Rainbow Cone shines up north, too

The treat once exclusive to Beverly continues its march across the Chicago area, opening a Skokie branch Wednesday.

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Janelle Smith shows off a practice Rainbow Cone at their first North Side location, 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie.

Janelle Smith shows off a practice Rainbow Cone at their first North Side location, 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie, that opens Wednesday. The middle flavor, New York Vanilla with cherries and walnuts, is called “Palmer House” though it has no connection to the famous Chicago hotel.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Once upon a time, in order to savor the quintipartite joys of an Original Rainbow Cone, you had to somehow get yourself to Beverly. Not too difficult if you were already in Beverly, or near it, or at least on the South Side. But an insurmountable hurdle to guys like me, far, far away from the Pepto Bismol-pink ice cream shop at 9233 S. Western Ave.

Then Rainbow began popping up at Taste of Chicago, where I first tried the five-layer frozen delight, perhaps the pinnacle of the Chicago ice cream world. (Which is a small planet. There’s Margie’s hot fudge. And Victor Lezza’s spumoni. And ... that’s about it, right?)

For the unenlightened, a Rainbow Cone’s fivefold path is, from top to bottom: orange sherbet, followed by four ice creams: pistachio, Palmer House (New York vanilla with walnuts and cherries), strawberry, chocolate. As with actual rainbows, the wonder was hard to find, but that’s changing.

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The past half-dozen years, Rainbow Cone has run a summertime kiosk on Navy Pier. Last year, another opened in Lombard.

Beginning Wednesday, deprived North Siders can partake, as Rainbow Cone opens at 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie in a symbiotic relationship with Buona Beef.

I swung by Monday with one goal: to enjoy a Rainbow Cone — whoops, I mean, to talk to Lynn Sapp, granddaughter of founders Joe and Katherine Sapp, who opened Rainbow Cone in 1926.

“I grew up right behind it, and my grandparents lived above it,” she said.

Has a lifetime of proximity muted the allure?

“No. I’ve always loved Rainbow,” she said. “It’s kinda like a drug for me.”

But scarcity drives value. Is she concerned the proliferation of Rainbow Cones — there’s also one in Darien — will dilute the magic?

Lynn Sapp, granddaughter of Original Rainbow Cone founders Joe and Katherine Sapp, and Navy Pier location manager Nikola Nonkovic.

Lynn Sapp, granddaughter of Original Rainbow Cone founders Joe and Katherine Sapp, and Navy Pier location manager Nikola Nonkovic, show off the South Side favorite, now available on Touhy Avenue in Skokie.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

“We had to bring it out to the people,” she said, speaking of the ice cream truck Rainbow started sending out during the pandemic. “Because nobody was traveling.”

I also wondered how South Siders feel about their beloved culinary icon selling itself around town, like a common comestible. How does Beverly view this flirtation with the hated North Side?

“Do they feel like you’re betraying them?” I asked, gingerly. “Because people on the South Side can be kinda ... touchy.”

“Protective,” she corrected me. “Guarded. ‘Hey, you’re in our ’hood. Who are you?’”

Which sums up the South Side mindset as eloquently as I’ve ever heard it expressed. Sapp joined forces with the Buonavolanto family in 2018 to help ensure her grandparents’ legacy will go on.

“I don’t have kids to pass it down,” said Sapp, 62. “And Joe Perrino, owner of Home Run Inn, said ‘Lynn, who’s going to take this over for you?’”

That would be Buona Beef.

“They’re family oriented,” she said. “Grandpa’s at the table; all the uncles are at the table, and the younger ones, and that’s what I like. They understand.”

Shantel Jones (right), and Janelle Smith practice creating Rainbow Cones at the Buona Beef on 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie. The five flavors are not scooped, but cut and scraped onto the cone with a paddle.

Shantel Jones (right), and Janelle Smith practice creating Rainbow Cones at the Buona Beef on 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie. The five flavors are not scooped, but cut and scraped onto the cone with a paddle.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

She pointed out that the Buona team came up with new Rainbow Cone slogan, “Life’s too short for just one flavor.”

Alone, “you’re limited in what you can do,” she said. “When you’re with people in the business, they understand it. That’s why I’m blessed to be with them. They get it, and they have the tools to make this happen, and make the quality stay. That’s why I’m so excited to be with them. It’s like a support group.”

I watched workers practice making the cones, paddling the chocolate, then strawberry, etc., upon a cake cone.

“You need a good foundation, like every other business,” said Nikola Nonkovic, manager of the Navy Pier location, explaining technique in stacking the flavors.

It was before lunch, and nobody was offering me any ice cream. But I stared fixedly at the practice cones being assembled under Nonkovic’s tutelage and Sapp took the hint. She suggested a baby cone, and I agreed. They’re really excellent. The orange sherbet is made with cream, and very smooth. Rainbow has 10 percent butterfat, so there’s none of that “I ate this and now I want to die” nausea you can get eating a higher-butterfat ice cream.

Still, as I left, vowing to make this a regular detour when business takes me down Touhy, I did have one regret: I should have asked for the large.

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