The Cold (Soft) Truth Behind Ralph's Italian Ices
A Staten Island frozen treat legend, Ralph’s Famous, is now open in North White Plains.
photos by John Bruno Turiano
Staten Island doesn't have the cultural attractions or food scene of the other boroughs, but there is at least one chill business from The Forgotten Borough that is sought after — especially during the sultry summer months — throughout the City and beyond its borders.
Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices & Ice Cream started in 1928 with Italian immigrant Ralph Silvestro and his truck making stops all around Staten Island selling water ice. Water ice? For county natives who think I mean Italian ice, well yes and no. Water ice (Philadelphia, Southern Jersey) and Italian ice (North Jersey, Westchester) are the same thing. It’s believed to be a derivation of granita, the Sicilian semi-frozen dessert. And for the record, shaved ice is a different entity from granita and water ice/Italian ice.
For Ralph’s Famous ices, the process is similar to how ice cream is made. However, instead of milk/cream, water is frozen into small ice crystals and mixed with sugar and some flavoring, be it lemon, cherry, peach, watermelon, cantaloupe, cotton candy, or root beer (there’s close to 40 flavors). The texture is smooth and soft but not slushy, and there are no off-putting chunks of ice.
Since opening the first retail store in 1949 on Port Richmond Avenue in Staten Island, the company has franchised out, expanding to the rest of the City, Long Island, New Jersey, and now Westchester. They also do more than just ices, including iced coffee drinks, fruit smoothies, traditional hard-pack ice cream, delicious soft serve that gives King Kone some county competition, and 65-plus varieties of crème ice or sherbert, a hybrid of the latter two. A short list of scrumptious sundaes (the PB Crunch is a winner) are offered, too — don’t pass on the grade-A homemade whipped cream.
Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices & Ice Cream
850 N Broadway, White Plains
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