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Dining: Ice cream, hot dogs and summer in the city

I spent most of the winter cooped up, rushing from one heated space to another, barely registering the newly fallen snow or lacy frost except to sweep it hurriedly from my car. Now that it's summer, I am a creature of the outdoors, soaking up every available ray of light and marveling at a giant rhubarb plant or an unfurling peony. It's a crime to eat indoors in the summer. There's too much to see, too much fresh air to breathe. Here are a few favorite summertime spots that encourage tourist watching, leisurely strolls and sun-kissed satiation.

Fat Ptarmigan Ice Cream Shop

June means ice cream, eaten outside rather than scooped from an embarrassingly large tub of Ben & Jerry's. June also often means rain in Alaska (the weather is fickle and no respecter of calendars) but that didn't deter me from eating my cup of sea salt and caramel ice cream ($3.25) on the sidewalk in a light sprinkle. It was nice to feel the contrast of cold in a concentrated area rather than all over.

The dessert was rich but delicate, just sweet enough with a nuanced interplay of caramelization, hints of salt and creaminess. The cheerful counter girl tried to tempt me with the most popular flavor, delightfully dubbed Bears in a Tub. Sour apple ice cream, gummy bears and blueberry jam mixed together definitely wins points for creativity, but I had to indulge my salted caramel obsession.

The ice cream shop serves up Alaskan Supreme ice cream, Tillamook ice cream and a few other brands. Alaska flavors are the draw; Alaska wildberry, fireweed honey and Kahiltna birch walnut often sell out. The location -- between Fourth and Fifth avenues, by the Egan Center -- makes for primo people watching. The late hours allow for eating ice cream under the (almost) midnight sun.

Fire Island Bakery

This charming neighborhood bakery is on the cusp of downtown and rewards hungry explorers with tasty, tasty treats. Authenticity and passion are paramount here. There is almost always a line and the air is redolent with freshly brewed coffee, chocolate and the yeasty fragrance of rising bread, making it difficult to wait patiently.

Whenever a friend proposes a picnic lunch or impromptu afternoon snack, I head toward Fire Island. On this occasion, I tried the pork banh mi ($10) and a chocolate chip cookie ($2). And ooh, those chocolate croissants ($4) look good. Is that a salted caramel tart ($8)? I'll take that, too. Like I said, it's an obsession.

The sandwiches are perfectly portable and hold up well; they are also fresh and delicious. The cookie barely made it through the door before I was licking the crumbs off of my fingers. I was saving the croissant and caramel tart for my friend BreAnn, who had just arrived in town -- this is how you prove your love, at least within my circle.

For those with visiting friends and family, or who just need a little self-love, Fire Island is in the business of selling sweet and savory valentines.

International House of Hot Dogs

You've seen the food truck and you've been intrigued. International House of … Hot Dogs? There are people sitting almost on the sidewalk of Northern Lights Boulevard, digging in with both hands into crazily constructed concoctions. Then the light turns green, but you're pretty sure you saw some pineapple on someone's hot dog.

I was sent here in search of a bacon-wrapped hot dog, perhaps old hat in the Lower 48 but new to local territory. I like hot dogs. I love bacon. But strangely, the thought of the two together turned me off. It seemed almost obscene.

But then I talked to the guy in the window and I was convinced. He was like an auctioneer; his prattle had me listening close and bidding high. And before I knew it, I was walking away with my prize. I sat down at a picnic table to find it a good home in my belly.

The Chicano ($7.50) is a bacon-wrapped beef polish with mayo, mustard, a double hit of onions (sauteed and fresh), tomato, mustard and jalapeño relish. Right off the bat, I scraped off the mayo, figuring the bacon and dog had plenty of flavorful fat on its own. It was rich but surprisingly good. The bacon appeared to meld with the meat so that the hot dog just seemed to be extra crunchy and smoky. The fresh tomato and onion helped to cut through the pervasive porkiness and the jalapeño relish was a necessary, spicy touch.

This dog was a fresco of flavors and I knew that I would be back. Alaskan summers are bigger, better and richer; these bacon-wrapped hot dogs capture that delicious, indulgent feel.

International House of Hot Dogs

Hours: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday

Location: 407 E. Northern Lights Blvd.

Contact: 268-0771

Fat Ptarmigan Ice Cream Shop

Hours: Noon-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Location: 441 W. Fifth Ave.

Contact: 777-7710 and fatptarmigan.com

Fire Island Bakery

Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday

Location: 1343 G St.

Contact: 569-0001 and fireislandbread.com

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