Sunday, April 11, 2010

Food: Italian Ice Capades

Spring is in full swing, and the warmer weather lends itself to one of my favorite frozen treats, Italian ice (AKA water ice). Unlike a snow cone, which is merely crushed or shaved ice flavored with syrup, Italian ice has a smoother texture since it's made like ice cream; a blend of flavoring and water is poured into a batch freezer and served by the scoop. Here are reviews of the two Italian ice chains in my area:

Uncle Louie G

Unless you live in New York City, you're probably unfamiliar with Uncle Louie G; most of the chain's locations are in Long Island. Curiously enough, there's one in downtown West Palm, and I dropped in for a taste of Brooklyn.

Louie G serves up both Italian ice and regular ice cream, with each day bringing a pretty good flavor selection for each. There are a lot of oddball flavors, especially for the ices - stuff like bubble gum, cotton candy, and chocolate jelly ring will likely offend adult palates. The standard fruit flavors are good, but the real standout is the vanilla oreo, an unexpectedly creamy concoction with real chunks of cookie in the mix. If you're not in an ice mood, you can order up any number of milk shakes, sundaes, and other conventional ice cream-based desserts.

2/4 stars

Rita's Water Ice

Rita's Water Ice has tons of locations all through the the East Coast, so it's not really surprising that there's one three minutes away from where I live. What is surprising, though, is the relatively limited selection of Italian ice flavors available each day. When most ice cream shops have 16, 24, or even 36 flavors on tap, first-time visitors to Rita's might feel a little constrained.

Rita's has an ace up her sleeve, though - frozen custard. With a consistency somewhere between soft serve and traditional ice cream, frozen custard pairs well with the frostiness of Italian ice. Accordingly, most of the Rita's menu mixes water ice with custard; the results are weirdly addictive because of the novelty of the contrasting textures. Mix two layers of vanilla custard with orange ice, for instance, and you've just perfectly replicated the taste of a classic orange creamsicle.

2/4 stars


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