I had a problem during my first visit to DiCosmo’s Italian Ice in Elizabeth. I was standing in front, eating my lemon ice, trying to mind my own business, when I started getting lemon seeds in my mouth. If I spit them out, my wife would certainly get mad at me, and if I somehow reserved them, I was convinced I’d make a mess some other way. After my fifth or sixth seed, I just spit them out on the street when nobody was looking.
It was a telling moment. Never had I eaten lemon ices that were so true to their original flavor that they still had the seeds. DiCosmo took the ultimate boring summer junk food back to where it was supposed to be—a combination of pure fruit and ice somehow magically combined to make it incredibly delicious. The seeds were a resounding reminder that this ice was a real, artisan product, although I’d known it since I’d taken my first bite.
DiCosmo’s has a feeling of tradition and history about it. It’s in a building that was put up by a guy who was the founder's husband, and present owner’s grandfather. That building has been has been there so long that it looks like it’s never changed, but in fact, it was once a grocery and somehow slowly morphed into its current state as icon of ices.
Italian Ices haven’t survived their journey from Southern Italy too well. Flavors have become bland, portion sizes so huge that they’re no longer refreshing, and who knows what goes into some of those bright colors you see at the big chains? It all reminds me of the question you have to ask at many New Jersey Italian restaurants: “What was the original thing like?”
Gelato can come in a hundred flavors, but in my experience, ices in Italy come in only two; lemon and coffee. But Johnny, the founder’s grandson and current owner, said that in the beginning, they didn’t even know about coffee (which they still don’t make) and for decades, the only flavor was lemon. They freely concede that the new flavors are an American adaptation and point out that they’re made with the same care as the original lemon.
A few days later, I went by myself on a Tuesday at around one in the afternoon expecting the place to be empty. Instead, it was mobbed. Firemen, utility workers, teenagers and anybody else lucky enough to be in Elizabeth at snack time had settled in for a treat. I swore up and down that I’d try another flavor; pineapple sounded good, but when it was my turn, I went for lemon—it was perfect, of course—and once again, spat the seeds on the streets of Elizabeth.
DiCosmo's Italian Ice
714 Fourth Avenue, Elizabeth NJ 07202 (map) www.dicosmos.com