photo: courtesy of Vosges
Nothing says oo-la-la-love on a snowy day like sipping a steaming mug of hot chocolate. For some it's the ultimate marriage of decadent cocoa treat and wistful childhood memory. But just because you were stuck (merrily) slurping packet powder as an eight-year-old doesn't mean you can't update your tastes for a decidedly more decadent mug. Luckily, finding spruced up hot chocolate in Chicago is no more difficult than, oh, finding the cold in January.
Hot Chocolate This Bucktown cafe is a hot chocolate aficionado's dream, with a chocolate-hued interior, comfy sofas and a lengthy bar that just begs you to sit and order one of chef/owner Mindy Segal's seven sinful drinks (each $5). From light (white chocolate and cocoa nibs) to dark (72 percent French chocolate) to half & half (half espresso and half dark hot chocolate) all chocolate lovers can find their perfect mug. All mugs are topped with house made marshmallows and, for the hardcore cold fans, can be served over ice.
Cafe Spiaggia The non-fussy younger sib of the Italian big-boy Spiaggia, this cafe is the perfect spot to cozy up with a mug of real-deal hot chocolate while peeking at the posh Mag Mile diners that surround you. The $5 "Ciccolato Caldo" is a Northern Italy-style blend of melted Valrhona chocolate, milk, cream, sugar and just a smidge of vanilla—and it's as rich and thick as it sounds. The house made biscotti that accompanies the cocoa is perfectly made for dipping in the sweet silky whipped cream that tops the drink.
Medici Bakery Mention the Med and odds are good people will hungrily mention the Mexicana hot chocolate ($3.25, large). Stone-ground cinnamon and chocolate are steamed with milk for a sweet, kicky cup of indulgence. Even if whipped cream doesn't normally get your pace racing, make sure to order it here. The towering dollop of house made goodness is regularly flavored with French vanilla, hazelnut or almond (if you ask nicely, the counterstaff will give you a second dollop mid-cup). The same signature chocolate/cinnamon blend used in the hot chocolate is also the heart and soul of the Mexicana milk shake.
Angel Food Bakery To fully appreciate a steamy cup of "the Barthelona" hot chocolate, put down your mug and pick up your spoon. Modeled on the hot chocolate chef/owner Stephanie Samuels sipped in Spain, this beyond-decadent drink is so rich and thick it's more akin to velvety chocolate pudding than the watery stuff of your youth. Imported, solid chocolate is melted with whole milk and then cooked until it's uber-thick and chocolatey. Available in itty-bitty 3.5- or 10-ounce sizes ($3.50 for large), it's topped with a luscious dollop of house-made vanilla bean whipped cream, the fluffy sweet stuff visibly dotted with crushed beans.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat For truly couture cocoa, there's no place like Vosges. The Parisienne, inspired by owner Katrina Markoff's time spent working in a Parisian hotel, combines cacao, cinnamon, vanilla and fresh orange peels for a multi-layered, dark drink; the aptly named Aztec Elixir (pictured) is made from crushed ancho and chipotle chilies, cinnamon and Mexican vanilla beans and thickened with maize powder (aka cornmeal); and the Bianca turns chocolate expectations on their head—the steaming mug of white chocolate is infused with flavors from around the world, including lemon myrtle, lavender and Madagascar vanilla bean. $5 each.