Ice Cream in New York City
>> There is no easier - and tastier - method for declaring the glorious shift in seasons (spring, summer, and fall) than taking a stroll down the street with an ice cream cone in hand. True, with Tasti D-Lite and Cold Stone Creamery shops located every few blocks and a fleet of Mister Softee trucks patrolling the city, it's never been easier to satisfy your craving for the frozen treat.
If, however, you're someone who truly savors the paired experience of scrumptious ice cream and a good outdoor stroll, here are a few gems:
The Chinese Connection
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard Street, between Mott & Elizabeth Streets)
This is one fun ice cream shop. For starters, the staff - mostly an excited posse of high school students - love to make their customers happy. Want to sample the lychee? Sure. And the ginger? O.K. And the green tea? Have another spoonful.
The ice creams and sorbets here are certainly the most exotic - even bizarre - offerings of the bunch (black sesame, avocado, and taro, to boot), but with the heaping servings ($3.00 for small, $4.65 for medium, $5.75 for large), you can afford to pair an old-school favorite like vanilla fudge with, say, a little wasabi.
Chinese historical ice cream fact: The existence of the frozen treat dates as far back as China's Tang dynasty, when milk and ice blends were made for the emperor.
Where to lick: Columbus Park is just a few blocks west of Chinatown Ice Cream. Once outside, take a left. Get off the crowded sidewalk, leave behind the sound of traffic, and enter a peaceful sanctuary where the only loud sounds are men converging over a game of mah-jongg (there are tables throughout the park) and children playing sports on the grass.
Ciao Bella Gelato (in Grand Central Terminal, Lower Dining Concourse)
At any of Ciao Bella's handful of scoop shops throughout the city, you'll find a palette of classic Italian gelati flavors: pistachio, strawberry, coffee, and dulce de leche. They've even started to sell low-carb versions of chocolate and vanilla, but it's advisable not to deprive yourself of the heavenly full-carb desserts.
Italian-style gelato is different from traditional North American ice cream because there's usually little to no air (aka "overrun") whipped into the mixture during the gelato freezing process. This results in a denser product, which often has to be stored and served at a slightly higher temperature than more "airy" ice creams, thus lending a creamier, softer texture to the gelato. Surprisingly, even with its richer consistency, gelato also contains less fat that most ice creams.
Let Ciao Bella's fresh mint with chocolate chips flavor help you develop a whole new appreciation for the mint plant. It's such a refreshing treat for your tastebuds, you may not want to swallow your last spoonful. At $3.25 for a small serving, and $4.75 for a large, this gelato is certainly more expensive than Mister Softee. But Ciao Bella doesn't scrimp on the portions, and with little to no overrun, you're getting far more flavor out of this denser product than you would at any soft-serve stand.
I love the Grand Central Terminal location for its proximity to Bryant Park, just a quick jaunt down 42nd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues). For a real New York summer evening experience, enjoy your ice cream while watching a classic movie on the lawn. On Monday nights, HBO sponsors an open-air film series.
Old World New York City
Il Laboratorio del Gelato (95 Orchard Street, between Delancey and Broome Streets)
Il Laboratorio del Gelato was started by Ciao Bella's founding owner, Jon Snyder. Thirteen years after selling the business and signing a noncompete agreement (which has since expired), Snyder opened Il Laboratorio in 2002.
But the similarities to Ciao Bella stop there. The clean white interior of this compact Lower East Side shop makes you feel as though you've stepped into a highly sophisticated test kitchen - and the employees in their white lab coats do little to dissuade that notion.
This shop takes its gelato very seriously, but they'll warm up to you once you start speaking their language. Ask them about combinations ($3.25 will buy you a small serving comprised of up to two flavors, $4.25 a medium serving of three flavors, and $5.25 a large with as many as four flavors), and they'll gladly suggest a flavor to complement one you've already chosen.
And the gelato itself? Inspiring. These unusual and innovative flavors will make you appreciate the art of converting something as familiar and everyday as ice cream into something absolutely extraordinary. Red grape, nutmeg, chocolate cinnamon, and ricotta were just a few of the dozen flavors available (they rotate on a daily basis) during a recent trip.
How to get there: Stay on Orchard Street and take in the authentic old buildings from the tenement era. In a neighborhood that's quickly gentrifying, this charming street - especially below Delancey - has remained fairly quiet. And with little car traffic, it's an ideal strip for a stroll.
DUMBO - Down Under the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (Fulton Ferry Landing, between Water and Old Fulton Streets)
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is the place to get a cone of vanilla ice cream - and not feel dull. Let the classic flavor welcome you back to the good old days, when there were far fewer choices, and life was just dandy that way. Many New Yorkers - even Manhattanites - argue that it's the best vanilla in the city, with the creamy strawberry running a close second. Try them and you may find yourself wondering why you ever gave up the simple life in the first place.
The view from the Brooklyn Bridge is reason enough to make the trek out to this converted old fireboat house. The tricky part is not eating all your ice cream before making your way up to the bridge.
And No Matter What the Season
Some people think that nothing soothes the heat of summer like ice cream, sorbet, and gelato. But no matter what the season, certainly nothing will sooth the palate as deliciously as the offerings from these shops!
Questions or comments?
Article and photos by Laura Neilson. Photo of Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory by Karen Little. First published on 7/30/2006. All rights reserved by www.LittleViews.com.