Chicago's Coolest New Gelato, Granita, Sorbet, and More

It may not feel like it, but we're in the midst of the dog days of summer, and regardless what the thermometer says, it's time to go crazy with gelato, granita, sorbet, and other cooling treats. But you don't want to waste your energy or stomach space on mediocre ice cream treats now do you? Fortunately, there's plenty of crafty new creations out there this season, from novel gelati at J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar, sorbet margaritas at Cantina Laredo, and a surprisingly stellar in-house gelato program at Angels & Kings.

At J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar, chef Steve Chiappetti ups the ante on gelato by utilizing nuts, spirits, and homegrown herbs sourced from the restaurant's hydroponic garden. Cap off your meal with a scoop or two of hazelnut or almond gelato, or something more herbaceous, like basil or lemon balm gelato. Then there's granita, the best thing to happen to ice since cocktails. Borrowing a page from cocktail lore, Chiappetti infuses his Italian ice with various spirits, resulting in a sort of cocktail granita. There's rosemary with housemade limoncello, blood orange with mint and vodka, and lavender with honey and bourbon.

Sorbet ritas are happening, and they're happening at Cantina Laredo. They're margaritas made with different flavors of Haagen-Dazs sorbet, making it a refreshing dessert that will get you drunk. Lemon sorbet serves as the base for the caramelized pineapple margarita, made with Herradura Reposado tequila, Cointreau orange liqueur, pureed caramelized pineapple, orange juice, and cayenne. It tastes like an invigorating vacation in a glass. The mango-tamarind citrus freeze skews a little more exotic via Herradura Reposado tequila, Cointreau orange liqueur, and pureed tamarind shaken and stirred over Haagez-Daz lemon and mango sorbets. Then there's the superfruit chiller, a blueberry- and pomegranate-packed medley with Mount Gay Eclipse rum, Cointreau orange liqueur, and Haagen-Dazs raspberry sorbet.

Mango Tamarind Citrus FreezeCaramelized Pineapple Sorbet RitaSuper Fruit Chiller
(All the sorber ritas at Cantina Laredo!)

One recent surprise was the incredible in-house gelato program at Hard Rock Hotel's Angels & Kings, a bar I forgot existed, mostly because it's populated by rambunctious, crazy people. Massimo Gaffo is the chef in charge, and the man's got chops, having worked all over the world before settling in Chicago 17 years ago. The Hard Rock Hotel is a weird venue for such a clearly talented Italian chef, tasked with turning out burgers and quesadillas and other foods that Pete Wentz must craze in the middle of the night. But the real surprise, and the thing that really proved his merit, is his housemade gelato. The textures and flavors are utterly sublime, and unlike anything else in Chicago really. Salted caramel is rich, velvety, and buttery; chocolate is rife with fudgy flavors of high-quality chocolate, flecked with delicate chocolate cake crumbs; even the simplest vanilla gelato was a solid rendition, proving that with the right ingredients and techniques, a chef can steal the spotlight with some killer Italian creations, regardless of the venue.