New York City-style Italian Ice is a dairy-free frozen treat that combines sugar, fruit juice, and water. It draws inspiration from Neapolitan sorbetto and Sicilian Granita. Italian immigrants began selling ice from pushcarts in the early 20th century, but by the mid-century, Italian ice became synonymous with New York's pizzerias. Here's a look at some of the iconic New York Italian ice brands.
Ralph's Famous Italian Ices
Ralph Silvestro first started selling Italian ice on Staten Island in 1928, according to Andrew F. Smith's, Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City. He sold the ice from a truck that traveled around Staten Island. Ralph opened his first retail shop in 1949 on Port Richmond Avenue but soon began franchising around the tri-state area. The family-owned business has more than 150 flavors.
Gino Broncanelli arrived in the United States in 1955 from Sicily and started working in the construction trades, according to Elyssa Goldberg at BKLYNR. He began selling Italian Ice from an empty lot near his home. The ice business paid well enough that by 1968, he purchased a Long Island pizzeria, working with his brother and children. Gino's expanded to manufacturing the ice for wholesale and the brand soon became common in the tri-state area pizzerias. The seasonal product was available from spring through early autumn, and Gino's offered eleven flavors.
Lemon Ice King of Corona
Nicola Benfaremo started selling Italian ice flavored with lemon and pineapple out of his garage in Corona, Queens back in 1944. His son, Peter Benefaremo, perfected the recipe his father had started with and in 1964 they opened a storefront a few blocks from the famous 1964 World's Fair at Corona Park. The ice stood out by achieving a creamy consistency but without the addition of dairy. Lemon Ice King currently has more than fifty flavors and sells to distributors.
Mariano's Italian Ice
Despite the Italian-sounding name, Mariano's Italian Ice was actually founded by a Greek immigrant, Marinos Vourderis. Vourderis arrived in the 1930s and worked in construction. But when a client refused to pay his bills, Vourderis ended up in possession of ice cream-making equipment, according to Charles Passy in the New York Times. Vourderis originally used the equipment to sell ice cream as Olympic Ice Cream but rebranded it for the 1964 World's Fair as an Italian Ice stand. Today Mariano's is sold across the globe in supermarkets.
Few details remain about this brand of Italian Ice which was popular in the 1970 and 1980s. The brand was owned and operated by Schrafft's Ice Cream, a division and eventual spin-off of the Schrafft candy company known for introducing jelly beans and an eponymous chain of casual lunch counters. The limited line of flavors included cherry, grape, lime, and orange.
Uncle Louie G
Founded in Brooklyn in 1999, Uncle Louie G sells both Italian ice and ice cream at company-owned and franchise locations, an empire that now spans more than seven states. There are more than fifty Italian ice flavors, some of which draw inspiration from local sweets like Joyva rings – a raspberry-flavored gummy candy covered in chocolate. Much of the product is produced in Tottenville, Staten Island
Ian MacAllen is America Domani's Senior Correspondent and the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American. He is a writer, editor, and graphic designer living in Brooklyn. Connect with him at IanMacAllen.com or on Twitter @IanMacAllen.