Everyone in Chicago knows that spring doesn’t really start in March. With typically unpredictable weather, the season is often delayed a few weeks until that precise perfect moment everybody realizes we’ve endured another winter and spring is here to stay (at least until summer heat settles in). Restaurants in Chicago are solid indicators of spring, based on their hours, patios and menus. These are the surest signs of spring in Chicago restaurants.
Ice Cream and Gelato: One of the best signs 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 gems like Miko’s Italian Ice and Scooter’s Frozen Custard, Black Dog Gelato is emerging from hibernation and coming back for the warm-weather season. 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.
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 screeching 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 sunshine 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.
Iced Coffee: Sure, some people are bold enough to order iced coffee in the dead of winter, when the wind chill is twice as cold as the beverage itself. But cravings for the quenching stuff really starts to skyrocket once the weather warms and the mittens go away. For some of the best in town, head to Star Lounge in Ukrainian Village. The full-fledged cafe arm of Dark Matter Coffee, they’re famously known for their rich and creamy Chocolate City iced coffee, which they dole out on tap or in bottles.
Rooftop at J. Parker: 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 compare to an open-air rooftop bar, and that day when the J. Parker reels in its facade is a day to celebrate. Now patrons can lounge around the massive sunny space while sipping cocktails and enjoying upscale bar food.
Green City Market: 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, in May on Wednesdays and Saturdays in its Lincoln Park home. 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. New this year, the market is adding a West Loop location at 115 S. Sangamon St., operating Saturdays June through October, and one in Wrigleyville on Thursday evenings at 3637 N. Clark St.