To the Italian ice god: I surrender. The Great Italian Ice Tasting of 2009 is in the books and I don't think I will have another Italian ice for a long, long time. I sampled several brick-and-mortar establishments as well as a cart or two within Manhattan, but for the outer boroughs, I needed help tastebud and company-wise. Robyn and Kathy were my valuable reinforcements.
With empty stomachs and clear heads, we commandeered an automobile (for official Italian ice-ing purposes) and trekked to Queens and all through Brooklyn on a spectacularly gloomy and rainy day. The Italian ice god was definitely trying us. The standardized testing method was to always order a small lemon ice, the classic flavor, and then sample the chocolate and pistachio, which I also thought of as somewhat traditional offerings. We did try creme ices when available, but that was purely for pleasure and off-the-books. (Shh!) The results, after the jump.
Court Pastry Shop, a traditional Italian establishment in Cobble Hill, had what was to me the clearest definition of an Italian ice. It was light, lemony, faintly sweet, and ultimately refreshing. The supreme texture, similar to shave ice, didn't hurt either. Some might find it watery in flavor, but after the saccharin overload of some of the other ices, this was a welcome change. The only sad part? We didn't go over the weekend when their famous lobster tail pastries are available. $2/small.
Court Pastry Shop
298 Court Street, Brooklyn NY 11231 (map)
Another favorite, the Lemon Ice King of Corona, was a sweeter version of Court Pastry's, yet equally satisfying. There are an abundance of flavors here, but it's called Lemon Ice King for a reason. The small ice here is also the cheapest one we tried. If you find yourself in the market for beans or nuts while you're there, the King comes through as it sells them by the pound and displays them in big jars that sit on rows of shelving behind the counter. Ices and Beans: a match made in a heaven? $1.50/small.
Lemon Ice King of Corona
Cafe Dante has outdoor seating perfect for eating an Italian ice on a hot summer's day. There's good lemon flavor here, and although it was too sweet for me, I know some of you love that sugary hit. The downside is that it's a bit pricey. $3/small.
Famous for their Sicilian slice, L&B also has a counter just for Italian ices and ice creams. The spumoni ice cream looked tempting, but we soldiered through and ordered a small Italian ice. Verdict? Solid fare for a solid slice. (Of course, we had our priorities straight and tasted the Italian ice before the Sicilian slice.)
L&B Spumoni Gardens
I grew up near a Ralph's on Long Island, but since they're mostly known for their creme ices, I had never tried the lemon flavor until now. The lemon ice was fine, but there's a reason everyone loves their creme ices. We loved toffee crunch, but the menu is huge and they're generous with samples so I'd suggest trying a couple before deciding. An added bonus: you can get a substantial amount of two flavors in a small. $2.50/small.
Ralph's Famous Italian Ices
Sadly, lemon is apparently a rare flavor to find at the Coco Delicioso ice-cart mini-chain, so I went for the tamarind when visiting the 96th and Broadway cart. For $1, I had an excellent sweet-tart substitute for the lemon ice I was craving. Definitely stop by if you're in the area, if only to try out the other three flavors (coco, rainbow, mango).
SE corner of 96th Street and Broadway, New York NY 10025 (map)
This Brooklyn location strangely doesn't show up on the Uncle Louie Gee website, but it's just down the street from the Ralph's we visited above. The lemon ice had an almost bitter quality and with a strange gummy texture, I found it downright unpleasant. $2/regular.
Uncle Louie Gee
East Village stalwart De Robertis Cafe scooped up the only ice that was a bit chunky in texture. I kept biting into nuggets of ice--not a pleasant crunch. Stick to the old school pastries. $2.75/small.
De Robertis Pasticceria and Caffe
None of the ices we tried required spitting out lemon seeds à la Brian Yarvin, but I'm a lady so I don't consider that a bad thing. All I want is a cold, lemony smooth ice (preferably preceded by an L&B Sicilian slice).
Thoughts on Chocolate
Every chocolate ice we sampled tasted like a tootsie roll. The End.
Thoughts on Pistachio
From the photographic samples above, I've determined that "pistachio" is used to describe an ice that is an eerie shade of green ranging from radioactive to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and has the flavor of something otherworldly--not in a good way. I shall stick to ice cream and gelato when venturing into the pistachio flavor realm.