Having one of my kids attend college in Chicago gives me the opportunity to try restaurants and eateries in an unfamiliar city. In the short time NLS has been at DePaul, we have already determined we have a favorite local deep-dish pizza place (Giordano’s, but I’ve still yet to try Pequod’s), Italian beef sandwich (Al’s #1), high-end Mexican (Frontera Grill), fast casual Indian tandoori bowl (Naansense) and Chinese bakery (Chiu Quon).
I am still looking for a good thin-crust pizzeria because I’ve learned that Chicago pizza isn’t just deep-dish. Also on my quest list: a less expensive taqueria/Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, pasta place and vegan/vegetarian. If you know of any in the area, let me know. But I may have found the ideal shake/snack food/cocktail eatery. Another visit might determine if I add it to the list.
A cozy but fun place in the city’s River North area, JoJo’s Shake Bar serves up massive ice cream-based drinks that defy the laws of gravity. They pile on technicolor items like cookies, cotton candy squares, giant marshmallows and ice cream cones on a milkshake base. The shakes aren’t that big, but it’s advisable to share one, as NLS and I did.
We went on a Saturday morning, just right after it opened. Because their staff meeting was still happening, we didn’t get seated for another five minutes. We were the only diners for another 15 minutes after that, which felt awkward. Others might have been in the covered outdoor area, but I wasn’t sure.
When JoJo’s is packed with people, it’s probably a buzzing, fun energy. You can’t stay mad or sad in a place with fountain food, boozy cocktails, light-hearted movies playing on a loop, and random paintings of Bill Murray, the Notorious B.I.G., and Queen Elizabeth II on the wall. Our server was friendly and willing to make menu suggestions when we couldn’t decide what to order.
After our meal, we quickly checked out the outside section, in which nearly every square foot was covered in holiday lights and decorations. When RAS and I walked by last October, this same area sported Halloween adornments and everything pumpkins. I’d love to know what they do for other holidays during the year.
The food and drink
Looking at the website for JoJo’s, I found they prominently and not surprisingly featured their shakes. They look huge like a small family could share one and be satiated. What surprised me was their actual size. They aren’t that big – the additional pile-on of items makes them look that way.
NLS and I decided to try one called Wonder Years, a blueberry shake adorned with whipped cream, a giant candy-covered marshmallow, cotton candy pieces and a gummy ribbon. I probably would have chosen something different, but I allowed her to select. I ordered the Pretty in Pink cocktail with gin, elderflower liqueur, sparkling rose, and grapefruit juice to counteract that sweetness. I liked its refreshing citrus flavor, but NLS had a sip and thought it was too strong.
We couldn’t just have a shake and cocktail. To accompany our drinks, we ordered JoJo’s fries, which were topped with mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, bacon bits, sour cream and chives. I think that if we didn’t have these toppings, the fries would have been ordinary and slightly soggy, so I’m glad we chose those. I also had a sweet heat veggie chili, which would have been fantastic if it had been a little warmer and spicier. Otherwise, its flavor was a unique combination of sweet potato, pinto and garbanzo beans and quinoa.
I would love to try JoJo’s again and maybe bring back my other daughter to get her personal take. It’s clearly a place that aims for fun, either with its massive shakes, creative cocktails, or fun food items. And you have to appreciate a place that proclaims right at its entry, “Ice cream solves everything.”