By Elizabeth Diffin
Twinkling lights, cheery music, kids on their very best behavior. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year, and there are certain flavors that are synonymous with this season of peace and joy. But in case you’re getting sick of your old stand-bys, we’ve got some ideas for where to find these wintry tastes that might not be what you’d expect.
These spots serve up your favorite seasonal tastes, from gingerbread to peppermint.
We can all agree that there’s no good reason that gingerbread has been relegated to December, right? Its spicy sweetness is welcome in our homes (and mouths) any time of the year.
Thankfully, at least if you’re a traditionalist, Dough Dough Bird Bakery (2409 N. Western Ave.) has made gingerbread cookies its stock-in-trade, with year-round gingerbread cookies in a variety of shapes. The bakery’s specialty is packaged goodies, which make for excellent hostess or secret Santa gifts.
More of a breakfast person? Check out the gingerbread French toast at Lula Café (2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.). This seasonal brunch item comes garnished with tart cherries, French almonds and lemon creme fraiche for the ultimate morning (or early afternoon) treat. Or head to Doughnut Vault (401 N. Franklin St.), whose legendary gingerbread stacks consist of three thin dough rings coated in cinnamon sugar. Be aware: the store closes when the doughnuts run out, so you’ll want to get there bright and early to snag some.
And for the sweet tooths out there, DMK Burger Bar (2954 North Sheffield Ave.) is currently serving up its eagerly awaited gingerbread shake. The creamy shakes come topped with a gingerbread cookie for an extra happy ending to your meal. Or, Sprinkles (50 E. Walton Street) has its indulgent gingerbread cupcakes in stock through Christmas Day. The cupcakes are topped with a cream cheese frosting that’s just begging to be licked right off. And Wells Street Popcorn (2804 N. Clark St.) offers a Gingerbread Caramel Corn for the holidays that’s peanut-, tree nut- and gluten-free.
The holidays are one of the few times of year that we’re allowed to have our booze and eat it too, thanks to the creamy goodness that is eggnog. Don’t worry — alcohol-free options abound (but really, why bother?).
If you’re looking for some kiddie-safe options, Firecakes Donuts (68 W. Hubbard St.; 2453 N. Clark St.) concocts the popular eggnog doughnut for the holidays, as well as sugar cookie and peppermint bark flavors. Or if you just want a tiny taste of the good stuff, there’s Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique (115 N. Wabash), whose vanilla eggnog macarons perfectly fit the bill.
Don’t worry, whether you prefer your eggnog cold or hot, there’s a treat that fits. Portage Grounds (5501 W. Irving Park Road), a cozy coffeeshop on the Northwest side, brews an eggnog latte that hits the spot (take that, Starbucks!). Or head to the Southside’s Wojos (9851 S. Pulaski Road) for an eggnog shake, which can be made with ice cream or frozen yogurt, if you want to save a few calories.
But keep in mind that you definitely won’t want to step on the scale after visiting Bang Bang Pie (2051 N. California; 4947 N. Damen Ave.) and trying the spiked eggnog pie, which is nutmeg and dark rum custard with a graham cracker crust, i.e. perfection. Bittersweet (1114 W. Belmont Ave.) will similarly tempt you with its eggnog cheesecake, a boozy confection of vanilla bean and rum.
The cold air can’t compare to the pleasantly chilly feeling you get when you bite into something minty. And the cheerful red-and-white stripes festooning our candy canes just make them scream ‘Christmas’ even more.
‘Cute’ isn’t typically a word we use to describe desserts (‘get in my belly’ is more like it), but there’s really no other option when it comes to Vanille Patisserie (2108 N. Clark St.; 131 N. Clinton St.; 3243 N. Broadway) and its darling Stud Muffin collection. The Kris, named for you-know-who (no, not Bryant), is a chocolate cupcake topped with peppermint buttercream and a jaunty peppermint macaron, for a jolly delicacy for kids and adults alike.
For smaller bites of minty delight, there’s Terry’s Toffee (1117 W. Grand Ave.), whose gourmet candies include peppermint pistachio crunch. This blend of chopped pistachio, peppermint, dark chocolate and toffee originally was made for the holidays, but now is available year-round. Amy’s Candy Bar (4704 N. Damen Ave.) has a haul of minty sweets fit for Santa himself, from candy cane shortbread bites to candy cane malted milk balls, plus handcrafted peppermint marshmallows.
Since you can’t get any colder — it’s December in Chicago, after all — you might as well try this month’s featured flavor at Bobtail Ice Cream (2951 N. Broadway). The peppermint stick ice cream is always a hit with the miniature set — and it can be added into one of the shop’s ice cream lattes for a decadent (and toasty) treat. George’s Ice Cream & Sweets (5306 N. Clark St.) also warms up visitors with its full line of specialty hot chocolates, including mint.
And if you like to stick with the classics, you can’t go wrong with The Walnut Room (111 N. State St.). The crowd-pleasing Frango Mint cheesecake makes good use of Marshall Field’s signature candy — and is a tasty tradition you’ll want to return to year after year.
Cranberries are arguably more of a Thanksgiving food than anything else, but their tang adds flavor to all of our holiday tables (not to mention a welcome pop of color). Forget the canned sauce – these in-cran-ible foods will bring you comfort and joy.
As a breakfast food, cranberries pep up pastries without being too cloyingly sweet. That’s the case at Wildberry Pancakes & Café (130 E. Randolph St.), where they stuff the restaurant’s signature flapjack batter with cranberries and Georgia pecans for a nutty/tart pairing. Or head to Floriole (1220 W. Webster Ave.), where the rich-looking cranberry eggnog Danish is sure to impress more mature palates.
Magnolia Bakery (108 N. State Street) offers the more traditional apple walnut and cranberry muffin and cranberry pecan scone, but the real crowd-pleaser is the cranberry chocolate chunk cookie, a mixture of the dried fruit, pecans and white chocolate chunks, all blended into an oversized chocolate cookie. Or for a healthier alternative, Delightful Pastries (5927 W. Lawrence Ave.) creates its own maple almond granola, which is studded with dried cranberries (and it’s gluten-free to boot!).
More of a lady that lunches than a babe that breakfasts? The Pasta Bowl (1852 W. North Ave.; 2434 N. Clark St.) has your back, thanks to its lauded cranberry gorgonzola salad, a deceptively simple-sounding combo of spinach, mixed greens, dried cranberries, red onion, roasted almonds and gorgonzola that will wow your taste buds.
Or make your holiday meal Instagram-perfect with the help of Hoosier Mama Pie Company (1618 ½ Chicago Ave.). Order a full pear apple cranberry with walnut crumble pie (phew, that’s a mouthful!), and you’ll be in the running for hostess with the mostess this holiday season.