While the technology needed to produce frozen treats may seem like a modern invention, these sweet delights of summer are far more ancient. Most stories about the origin of icy desserts mention the emperor Nero. In addition to fiddling while Rome burned, he ordered slaves to transport ice at a run from the Apennine Mountains around 60 A.D., then had it mixed with honey and nuts to produce the first Italian ice.
But earlier stories abound. The Chinese were caught making frozen rice pudding around 200 B.C., and two centuries before that, the Persians invented a dessert of noodles and rosewater mixed with ice called faloodeh, still served in modern Iran. Arabs took the lead in making frozen confections with dairy products, and by 1000 A.D., most Middle Eastern cities had ice cream.
Though frozen desserts were popular in 18th-century England and France, no one outstrips contemporary Americans in their craving for ice cream and its ilk (each of us downs an average of 24 quarts per year). Our range of options is astonishingly diverse. To assist you in making some tough choices, we here provide a field guide to the city’s frozen treats, listing our favorite examples in each category. Get licking!
Containing a minimum of 10 percent butterfat, ice cream should be served hard, and scooped into a cup or cone, the latter first introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. There are many national chains that serve a dependable product, but why not go to one of the city’s oldest ice cream parlors? Founded in 1909, and looking every bit its age, the best is Eddie’s Sweet Shop (105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills, Queens, 718-520-8514). Others: Eggers Ice Cream Parlor (7437 Amboy Road, Tottenville, Staten Island, 718-605-9335) and Hinsch’s Confectionery (8518 Fifth Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 718-748-2854).
Other places with excellent homemade ice cream, but less in the way of nostalgic ambience: Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard Street, 212-608-4170); Blue Marble (186 Underhill Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 718-399-6926, and other locations); Jacques Torres Ice Cream (62 Water Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn, 718-875-9772); and Australian Homemade (115 St. Mark’s Place, 212-228-5439).
Vegan Ice Cream
This category sounds like an internal contradiction, but one place makes a delectable frozen product using either soy milk or coconut milk, the latter preferred: Stogo (159 Second Avenue, 212-677-2301).
Gelato is Italian ice cream, flaunting a smoother texture and lower butterfat than American-style ice cream, as well as flavors that emphasize fresh fruit and nuts. Our favorite, where you can also get a slammin’ hot fudge or hot butterscotch sundae: Il Laboratorio del Gelato (95 Orchard Street, 212-343-9922). Also: Ciao Bella Gelato Café (27 East 92nd Street, 212-831-5555) and Grom (2165 Broadway, 212-362-1837).
We have only one example of this obscure genre, which falls somewhere between ice cream and gelato in texture, excelling at astringent flavors such as grapefruit and exhibiting a more coarse consistency: Cones (272 Bleecker Street, 212-414-1795).
The word means “poached” in Italian, but also designates a scoop of gelato—usually vanilla—with espresso poured over it, for a spectacular way to ingest caffeine. Try it at L’Arte del Gelato (75 Seventh Avenue South, 212-924-0803).
While we recognize rich gelati as a recently imported phenomenon, so-called Italian ices have been with us for more than a century. Smooth-textured from fine ice crystals, and strongly flavored with fruits, nuts, coffee, and mint, along with brazenly artificial flavors, but no dairy, modern water ices are as refreshing as those first served to Nero. Granddaddy of them all is the Lemon Ice King of Corona (5202 108th Street, Corona, Queens, 718-699-5133). Other great choices: Rocco’s Pastry Shop (243 Bleecker Street, 212-242-6031) and D’aiuto (405 Eighth Avenue, 212-564-7136).
Milk ices are an Italian-American invention—a little lighter than gelato, but a little more coarse-textured. The most noted purveyor: Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices (3285 Richmond Avenue, Port Richmond, Staten Island, 718-967-1212, and other locations).
Sorbet or Sherbet
“Sorbet” is the French word for ices that contain minimal amounts of dairy products, or none at all, sometimes served slushy, sometimes firmed up with gelatin. Italian-style sorbetti are available at the gelato joints mentioned above. For sherbet, its American equivalent, check out Last Licks Ice Cream (245 East 93rd Street, 646-596-8566). For a beverage called a sherbet freeze, proceed to Sundaes and Cones (95 East 10th Street, 212-979-9398).
These stick-borne treats are the Mexican answer to Froz Fruits. The most interesting are zapped with unexpected ingredients like salt and chipotle chilies. They’re available in any bodega in Mexican immigrant neighborhoods, but our favorite place to score them is La Paleteria Michoacana (4118 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-431-9312).
In 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson invented the popsicle when he accidently left a soda outside in cold weather with a stick in it. While “Popsicle” is a trademarked name, many tweakings of the concept have occurred. Featuring fresh seasonal farmers’-market fruits, but still mounted on a stick, pogo on over to People’s Pops (Chelsea Market, 425 West 15th Street, plus Saturdays and Sundays at the Brooklyn Flea).
This catch-all term denotes a frozen product extruded from a machine into a cone or cup, made with milk but also including thickeners. In New York, it’s often sold from trucks like Kool Man and Mister Softee. For a gourmet updating of the concept, check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (follow location on Twitter at @biggayicecream for location). Or go to the closest Dairy Queen (513 Westside Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey, 201-432-8257).
Though first popularized in Coney Island, frozen custard—a soft extruded ice cream rich with egg yolks—is now primarily a Wisconsin phenomenon. In the city, you can get excellent custard at Timmy O’s Frozen Custard (49-07 104th Street, Corona, Queens, 516-242-1843), and at any Shake Shack location.
Frozen yogurt is soft-serve with yogurt (sometimes powdered) as its base. In the past few years, the city has been overrun with yogurt chains like Pinkberry, Red Mango, and others, but we advise you to seek out the fuller, denser product at Corner Cafe & Bakery (2328 Broadway, 212-860-8060). Also: X Frozen Yogurt (500 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-1706).
Shaved from a block of ice on a wooden cart, these impromptu Puerto Rican Sno Cones are a Lower East Side summer staple that is fast fading. Look for them around Tompkins Square, and choose flavors most likely to be homemade, such as tamarind and watermelon.
Finally, here are a few curious treats you might also want to seek out: snowlicious green tea, Chikalicious (204 East 10th Street, 212-475-0929); Brown cow (root-beer float), Good Enough to Eat (483 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-496-0163); frozen cappuccino, Emack & Bolio’s (1562 First Avenue, 212-734-0105); frozen pie on a stick, Duane Park (157 Duane Street, 212-732-5555).
There were many more treats we wanted to try, but we were stopped in our tracks by that malady that has felled better ice cream eaters than us: brain freeze!
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More:Australian HomemadeBlue Marble Ice CreamBrooklyn (New York City)ChikaLiciousChinatown Ice Cream FactoryCorona (New York)Duane ParkEddie's Sweet ShopEuropeFood NewsGood Enough To EatIl Laboratorio Del GelatoJacques Torres ChocolateL'Arte Del GelatoShake ShackStaten IslandSundaes and ConesThe Lemon Ice King of Corona