Portfolio > Content & Writing

"When You're Given Lemons: Five Best Lemonade 'Hoods in Chicago"

Survey of great lemonade spots around the city of Chicago. Published by A.V. Club Chicago, June 2011. (Thumbnail image courtesy of Serious Eats Chicago)

Lemonade isn’t the easiest drink to master. Getting that perfect mix of sweet, tangy and refreshing is tricky. Some neighborhoods in Chicago boast spots that stand up to this epic beverage challenge. Just in time for (finally) summer, The A.V. Club perused the city for the best ‘hoods to get your ‘ade on.

Wicker Park/Bucktown/Ukrainian Village

The six corners neighborhood is full of pricey vintage boutiques, arty coffee houses and is “over” to many of the cooler among us. Whichever side you are on in the Wicker Park gentrification debate, you have to give it mad lemonade points.

Birchwood Kitchen ( 2211 W. North Ave.) is creative with its squeezed beverages. Birchwood’s chefs regularly dream up satisfying herbal lemonade concoctions like cucumber mint, Thai basil, blackberry and ginger-infused variations. In spite of Birchwood’s fancy artisanal café vibe – quite mature for the neighborhood I might add – it isn’t a bad spot to chug a slightly overpriced citrusy treat and observe businessmen fumble with their Palm Pilots.

Instead of heading over to Goddess and Grocer to swill a too-sweet, too-expensive, not-homemade jug of lemonade, go down to Alliance Bakery (1736 W. Division St.) where the streets are less crowded with high-end strollers and canines in tutus.
Alliance, being a bakery and all, is more of a pastry and cake hot spot then a lemonade joint. But do not be fooled. Its hibiscus tea/lemonade hybrid is refreshing and delightfully scarlet. It’s an Arnold Palmer for people who like their teas a bit fruitier and more brightly hued.

Swim Café (1357 W. Chicago Ave.), a coffee and sandwich spot across from Eckhart Park, does a whimsical interpretation of the lemonade slushy. While a bit tart, the blended ice makes the lemonade melt nicely, definitely the perfect excuse to hang out on a bench and watch other peoples’ children fall off playground equipment.

Lakeview/Roscoe Village

Further east, the lemonade flows like wine. You’ll probably have to battle some screaming, privileged children at the counter, but there is plenty to choose from in the reaches of the North Side.

Wishbone (3300 N. Lincoln Ave.) may have a West Loop outpost but its Lakeview location is just as lovely and is the right place to explore your lustful lemonade cravings. Its “Southern reconstruction” cooking is swell, sure, but the lemonade is off the chain thanks to its quirkiness. Ever have that Bubbilicious watermelon-flavored gum? Wishbone’s watermelon lemonade is just like that, a nostalgic reminder of summertime, albeit a bit sugary.

As if it were shipped on a wide-load tractor trailer, Anthony’s Homemade Italian Ice ( 3442 N. Southport) has straight off the boardwalk appeal. Our shores may be slightly less beachy than that of the East Coast, but Anthony’s serves up lemon shake-ups, the ultimate carnival treat. Bring it with you to the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier if you are that moved and have no dignity whatsoever.

Down the harmless back streets of Roscoe Village, there is Kitsch’n On Roscoe (2005 W. Roscoe St.). The food isn’t out of this world, (they can’t cook tofu to save their lives over there,) but the lemonade is a worthwhile treat. We’ve all seen pink lemonade. Kitsch’n keeps to its flower child roots with a not-too-sweet purple lemonade. A nod to Hendrix perhaps? The concert posters on the wall point to probably.

University Village

The trip to Taylor Street is worth it alone for Chicago lemonade stalwart Mario’s Italian Lemonade (1068 W. Taylor St.) and its old school charm. Wedged between two buildings, this little shack is open May-September so this is not a year-round option. It’s easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled, (yes, like a lemon peel), for the colorful and loud painted sign. Mario’s offers delicious frozen lemonade in a variety of palate pleasing flavors such as cherry, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberry etc. Unlike most frozen lemonades, Mario’s uses real fruit in its mixture. It’s like going to the Jersey Shore without the dubious fashion choices.

The centuries-old Maxwell Street Market boasts tons of great regional Mexican fare, just ask Rick Bayless. But if tongue tacos aren’t your thing you can always check out the amazing variety of refrescos, including tasty limonada. Don’t get tripped up on the name, though. The market actually takes place on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Desplaines Street at Roosevelt Road, not anywhere near Maxwell Street. But check beforehand because inclement weather can shutter the market’s vendors.

Far West

The Far West Side has the steak and lemonade in spades. Both Chicago Steak and Lemonade (3944 W. Roosevelt Rd.) and Firehouse Steak and Lemonade (5646 W. Roosevelt Rd.) have outposts there. Chicago Steak does frozen lemonade proud, a drink that’s not quite overly sweet but not mouth-puckeringly sour. It also serves lemonade up with a pantheon of flavored syrups. Try the neon yellow banana, it’s just like a popsicle from your childhood or a handful of banana Runts.

Down the street, Firehouse adopts a similar formula, hawking hamburgers and cheesesteaks along with its lemonade. Flavor is the name of the game here as well. Fruit punch in my lemonade? I think, yes. The flaming wall art may coax you into getting yourself some chicken wings or a burger to top it all off.

Logan Square

Not to be outdone, the lemonade purveyors of the tree-lined boulevards of Logan Square proclaim their status as a great lemonade ‘hood from the rooftops… or probably from on a bike.

Dunlay’s on the Square (3137 W. Logan St.) is one such maker of fine lemon beverages. Their lemonade is crisp, subtle and doesn’t become muddled as the ice cubes melt. Nothing crazy, no out-there flavors or weird lemonade textural experimentations here, just plain old fashioned refreshing lemonade.

Another great spot in the well-documented meat and lemonade business model, Fat Willy’s Rib Shack (2416 W. Schubert Ave.) hides out in a part of town dotted with box stores and giant movie theaters. Its ribs and brisket get raves from barbecue fans but vegetarians, like myself, can take heart in its tangy homemade lemonade. And you can always order French fries if the mood is right.

Miko’s Italian Ice (2234 N. Sacramento Ave.) may not have lemonade anywhere in its name or even on the menu, but its lemon Italian ice holds up to even the best of frozen lemonades. Italian ice, lighter and icier than sorbet and more solid than a frozen drink, is a good lemonade substitute when something substantial is what is required. Miko’s also has a Bucktown outpost but the Logan Square spot has more neighborhood appeal.

When You're Given Lemons: Five Best Lemonade 'Hoods in Chicago
2011