Everybody in Chicago knows that spring doesn’t start when the calendar hits March 20. With typically wonky (and unwelcome) wintry weather, warm weather is often delayed a few weeks until that precise moment everybody realizes we’ve endured another chill and light jacket weather is here to stay. Unlike that unreliable and wildly inconsistent groundhog, restaurants in Chicago are solid indicators for spring weather, based on their hours, patios and menus. From gelato shops opening up for the year to seasonal lunch service and rooftop bars, these are the surest signs of spring in Chicago restaurants.
One of the best indicators that spring is here is the simple fact that it’s no longer too cold to enjoy ice cream and gelato without freezing to death. Along with other prized seasonal gems like Miko’s Italian Ice and Scooter’s Frozen Custard, Black Dog Gelato is emerging from hibernation and coming back for the year. Swing by the Ukrainian Village shop for a taste of peanut butter lavender marshmallow gelato, blueberry French toast, sesame fig chocolate chip or any other oddball combo of chilly deliciousness.
The Most Iconic Patios:
It’s probably because Chicagoans have so much pent up energy accumulated during winter, but we really love patios. To the point that we’ll happily sit underneath a roaring El track if it means we can dine al fresco. There are patios all over the city come spring, but few are as iconic as the ones at Tavern on Rush, Big Star and Parson’s Chicken & Fish. They’re all so different, all in different neighborhoods, but in their own ways they capture the essence of spring. In the Gold Coast, diners starving for Vitamin D flock to the massive patio anchoring the Viagra Triangle. Customers do likewise in Wicker Park at Big Star, and in Logan Square for Parson’s.
When lunch service returns to this iconic, enduring River North restaurant, you know it’s time to stow the winter coats. Fusing seasonal, contemporary American cuisine with flavors of the Mediterranean, NAHA makes for one of the best full-service lunch experiences downtown; diners can always count on masterpieces from chef Carrie Nahabedian. The new lunch menu features plenty to savor for the season, including a warm puffed French Alpine-inspired savory torte with Tomme de Crayeuse cheese, slab bacon, ramps and chives; risotto with green garlic and nettles; and a ricotta cake with olive oil ice cream, poached apricots, sweet polenta, limoncello and salted Marcona almonds.
The nifty thing about the J. Parker, the bar perched atop the Hotel Lincoln, is that the terrace space is open year round thanks to a glass covering that maintains the stunning Lincoln Park views while shielding customers from sub-zero temperatures. But really, there’s nothing that can really compare to an open air rooftop bar, and that day when the J. Parker reels in its retractable facade is a day to celebrate. Now patrons can lounge around the massive sunny space while sipping cocktails like the Suffragette City made with Ketel One, Chareau aloe liqueur, strawberry shrub, mint and lime.
After months of infrequent indoor events, it’s time once again for farmers’ markets to return to their rightful posts outdoors. The season starts again for Chicago’s biggest and most popular farmers’ market, Green City, on May 7 in its Lincoln Park home. Hope you’re not claustrophobic, because opening day is always a jam-packed event filled with produce-shoppers, strollers, leashed dogs, chefs and vendors. As crowded as things can get, especially on Saturday markets, there’s something so excitingly vigorous about shopping outside for strawberries directly from farmers again.
What swimsuit season? Just because the weather has warmed doesn’t mean you have to part with your hot chocolate cravings for the year. At Katherine Anne Confections, aka the closest thing to Willy Wonka you’ll find in Chicago, the chocolatiers beckon spring by swapping out their thick-as-fudge hot chocolate for an equally indulgent drinking chocolate. The cool, milkshake-like beverage is made with chocolate ganache (no cocoa powder here!), cream, salt, vanilla and milk, all blended together with various truffles.
Chicago chocolatier Katherine Duncan uses local cream, organic sugar, local fruits and herbs to make hand-dipped truffles, soft honey caramels, and pillowy artisanal marshmallows. She also teaches classes for groups.