Chicagoans employ many unique defenses to battle the winter’s cold, from giant hunting hats to blanket forts to fuzzy bunny slippers. But Chicagoans on the go have to add the brutal factor of wind chill, and it never hurts to be holding something warm as a last buffer against the cold. But what to do when coffee isn’t the answer? It’s hot chocolate time. Here are some of the city’s finer options for a sweet (or bittersweet) cup of cocoa.
Chicago’s homegrown coffee chain puts high-end effort into all their drinks, not just the pure caffeine vehicles. While they use ganache by default, you can ask for the classic cocoa – or just pick up a tin and make some in the comfort of your own home.
The foodie elites of Chi-town have only raved about the bean-to-blend hot chocolate at Rick Bayless’s Xoco. Starting with fermented cacao beans, Bayless’s staff roasts, grinds, and blends the beans with cinnamon and sugar for a slightly bitter, all savory cup of the freshest hot chocolate in they city. But prepare to be patient – Bayless’s savory creation is no secret, and some days the line can reach the door.
Big Star’s menu of fine drinks and cheap Mexican appetizers makes adding cocoa for the winter months an easy fit. If it’s too early for a cocktail, consider warming up with a sweeter beverage – their house hot chocolate is spiked with cinnamon, anise, masa and panela (an unrefined whole cane sugar).
If you like to have some atmosphere with your beverage, there are few locales with decorations as awesome as The Wormhole. Aside from the Delorean, the lesser-known standout is their cocoa with locally made chocolate from Grown-Up Kids Stuff. It’s topped with freshly made whipped cream and vanilla syrup made from real vanilla beans – something to savor while you play through a couple classic games on their old-school Nintendo.
The name alone should tell you that Mindy Segal’s critically loved restaurant is serious about it’s cocoa, but the product definitely deserves its name on the door. The dessert cocoa is made heart-stoppingly decadent, with a house-made marshmallow left to slowly melt into the treat. If you’d prefer to take some home, six different blends (including Mexican, malted milk & espresso, and butterscotch among others) are available to purchase from their website.
—Dan Morgridge is a writer in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. He enjoys eating and drinking above his means, finding new music, and socially conscious hedonism.