A Chicago restaurant is trying to tap into the new frontier of savory ice creams. Major brands have drummed up plenty of press with controversial submissions sure to evoke delight or disgust, from Jeni’s much-discussed Everything Bagel pints to Van Leeuwen’s pot-stirring collab with Kraft Mac & Cheese.
Some tap into the ever-efficacious nostalgia factor, while others may veer into the bizarre. But so-called weird flavors aren’t unique to national brands, as local mega-hit Pretty Cool Ice Cream has proven with Hanukkah-themed potato latkes and Bubbe’s kugel ice cream bars.
In August, a surprising new contender leapt into the fray: Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar, sit on the border of Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park with a casual atmosphere that belies caviar’s ritzy reputation. Desserts aren’t typically the main focus of its freewheeling menu, but in August it added cheddar and sour cream potato chip ice cream with an optional topping of Polanco Siberian caviar in a nod to Van Leeuwen’s bright-orange PR coup.
Amy McCarthy, editor of Eater Dallas and Eater Houston reviewed the Kraft ice cream. When informed about the Chicago ice cream, she writes: “Would assuredly eat. Salty funky briny sweet? In.”
At first glance, the scoop of ice cream in the bowl before me doesn’t immediately evoke its namesake chip. A pale cream color devoid of the finger-staining cheese dust, the ice cream could theoretically taste like anything — sans hue, it’s impossible to tell.
At first taste, however, the connection grows clear in a charmingly homey sort of way. Tiny shards of potato chips are embedded in the otherwise smooth ice cream, distinctive yet too small to crunch. Also missing was the habit-forming saltiness of sour cream and cheddar chips. The ice cream itself is light and sweet, though the satisfying briney pops of caviar top — for an extra $23 — could arguably provide the salinity needed.
The ice cream isn’t perfect: it’s not a slick mashup like those seamlessly Frankensteined in a lab by food scientists. Instead, it feels more like the what-would-happen-if kind of genius idea that usually comes from kids. Chicagoans probably won’t see pints in the grocery store cooler any time soon, but the experiment is still a success — silly and tasty and definitely strange. The stress and tumult independent restaurant owners have faced since the pandemic began has fostered a surge in irreverent and nostalgic food; the concoctions can feel like outlets for a badly-needed chuckle.
Chef and owner Guy Meikle, who first opened the restaurant in August 2017, puts out a dizzying array of menus (see: all day, dinner, brunch, happy hour) with standouts like charcoal-roasted hamachi collar with fish sauce caramel and Polish kopytka, or mashed potato dumplings, with smoked wild mushrooms and paddlefish roe.
Meikle’s potato chip ice cream was inspired by Van Leeuwen’s ploy and the coverage it received, his wife Tiffany Johnson Meikle mentioned in passing at the restaurant. Playful and surprising, the ice cream is worth a taste if that’s what inspires patrons to book a reservation. Once inside, however, they’ll find that Heritage doesn’t need a gimmick — even one that’s topped with caviar.