Ava's Italian Ice brings fresh fruit flavors to Bucktown

Some people love Italian ice so much, they decide to change careers, and devote their lives to it.

At least that's the case for a young family near Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood who have set up shop along a busy stretch of Western Avenue. There, they make nearly a dozen flavors a day, using only the freshest fruits they can find.

Marisa Cruz and her husband are new entrepreneurs. Their tiny shop, Ava's Italian Ice, is named for their young daughter.

But Marisa had zero experience running a store, so she figured things out online. She says there are three types of ice you can make.

"There's using bases, which are kind of like using syrups. There are extracts for the flavors and there's fresh fruit," Cruz said.

And the fruit is abundant this time of year, including mango, raspberry and watermelon. The choices are difficult on hot days, but you can always get a cup with two flavors.

The job is labor-intensive, as evidenced by the process of making the banana ice. It starts by combining water and sugar and whisking vigorously. Then Cruz peels several ripe bananas and tosses them into a blender until they reach the top of the container. The she adds filtered water to loosen them up.

Once everything is mixed well, Cruz pours the banana mixture into her sugar-water mixture, and whisks it all together. Then it goes into the ice machine to thicken for about 15 minutes before it goes into the freezers.

Ava herself signs off on the final recipe, of course.
"A lot of times you see banana flavor and it's not the most popular, but my banana pretty much is one of my favorites. When I first made the banana and tasted it, I was pretty much blown away," Cruz said.

We all know the Italian ice season is so short in Chicago, so when you find a place using only fresh fruit and offering these little flights, I say take advantage of it sooner rather than later.

EXTRA COURSE: Langhe Market, a new Italian market for a delicious to-go picnic before hitting Ava's for an Italian ice.

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In Steve's Extra Course video, he walks up the street to a new Italian market, Langhe, and shows you how you can get a delicious picnic to-go, before hitting Ava's for an Italian i

Ava's Italian Ice
1814 N. Western Ave., Chicago
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