“Nostalgia works because it takes us back in time, which is the only place we can’t go,” says Dana Salls Cree, the former Publican brand executive pastry chef who opened Pretty Cool Ice Cream with Bang Bang Pie owner Michael Ciapciak this summer.
For Salls Cree, nostalgia is standing at the end of her driveway with change in her pocket awaiting the melodic jingle of the ice cream truck to indicate her favorite cherry-pineapple swirl pop was within reach. Over the past few years, making ice cream has become her main preoccupation—yielding an approachable cookbook (Hello My Name is Ice Cream) and, more recently, a four-seasons ice cream shop in Logan Square.
I met two dates at Pretty Cool just before dinner: One of them, a bouncy toddler with a stuffed ice cream toy under her arm, gaped at the sight of the handheld treats lining the display case like technicolor soldiers. “Which flavor do you want?” her mom asked. With a sweeping gesture, she pointed to what I could only decipher meant “all of them.”
Starring cream from Lamers Dairy in Wisconsin and an ever-shifting cast of fruits sourced via Local Foods, the pops stand out most for their beautiful density and texture. A peanut butter bar coated in thick chocolate and studded with salty potato chip pieces crunched snappily before giving way to the stretchy chew of nutty, rich custard. Blue moon, Salls Cree’s Smurf-blue take on the beloved Midwestern ice cream flavor, tasted like a concentrated sip of cereal milk from the bottom of a bowl of Froot Loops. Even better, it’s vegan—a dense amalgam of coconut cream and citrus oils opens up this nostalgic taste to dairyless sentimentalists, too.
My favorite category by far, though, is the buttermilk bars, which blend the mildly tangy butter byproduct with sherbet mixes ranging from sweet, tannic peach tea to puckering lemon. A pleasantly sharp, indulgent blackberry buttermilk bar scented with warm baking spices was a dead ringer for the summery fruit pie.
Out front, a brown and white dog wagged his tail as he lapped at his peanut butter, banana and flax dog pop. I wouldn’t call the look on his face nostalgic per se, though I swore I saw the same impish smile the three of us wore, having knowingly spoiled our dinners.
Atmosphere: With some three dozen rotating custard and plant-based ice cream novelties, this colorful Logan Square shop deliciously melds imagination and nostalgia on a stick.
What to eat: Don’t skip the tangy, chewy buttermilk bars or the Smurf-hued blue moon, a vegan homage to the Upper Midwest.
What to drink: Choose from a limited selection of glass-bottle sodas from small-batch producers and Coca-Cola.
Where to sit: Family-friendly bleacher seating dominates the space, opposite a few café tables with backless stools. You can also take your jacketed pop to go, or have it delivered via Uber Eats.
Maggie Hennessy is the restaurant and bar critic for Time Out Chicago. She likes (real) dive bars and bread with every meal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @edible_words.