7.29.2015

Jodi's Italian Ice Factory

Earlier this year, a small family-run business in Northwest Indiana contacted Diana and me via Instagram to invite us down for a tasting of their Italian ice. They explained that they had been around for just under a year and while they were small operation, they had big plans for expansion and an unbeatable range of fresh and unique flavors that would keep us coming back for more. While Diana and I are no strangers to the sweet treat, we're always up for trying new places and we're also big fans of mini foodie road trips (she is the best road trip partner ever!), so we packed a cooler, jumped in her car, and headed down to Hammond, Indiana to check out Jodi's Italian Ice Factory. Little did we know back then that we take the same trip numerous times during the following six months because we just had to return again and again to stock up on our favorite flavors... yes, it really is that good!


Jodi's Italian Ice Factory has now been in business for just about a year and a half and has already opened two more locations, one in Whiting and another in Schererville, thanks to the heavy demand for their delicious treats. Owned and run by the tight-knit Tillman family, Jodi's is one of the few places in the region serving authentic Philly-style "water ice," which is characterized by its smooth and soft texture (unlike shaved ice, it's made by the same process used for ice cream). Introduced to the East Coast by Italian immigrants who wanted to recreate the granita served in their homeland, the treat was a childhood favorite of former Philadelphia dweller/owner Brian Tillman. Owner/wife Jodi wears the chef's hat and is often the face you'll see behind the counter at the Hammond location (sons Jesse and Corey also work to manage the three stores). While the classic lemon is always on the menu, Jodi rotates flavors depending on what's in season (her products are all-natural and made without stabilizers or preservatives). She also takes flavor requests from customers and works tirelessly to perfect each creation - those requests have led to some of their most popular flavors, including one of my favorites, Swedish Fish!

Our first visit to Jodi's - we were definitely in our dessert happy place! Some of our favorite flavors of the day included Sour Patch Kids, Green Apple, Mango, and Coconut. As I said to Diana, the coconut was so incredibly refreshing that it tasted like Jodi had frozen a coconut overnight and just scraped out the insides!

Owner/Chef extraordinaire (and namesake!), Jodi Tillman

Left: Green Apple and Cherry Italian Ice
Right: Cap'n Crunch Berries Ice Cream 

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During our most recent visit, I fell hard for this Cap'n Crunch Berries Ice Cream. While the focus of the business is on Italian ice, Jodi occasionally whips up limited batches of ice cream and gelato (which are both just as delicious her Italian ice!). The vanilla ice cream has actual bits of Cap'n Crunch ground into it - as Diana mentioned, it's like a big cup of frozen milk and cereal!

Another customer favorite: the Mocha Gelato/Ice Blend

The aforementioned amazing Swedish Fish Italian Ice!

The adorable crew at the Whiting store, led by son Jesse.


Watermelon, Grape, and the perfectly tart Green Apple Italian Ice



The crème de la crème: Horchata Italian Ice. Anyone who knows me knows that I have some hardcore love for horchata - I cannot tell you how excited I was to find it in Italian ice form! This flavor alone is what has fueled several of our spontaneous trips back to Indiana!

Along with her frozen treats, Jodi also sells her handmade cinnamon rolls out of the Hammond location; however, you have to get there early to snag one because these delicious rolls go fast!

Check out that frosting ooze action!

You can try all of this deliciousness and more (and you really should!) at Jodi's Italian Ice Factory. It's a quick 45-minute drive from downtown Chicago and the Whiting location is only 15 minutes from the must-visit Calumet Fisheries. It's the perfect foodie day trip! 

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7.27.2015

In the Loop: Luke's Lobster

Back before my daily commute involved an almost two-hour trek out to the northwest 'burbs, I spent seven years of my life working in the Loop (and as much as I love my current job, I have to say that I sure do miss that quick train ride downtown!). While my fellow Loop colleagues and I always enjoyed the summertime arrival of food trucks, farmers markets, and festivals, we spent most of the year lamenting the lack of casual, but still high quality grab-n-go lunch spots in the area. It was absolutely saturated with fast food and fine dining, but if you weren't looking to grab a greasy burger or to plop down $50 for lunch, you were usually SOL.

Of course, now that I don't work in the Loop anymore, a few fantastic new places have suddenly popped up in that area - and I have to say that I totally jealous! Why did they wait so long?! The newest spot to join the Loop is Maine-based seafood shack (well, as shack-like as you can get in the middle of Chicago!), Luke's Lobster. The east coast fast-casual seafood restaurant opened its first Midwestern and tenth overall location this past May and has been garnering rave reviews for their simple and flavorful selection lobster, shrimp, and crab. Being sworn lobster roll-lovers and former frustrated Loop lunchers, Ashley and I just had to scuttle over to the new hot spot to see if it really does live up to the hype.

The small storefront's design is simple and meant to evoke a New England seafood shack with its barnwood lines, salvaged buoys, and cutesy Maine-themed paraphernalia.



Luke's buys directly from independent lobstermen off the coast of Maine (no distributors or wholesalers) to ensure the freshest product possible and prides itself on sharing the locations of each day's catch with diners.

We kicked off our seafood fest with an order of steamed Jonah Crab Claws. These juicy claws were great on their own, but we also both enjoyed dipping them into the tangy cocktail sauce!


Next, we moved on to Luke's signature Crab Roll. Similar to their Lobster Roll, this sandwich is simply prepared (toasted bread, crab & celery salt) and completely satisfying! Ashely and I had heard there was great debate over whether the best Luke's roll came stuffed with lobster or crab... as much as we enjoyed this delicious roll, we actually saved the best for last.

The epic Lobster Roll! It's impossible to express exactly how much we both loved this amazing roll. Unlike so many others you find in Chicago, it was unfussy - there were no chunks of celery (yuck!) lurking between thinly shredded bits of lobster, globs of mayonnaise, or random fillers. It was straight up toasted bread, a swipe of mayo, and huge chunks of sweet, succulent lobster. The lobster roll alone guarentees that Luke's Lobster most definitely lives up to its well-deserved hype! *Swoon*

We also split a cup of the Corn & Shrimp Bisque Soup. While the soup was certainly flavorful, we both found it to be a bit too salty. However, the rolls were so fantastic, they more than made up for the soup (I've also heard that the Clam Chowder is actually quite delicious).

Just an aside: I'm in love with my new House of Harlow bracelet from Rocksbox and had to show it off (for those of you who don't know, I love jewelry almost as much as I love food!). I've cancelled all of my other subscription services, but I cannot leave Rocksbox - it's way too fun to get new pieces to wear every month! Want to try it for yourself? Use code starrnxoxo for a free month!


You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Luke's Lobster: 134 N. LaSalle Street.

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 Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own. 

7.24.2015

Red Velvet Sprinkles Sundaes

Now that the summer weather has officially taken over the city (we've left my beloved 60/70° temps and moved into the consistent 80/90° range), I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about ice cream. I'll take a scoop of ice cream with my oatmeal, a side of ice cream with my favorite summer strawberry salad, and a bowl of ice cream for dessert. Oh, do I want sprinkles with that? Yes, please and thank you. So it should come as no surprise when Sprinkles Cupcakes invited Ashley and me into their kitchen to learn how to make their signature cupcake ice cream sundaes, I may have done a little dance of five-year-old-hopped-up-on-birthday-cake happiness around my living room. Cupcakes and ice cream?! Oh hell yes!


How can you not love an ATM that dispenses cupcakes?!


Before we headed into the kitchen, we had to ogle the rows of beautiful cupcakes, mixes, and other Sprinkles-themed paraphernalia. I love that even if you don't live near a Sprinkles, you can still make their signature cupcakes!

They even have cupcake treats for your favorite four-legged friends!


After drooling all over the cupcakes in the front, we headed back to the magical kitchen o' sugary, sparkly heaven where we encountered tray after tray of every type of delicious cupcakes.

Cupcakes in action!


Once we were sufficiently hopped up on cupcake fumes (seriously, it smelled *amazing* in there!), we headed over to our station for our Red Velvet Sprinkles Sundaes demo.

For all of you red velvet lovers out there, this is most definitely the ultimate treat. This sundae starts out with a red velvet cupcake made even better with a scoop of red velvet cupcake ice cream... oh yes, it's a red velvet on red velvet sundae! 

Look at all of that red velvet cupcakey ice cream goodness!

To make the sundae, first remove the wrapper and gently separate the cupcake top from the bottom (i.e. gently decapitate the cupcake).

Next, add a heaping scoop (or two!) of red velvet cupcake ice cream.


Finally, finish it off with the cupcake top.

Voilà! The ultimate Red Velvet Sprinkles Sundae!

After the demo, Ashely and I got to put our newfound sundae-making skills to work (yes, they made us work for our cupcake treats!).



How amazing does this ice cream look?! Wooooeeee! Ashley and I both contemplated abandoning our duties and diving right into the pint, but we somehow managed to restrain ourselves.

My finished sundae! Easy-peasy and so, so delicious!
 
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After finishing our time at cupcake sundae university (and demolishing our sundaes, naturally!), we were rewarded with our very own boxes of cupcakes and pints of ice cream in order to continue the sundae party at home. Score!

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