For our summer series Deep Frydays, we take some of Chicago’s favorite foods and, like the name says, we deep-fry them and deal with the big questions: How do you deep-fry deep-dish? Will it collapse in the heat like a poorly filled pothole? Can you deep-fry a feeling? Will we keep our jobs? Where’s the defibrillator in this building? Let’s find out together!
Today’s sacrifice to the gods of hot oil: Rainbow Cone.
Friends, Chicagoans, deep-fry-zealots, lend us your ears. We come to praise the Taste of Chicago, not to bury it. Well, to praise the 1980s-1990s version of the Taste, at least.
Here’s the thing. We know it’s fashionable these days to bash the Taste – the usual complaints that it’s more for tourists and suburbanites than city people; it’s not representative of Chicago’s real food culture; it’s sweaty, crowded and expensive. And we must admit, these are all true.
And yet, the Taste had plenty going for it. For one, it was way ahead of its time. Sure, there were a few food festivals before it, but the scale and the attendance truly made it the O.G. of signature city celebrations. For another, some of the musical acts over the years were truly for the ages. (For starters: Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Santana, and in 1991, a memorably terrible performance by the Replacements.)
There was also the food. (No, Chicago is not normally awash in giant turkey legs, but their ubiquity at the Taste sure made it seem so.) Chicago’s a big city, and most Chicagoans have huge swaths of the city they haven’t visited – meaning there are innumerable hyperlocal specialties they may never have enjoyed, and that’s no way to live in Chicago. The Taste was a way for the city’s North, West and South sides to meet in the middle and sample the cuisines of our neighbors. To wit: neither of your intrepid hosts, both native North Siders, had ever had an utterly delightful Rainbow Cone prior to the Taste of Chicago. You call that living?
Ah, that sweet synergy of flavors. Like the city itself, the Rainbow Cone is a painterly masterpiece of colors and tastes, each separate and distinct, which together somehow become more than the sum of their parts. It shouldn’t work – chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, orange sherbet and Palmer House ice cream slabs layered upon each other in a quarter-rainbow atop a cake cone – but it does, in a way that’s unlike anything else.
The Original Rainbow Cone shop has been 92nd and Western for more than 90 years. The top-heavy cone was the invention of Joseph Sapp, an ice cream lover who craved variety beyond the standard chocolate and vanilla. He opened a shanty to sell his creation in Beverly in 1926, back when the neighborhood was little more than farm country. Since then, the shop has remained in the Sapp family and is heralded as one of the jewels of the South Side.
The Rainbow Cone’s configuration was the result of deliciously exhaustive R&D by Joseph Sapp, and is perfect as it is – but we’ve got a job to do here, so innovation is called for. Thanks once again to the Taste of Chicago, we found inspiration in another dish familiar to Taste-goers: fried ice cream, which was on the Ditka’s menu there for many years.
The Ditka’s version was Mexican-tinged, a slab of vanilla ice cream coated in crushed cinnamon-flavored tortilla chips and topped with whipped cream – but cinnamon wouldn’t work on the rainbow. Thus, we went with the more neutral flavor of crushed rice cereal and rice flour to create a crunchy coating on scoops of packed Rainbow Cone flavors before a very brief dip in the fryer. Pro tip: do the frying as close as possible to your freezer. Unlike us, you don’t have to work in a parking lot.
DEEP-FRIED RAINBOW CONE
• 2 cups Rice Chex, crushed finely
• 1 cup rice flour (regular flour would work fine here too)
• 1 quart prepacked Rainbow Cone
Scoop Rainbow Cone into about a dozen scoops and place on a cookie sheet. Re-freeze for an hour.
Roll scoops in crushed cereal, then in flour, making sure to cover as much of the ice cream as possible. Re-freeze again for several hours.
Heat oil to 400 degrees. Drop ice cream scoops, no more than a few at a time, into the hot oil. Quickly fry on all sides until golden – more than 30 seconds total in the fryer and you’re done for. Drain briefly, serve and ponder the inherent contradiction of deep-fried ice cream. Anything must be possible, because friend, you just deep-fried a rainbow.