time when the the last of the holdouts (and the locals) don fleece pullovers while shuffling along in their sandals (or Crocs) with bound determination to find a way to make the summer last. And I know exactly where all those flips are flopping before autumn gets its way with their summer getaway.

Off the main road in Glen Arbor, tucked amongst lush greenery, are stone paths leading to a small grove of buildings, all three of which appear to be equal parts beach home and ski lodge. Amazingly, they house North America's fourth largest country, Cherry Republic. It is a benevolent nation whose people are so decidedly pro-cherry that they built a government around it. And they don’t mess around either; there is a sign at the front that says “Declare all bananas.” Though some could be intimidated by so strict a policy, I, for one, felt safer knowing I was in a banana-free environment.

There are plenty of stellar products, all ripe for the sampling. My favorites were the following: dark chocolate covered dried cherries, dark chocolate pecan with cherry truffles, and hiker’s mix with pumpkin seeds, nuts, dark chocolate and—you guessed it—cherries. (Sadly, I cannot recommend the Boomchunka cookies, which are thick and dry like a dense scone.) There are also drinks to be sampled and, having tried all of sodas, the clear winner is the True Cherry Cola, which has real cherry juice in it.

Creating American expats,
one customer at a time.
Equally impressive are the 12 rotating ice cream flavors, most of which incorporate cherries in a different way. Here are some of the flavors from my visit: Bob's Mom's Favorite (their apostrophized name for cherry ice cream), Snow in the Orchard (vanilla ice cream with tart cherries), Chocolate Cherry, Tractor Trax (chocolate cherry ice cream with peanut butter cups, honey almonds, chocolate & cherry ribbons), Hibernation Jump Start (cherry coffee ice cream with chunks of espresso), Sour Cherry Sorbet, Duneslide Wipeout (butter pecan with tart cherries and pecans), cherry caramel apple (apple-flavored ice cream with tart cherries and a caramel ribbon) and Cherry Waffle Chip (cherry ice cream with chocolate-covered waffle chips).

One ice cream option in particular epitomized my trip up north to the greater Traverse City area. It featured two favorite flavors we all recognize from the pie canon, two tastes delicately combined for perhaps their first union in frozen dessert lore: Cherry Pumpkin. It commanded my hand to be slower with my spoon, to really relish the moment, because, while the flavor was new to me, it was somehow familiar. Whilst savoring and ruminating, I pinned it down. The ice cream tasted exactly like the end of summer. Or was it the beginning of autumn?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Eighth Annual Pumpkin Challenge

The Squashasaurus Rex eats any and all varieties of pumpkin.
The Pumpkin Challenge is my annual quest to consume as many pumpkin edibles as humanly possible. Previous to this year, the Pumpkin Challenge took place between September 15 to October 31. But my single-handed success in increasing pumpkin enthusiasm has resulted in pumpkin season starting earlier in the year. Some friends reported pumpkin sightings as early as August! Because the goal is ultimately to make pumpkin season last year-round, it only makes sense to move the Pumpkin Challenge earlier in the year: September 1 through October 15.

What are the rules?
The only beverage allowed is the milkshake. Food items may not be doubled. Two slices of pumpkin cheesecake count as one item. The only way it could count for two different items is if the second item has a distinct enough difference of flavor that it warrants a different name AND the item comes from a different source than the first item. Pumpkin candles or pumpkin soap do not count unless you eat them.

What is the record?
During 2012’s Pumpkin Challenge, I consumed 52 different varieties of pumpkin. The previous record (2010) had been 40.

Why does it stop in October? Isn’t pumpkin often a Thanksgiving staple?
Ideally, the meeting of mouths to pumpkin products would go on forever. But we most focus our efforts. The Pumpkin Challenge was created to encourage the same sort of crass commercialism extended to that Santa holiday. We want to encourage—through pestering and purchase—stores offering pumpkin foods at progressively earlier dates each year. To focus the Challenge to a time period that is the height of pumpkin consumption is both missing the mark and far too easy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bobtail Year: Wrath

Eat the chocolate. Crush the others into powder to throw into an enemy's eyes.
August is month three of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

Revenge is a wrath-filled act so sweet that one cannot help eating spoonful after spoonful. This is also the case with Bobtail's flavor, Wrath. Here's their teaser: "The next in our Seven Deadly Sins series will make your taste buds spite you after the very first bite. With a fiery touch of cayenne and crushed black pepper tossed into chocolate and mixed with cinnamon-fudge flakes, you'll only rage for more!!"

I am no stranger to spicy chocolate and, like last month's Lust, this one distinguishes itself from the others. If last month's seductive flavor was a lover, this month's is a fighter. Cue Guile's theme from Street Fighter II...
ROUND 1: FIGHT! This might be the spiciest ice cream I've ever eaten. It throws fireball after fireball and, once the hadouken-level heat begins, it doesn't leave. The flavor punishes the eater with each dragon punch to the jaw, but us Seven-Time-Sinners are all gluttons for everything, even punishment. But, while the pummeling comes swiftly and steadily like a hundred hand slap, I cannot help but appreciate a master at work. Texturally, this isn't just a chocolate ice cream with fudge flakes mixed in. It has an intriguing earthy texture that adds depth to the chocolate. They say death is in the details and, in this case, that death comes from the black bits flecked throughout the base.

ROUND 2: FIGHT! With seasoned fighters, each blow is crafted to destroy like a sumo smash. Including cinnamon in the flakes makes a recognizable mix-in (chocolate flakes) actually increase (not defuse) the burn, turning it into a weapon. This secret attack is both devious and delicious. As each cold bite melts away, it leaves behind some chocolate-cinnamon flakes for me to ponder as I stand their dizzily with them melting on my tongue. Naked, the flakes offer a complex flavor that suggests mocha, a sweetness that is followed by earthy bitterness and the texture of coffee grounds. Like a sonic boom, the calm comes before a much louder end, and with this flavor the end is always a roundhouse of heat.

Here comes a new challenger.
(Suddenly and inexplicably, the game console bends time and space enabling a Mortal Kombat crossover...)

FINISH HIM!! Having barely survived the spinning pile driver of the ice cream and the flakes, I somehow get myself to my feet for what I know will be the last time. Woozy and barely conscious, I still feel the steady burn I've been feeling since I first got hurricane kicked in the mouth. It might be my swollen jaw, but it feels like the heat is crescendo-ing from yoga fire to yoga flame, even in this short reprieve from getting my pixelated butt handed to me. I look at my opponent and think I could take one more bite of the cold, cold ice cream, because that will cool things down again, right? Couldn't be more wrong. Bam. Zow. One last dragon punch right in the kisser.

CONTINUE? Wrath stands over me. I flinch to protect my black and blue face and hear it say, "You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance." And I wonder, "What the heck does Sheng Long ice cream taste like?"

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bobtail Year Bonus: Reinventing Envy

August is month three of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre. In this entry, I take inspiration from Bobtail to create my own flavor.

My interest already piqued by the first three flavors, I was frustrated by the description for Bobtail's latest addition to their flavor cycle inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins: "Envy is simply an ice cream that wishes that it were more." The teaser was infuriatingly uninformative...yet affective in making me crave it. The tragic irony was that the anthropomorphized ice cream from the teaser (a sweet cream ice cream with no mix-ins) was not the only one wishing it were more. Having left my sampling unfulfilled, I decided to try on a different sin and vainly declared that I could do better!

Re-purposed Bobtail pint container.
Brad's Green Envy is a subtle avocado ice cream with a burning rivalry between cinnamon and Tabasco. Taking inspiration from three different scoop shops, it is a mash-up of:
  • Envy. Like Bobtail's plain sweet cream ice cream, avocado ice cream, while flavorful, leaves sweet toothéd people wanting more.
  • Avocado Cinnamon. While I wouldn't change a thing about this fantastic flavor from my Chicago favorite Black Dog Gelato, for my purposes, I needed my sin-inspired flavor to have more of a burn.
  • Disco Inferno. This sweet cream and Tabasco ice cream from Boston's J.P. Licks tasted totally plain Jane...until the after burn. An armchair hot sauce aficionado, I knew Tabasco was the perfect hot sauce for my ice cream because it would add heat without altering the flavor.
I had done it. Knowing that my flavor, Brad's Green Envy, was more creative than and far superior to Bobtail's Envy, I laughed pridefully, each mwahaha a cherry bomb on my jealousy sundae. While I strapped on my running shoes for a much-deserved victory lap, my roommate Jamie chimed in, "Your flavor would definitely make Bobtail's more full of envy, so I think they still won." Deflated, I then knew I was nothing but a foolish, hubris-filled amateur in Bobtail's devilish game.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bobtail Year: Lust

Control your appetite. And stop leering, creeper.
July is month two of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

"I love Lust."
"I'll take a pint of Gluttony."
"Let me taste the Sloth."

Thanks to some able enabling from Bobtail, I have gotten to say each of these cheeky phrases aloud and in public. While portraying dessert as a sinful affair has become a worn-out cliche--a fact dessert makers (and this blog post) are willfully oblivious to--the twist of creating flavors based on the seven deadly sins is inspired.* That being said, before anyone gets worried I want to clear the air and say there have been zero reported fatalities linked to Bobtail's new seven-flavor cycle. It is also true that local worship centers have reported no uptick in absolution-seekers, hedonism be damned! So, without further ado, allow me to introduce the first three temptations, along with some fine marketing copy:
  • Gluttony - "a decadent concoction created from the union of dark chocolate chips and chunks of fudge nut brownies mixed into a rich chocolate-base."
  • Sloth - "a viscous dreamland of peanut butter-base, marshmallow and butterscotch."
  • Lust - "a scandalous affair between chocolate and cinnamon, mixed with fudge, cherries and dark chocolate chips."
Two months down. Ten to go.
Wait! Do I hear snickering? Was something funny about that last one, Lust? Did you enjoy giggling like a middle schooler because the description used some naughty words? "Scandalous." "Affair." "Cherries." It's okay. Laughing is normal, but it's probably time we had a little heart-to-heart chat. Have a seat.

I feel compelled to open up to you about about a recent Lust-filled evening I had. I won't share all the details--a gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, after all--but it is important that we have a judgment-free environment where we can safely discuss the temptations we face, those surges of desire we sometimes feel toward people or foods.

I confess, in confidence, that reading the words "cinnamon" and "chocolate" together was all I needed to get hot and bothered.
(Scientifically-speaking, both ingredients are known aphrodisiacs. Mmm...nerd talk. Er, I mean, I shouldn't feel any shame if it's natural, right? ) Chocolate, cinnamon...and cherries? My, my! This flavor was shrouded in mystery. And seeing all of those words boldly posted in public, lordy! I worried the town gossip would notice me leering if I lingered too long. I had to act fast. "One nibble and that's all," I thought. But, oh, I was hooked from the first taste! Spicy and sweet, enough to sizzle but not enough to burn. I thought a second taste would cool me down--it's ice cream after all--but the cinnamon kept turning up the heat. With each sensual spoonful, it felt more and more like the flavor was tasting me while I tasted it. And even during the ice cream's soft and sultry pillow talk, my tongue could still sense the bite of the chocolate flakes. I felt like a delicately plucked cherry that had been spanked with a cinnamon stick.
After a night of Lust,
all that was left was a sticky mess.

Would I compare the flavor to a Valentine's Day box of chocolate-covered maraschinos? Or maybe to a cold, chocolaty Atomic Fireball? What can I say and still hang on to a modicum of modesty? I ate it slow. I ate it fast. It was spicy and sweet. Hot and cold. Soft and sultry with a bite. Oh, and there were cherries. I'll stop before this gets NSFW, but believe me when I say that this aptly-named ice cream is a lesson in lust.

* I am a BrAdvocate of taking inspiration from abstract concepts to invent new flavor combinations, as with my own Chicago Blackhawks ice cream.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chicago Doughnut Update

Courtesy of Do-Rite's Facebook page.
Five-and-a-half months ago I gave my State of the Donuts Address, but much has changed, citizen! A mid-year update is needed! First, I'll debrief you on the recent history of the Chicago gourmet doughnut scene.
  • Apr. 2011 - Doughnut Vault opens to enormous lines and at least one disappointed customer. (401 1/2 N. Franklin)
  • May 2011 - Lincoln Park's Cookie Bar (open May 2010) begins opening in the mornings as a pop-up doughnut shop called Dirty Betty's. (RIP)
  • Mar. 2012 - Do-Rite Donuts opens in the Loop. (50 W. Randolph)
  • May 2012 - Glazed & Infused opens, having since expanded to five shops.  (Multiple locations)
  • Feb. 2013 - Firecakes opens in River North and I find my new obsession. (68 W. Hubbard)
  • early June 2013 - Much-hyped chef Enoch Simpson opens Endgrain in Roscoe Village, far from its more southerly brethren. (1851 W. Addison)
  • late June 2013 - West Town Bakery (formerly Bleeding Heart Bakery) begins selling "doughssants" becoming the first known distributor of the much-hyped croissant/doughnut portmanteau within Chicago city limits. (Multiple locations)
  • July 2013 - Cookie Bar, having closed its original location in 2012, reopens in Ravenswood with limited hours. Once again, it offers Dirty Betty's doughnuts. (1746 W. Wilson)
...But enough history. Onward to eating!

Best Overall Gourmet Doughnut:
Strawberry Mascarpone
from Firecakes

Courtesy of the Firecakes Facebook page.
Since opening, they have slowly added new items to their menu, but none as awe-inspiring as their Strawberry Mascarpone doughnut, which effortlessly dethroned the previous "Best Chicago Doughnut." Firecakes' glaze + yeast doughnut + a sweet, subtly cheesy filling + the perfect amount of juicy and refreshing strawberries = a light-tasting, full-bodied doughnut with more layers of flavor than one ever expected to get from fried pastry. Quite simply, Firecakes has mastered the art of the yeast doughnut, which I already knew from my first taste of their classic glazed doughnut. Bonus points: it looks gorgeously elegant.

Crème Brûlée from Glazed & Infused
Chocolate-Hazelnut Longjohn from Firecakes
Meyer-Lemon Pistachio from Do-Rite

Best Bacon Doughnut:
Maple Bacon French Cruller from Do-Rite Donuts (pictured above)

Finally, Do-Rite takes the bacon doughnut concept and does it, er, right. While a seemingly sensible combination of breakfast foods, maple bacon doughnuts are often a heavy, oily mess. Turns out that what they needed was to highlight yet another breakfast staple--eggs! French Crullers are the light, airy, egg-y answer to this doughnut conundrum. Perfectly balanced with Do-Rite's maple glaze, which doesn't overpower.

Runner-up: Bacon Butterscotch from Endgrain

Raspberry jelly doughnut from Endgrain.
Best Jelly Doughnut (or Jelly Cronut):
Rotating selection from Endgrain

The first bite. That was when I knew I was eating the best jelly doughnut of my life. More fruit than jiggly bits, their straight-off-the-berry-bush filling is in every bite of this jam-packed, er, jelly-packed doughnut. What makes this more notable than others? Let's take a look at the competition: The flaky-but-oil-retaining cronuts (billed as doughssants) from West Town Bakery, the cinnamon-sugar-topped bismarcks from Glazed & Infused and the gigantic jelly doughnuts from Firecakes are all best recognized for reasons other than their jelly. Endgrain gets it right. All jelly, all fruit, all the time.

No runner-up. Nothing compares.

Best Classic Doughnut:
Chocolate Glazed from Dirty Betty's/Cookie Bar

One could debate whether or not anything from Dirty Betty's is a "classic doughnut," since all of their gluten free products are baked instead of fried. But naysaying is the best evidence of someone who hasn't tried the products at Cookie Bar. Dirty Betty's has the best chocolate glaze I've ever consumed. One can actually taste the chocolate, unlike the lazily slathered chocolate glazes one usually encounters which, despite their best brown intentions, taste like something between coagulated sugar or grocery aisle cake frosting...a spectrum that doesn't include actual chocolate.

Runner-up: Valrhona Chocolate Glazed from Firecakes

Courtesy of the Firecakes Facebook page.
Best All-Around Doughnut Shop:

A doughnut shop with almost as many highlights as it has doughnuts, the only problem with a trip to Firecakes is deciding which doughnut to get. I've already touched on some of my personal favorites, but nearly the entire menu is worth exploring. Their Classic Buttermilk unlocks the power of this often bland doughnut selection. Their Honey Glazed is a masterstroke, the perfect realization of a classic. Their newer Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup is airy-but-dense mini-doughnut that is equal parts sweet and rich. The menu is so good that I've even revisited the doughnuts that I've found less impressive (their Coconut Cream cake doughnut and their rotating line of jelly doughnuts), believing there is genius to be found if I taste it on just the right day. Hubbard St. downtown has become Donut Way recently, but Firecakes is undoubtedly the place to go.

Runner-up: Endgrain

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bobtail Year: Lemongrass Mint Ginger

The subtle poetry and enlightenment one might find in the produce section.
June begins my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

When I heard the flavor name "Lemongrass Mint Ginger" teased out on Facebook, I could not wait. Such a deliberately bold blend of flavors screams of genius at work. Lemongrass is known for adding a subtle dose of citrus flavor to foods. When paired with mint, one can assume that the mint was used sparingly enough as to not overpower. When paired with ginger, one thinks of East-Indian cuisine. As a whole, this flavor sounds refreshing, like meeting someone new and getting hopelessly twitterpated. In fact, it is exactly like that.

This ice cream is a soft and elegant lady that dares to be different, like the black sheep of a southern family turning everyone's heads at a debutante ball. After being charmed by the lemongrass (a flirt of sourness, not a tart sensation), the mint shyly asked me to dance (without being sickly sweet or "curiously strong") before the crystallized ginger cut in, adding a sugary, almost carbonated burn, one so delicate my sinuses didn't even flinch. As each of her ever-intriguing flavors gracefully waltzed in and out, we were swept into a smoothly executed accelerando. It wasn't until the flavors were Lindy Hopping in my mouth that I realized, though it felt as if I'd been switching partners throughout this ethereal evening, I'd been cheek-to-cheek with the same sweetheart. Totally smitten, I considered myself lucky to have kissed the hand of such a multifaceted belle and vowed to never let her go.

Despite the naïve promises of my delightfully dizzied taste buds, the whirlwind affair came to an end like a lover slipping into the night. I awoke as from a dream, standing on my kitchen's wood floor instead of in a lavish ballroom, holding my empty pint with the same care a prince would a glass slipper.

• • •
My Bobtail Year will continue in July!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bobtail Year: Introduction

I think there's still some room on my back if you'd like to pat me on it.
Chicago's Oracle Theatre believes no one should feel limited from experiencing art. Since 2010, they've offered Public Access Theatre (read: free) for their mainstage season, "B-Side" productions that partner with other artists, original film screenings and their outreach program, The Radio Movement. A quote from the initial press release says it perfectly: "100% open access makes people feel invited and welcomed, not sold...[plus] Oracle fits all budgets, not just a few."

When I was unemployed, I knew I could always see a show at Oracle regardless of my financial situation. And recently I decided it was time to give back by donating $15/month to keep both their programming and admirable business model going. For this, I received the donor benefit of two pints of ice cream a month from Bobtail for a whole year. Let's do the math:

Oracle Theatre + Altruism = Ice Cream for a Year

Now before you start questioning the selflessness of my donation, let me just say this year is gonna be great! Eating ice cream and highlighting the standouts! Booyah! And Bobtail, one of the few homemade ice cream/gelato places in Chicago, is still experimenting with new flavors on a rolling basis! So you can expect to read about some customer-created flavors you've never even imagined during my....Bobtail Year!

• • •

Bobtail Year Rundown
July - Lust
August - Wrath
(Bonus: Reinventing Envy)
September - Cubby Crunch
October - Wrecking Ball
November - Sweet Potato Pie
January - Fudge Walnut
March - Thin Mint
May - Goat?

- - -
Update from 2014: Be sure to check out the end-of-year recap.