The Fourth of July is around the corner, and if you’re not planning to throw your own pre-fireworks fête, the best thing you can do is show up to someone else’s bearing the best eats and drinks in town. Luckily for us, the Chicagoland area has plenty of them made by some of the most talented food and drink artisans around. In lieu of the chips and guac this year, lean on these seven locally made goods, from four-ingredient ice pops and globally-inspired spirits, to a trail mix that’s sure to shake things up.
Say goodbye to the bulk-bought trail mix you once knew — this medley from North Shore native Niloo Mirani is a game changer. Credit that to her grandmother’s recipe for ajil (i.e., Persian trail mix), complete with a carefully sourced lineup of mulberries, cashews, almonds, figs, golden berries, raisins and walnuts. At once savory and sweet, soft and crunchy, and all-around addicting, this snack is a surefire bonus to any backyard boogie (even if it does result in copious leftovers of cheese and crudité).
The last thing the pit master wants to 86 on come grill time is the sauce. Make their lives a little easier by showing up with any one of the killer condiments from this Bucktown barbecue hangout, where chef and owner Charlie McKenna serves up Southern cooking inspired by his grandmother. Six sauces make up the dressings on deck here, from the sweet and tangy “Carolina” and the bright and zippy “Gold,” to the crowd-pleasing “Smoky” and the “Ivory,” their take on Alabama white sauce.
Dessert has never been as fun as it is with the English toffee from this local purveyor, which specializes in more than a half-dozen clever, gluten-free flavor combinations (think dark coffee, sea salt, and white cranberry, along with seasonally-scored favorites like pumpkin and peppermint). Opt for the key lime this time around, a summer-ready rendition that strikes the perfect balance of rich white chocolate and zesty citrus notes.
If you’re looking to impress your hosts with a bottle that goes beyond the go-to, check out the recently released portfolio from this local spirits line, which prides itself on spotlighting rare, under-the-radar offerings — and, just as importantly, the people who make them. As such, founder Scott Crist did his homework, traveling everywhere from Sri Lanka and Japan to Mexico and France to bring us the likes of arakku, shochu mugi, sotol, and cider, respectively.
Nothing screams summer more than a straight-from-the-icebox popsicle — especially when you can find one as thoughtfully crafted as these from local pastry chef Ana Ramos. Head to lunch hour haven Three Tarts to find all three flavors of hers (cucumber-lime, strawberry, and mango), which she makes with just four ingredients: sugar, water, lime juice, and fruit. Be sure to pack them in a cooler, stat — these pops are meant to be enjoyed à la minute.
When you need a break from the sugar overload that keeps luring you back to the dessert table, it’s all about this raw, organic chocolate — a sweet fix that is just as flavorful as the cocoa you know and love that’s brimming with the good stuff (made possible with just seven ingredients) and not the bad ones (i.e., chemicals, additives, excess sugars, and high heat). Never heated above 116 degrees Fahrenheit, you can count on loads of nutrients and enzymes and a rich, velvety mouthfeel — meaning you really can have your chocolate and eat it, too.
Once you’re too full to move from an afternoon of burgers, dogs and beer, it’ll be easy to want to fall quickly into post-party nap territory — until, that is, you have a sip of this amaro from Chicago locals Cindy Tegtmeyer and Pat Magner. In addition to serving as a dynamite digestif, it has everything you could want in an after-dinner drink — an aromatic nose, smooth body and complex flavor profile comprised of more than 19 different ingredients.
More from Make It Better:
- 8 of Chicago’s Best International Food Markets
- 10 Deliciously Easy Avocado Recipes You’ll Make Again and Again
- Blue Plate Catering’s Good Old Kentucky Red Eye Barbecue Sauce Recipe
Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers food, drink, travel and lifestyle. When she is not planning her next adventure, she can be found commuting between bakeries, yoga classes, live music shows, and libraries in her hometown of Chicago. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other. Follow her on Twitter (@Write_To_Eat) or on Instagram (@WriteToEat).