The Lemon Ice King of Corona

When temperatures were soaring in the 90’s here in Zürich recently, I could think of only one place I’d rather be… Queens, New York.

Benfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New York

Perhaps not quite what you were expecting ?  But that means one thing to me… ices !  I grew up in New York with not only Carvel soft serve ice cream, but little paper cups of Italian Ices from Ralph’s, Uncle Louie G, Gino’s or the local pizza parlor. I can still picture myself covered in sand, running barefoot to the snack stand at Bar Beach on Long Island to get a yellow and green wax paper cup of Marinos Italian Ices (always watermelon or chocolate – the former staining my tongue bright pink), and I can even hear the scraping sound the small, flat, wooden spoon would make.

Only on special occasions, would we make a family trip to Corona in Queens for an evening of ices and bocce.  It’s what my parents did with friends for years before us kids were around, and it was a favorite spot of my uncle, who recalls hanging out there as a boy, having ices before and after stick ball games in Forest Hills.

Benfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New York

Corona… bocce… Italian Ices.  That can only be Benfarema, an institution in Queens since 1944.  Pete Benfarema is known around town – and perhaps in the entire tri-state area – as the Lemon Ice King of Corona.  His father, Nicola, started making water ices in 1944, to resemble the traditional frozen dessert, granita (shaved ice with flavored syrup), he grew up with in Italy.  All the ices are made using fresh fruit and natural ingredients, shaped into cups with a steel paddle, never a scoop.  The two house specialties are lemon and peanut butter, the latter spotted with fresh peanuts.  It was always vanilla chocolate chip for me, and usually a second paper cup of mint chip too, that vivid green color unmistakeable above.  And on hot summer nights, a third cup was called for and coffee it would be.

Then a few steps over to the tiny William F. Moore Park we went, where we would sit on a bench courtside for hours, watching the local Italian men, right out of a Hollywood set, play bocce – competitive spirit and all.  The more animated the arguments, the more fun it seemed they were having, and the more fun it was for us to watch.

Benfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New York

A few rules to abide by though.  For the ices, not bocce.   One, no mixing flavors.  You may want to try several of their 30+ flavors, and you can.  But in separate cups.  Two, no tasting flavors.  Trust me, you’ll like it.  Three, the line will be long, especially on those hot summer nights.  Be patient, it’s worth it.  Four, cash only.  Smallest cup is $1.50 (wasn’t always that much though).  Biggest… let’s just say they sell 25 gallon tubs.  How do I know ?  A childhood friend always had a vanilla chip tub in the freezer in her garage.  We all loved play dates at her house.  Five, hold the pleated paper cup in one hand, and gradually pinch the bottom and continue to softly squeeze the ice up into your mouth.  No spoons, no napkins, just a loud slurp at the end.

As for getting those last few chocolate chips at the bottom without making a mess ?  I have yet to figure that out…

Benfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New YorkBenfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona, New York

Benfaremo – The Lemon Ice King of Corona

52-02 108th Street (at 52nd Avenue)
Corona, New York 11368
Sun-Thu 10am-11pm, Fri-Sat 10am-midnight

18 Responses to “The Lemon Ice King of Corona”

  1. Julia @ Mélanger says:

    These ices would sure cool me down in the heat of summer. They sound and look so refreshing. And all the flavours? What choice! Who’d want to mix anyway. Need a reason to keep going back and trying something different!

    Anyway, I have to admit I’m pretty sure I’ve never had an Italian ice before. It would be perfect here in sub-tropical Brisbane.

    Need to get myself to Queens. Unfortunately I’ve not explored the area much before. Coney Island doesn’t count, right? 😉

  2. Sam sidney says:

    I love this post! It’s been ages since I’ve been to lemon ice king! Vanilla chip … Total amazingness! Xo

  3. mom says:

    Unbelieveable memories flood my mind of spending time at Corona Ices. Over the years the place is the same. Time stopped at Corona!
    My favorite flavor still being vanilla chip. I never get anything else. Your photos were just so real. The men who play Bocce are so fabulous and enjoy their competition!!! Thank you for sharing your eyes and taste buds with us….and oh…that last chocolate chip!!

  4. Meister @ The Nervous Cook says:

    I just read an article about this place in the Times, and now your post makes me even more heartbroken that I’ve let almost the entire summer go by without making the trek out to Queens for some ice. However, when I do finally make it up there, the “no mixing” policy shouldn’t be a problem: Just give me one cup of each, please.

  5. Kerrin says:

    Julia, nope, Coney Island doesn’t count. Next time you’re in New York, a trip to Corona it will be. Only, I can’t imagine how many small cups we’ll get between the two of us ! 😉 Hope you can find Italian Ices in Brisbane. Any luck ?

    Sam, of course I thought of you when writing this ! How did I get covered in sand at Bar Beach – playing with *you* of course ! 🙂

    mom, me too. So nostalgic !! And you really never did get anything other than vanilla chip and just that, totally your fave.

    Meister, haha – one cup of each, you’ll have yourself 40 ices ! =) Please don’t be heartbroken – you can still go !! And when you do, get a few small cups for me too, ok ? Thanks ! And thanks for letting me know about the article in the Times, I didn’t know about it. I’ll look that up right away for sure…

  6. Kerrin says:

    Great article in the New York Times last month about Benfaremo:

    (thanks again, Meister !)

  7. wandering educators says:

    oh, YUM. i would definitely choose the peanut butter. delish!

  8. BEXX says:

    I could live your memories of your childhood through you writing. I grew up in a small town in Northern California where we could run free, like wild animals. You’ve brought some of my own wonderful summer childhood memories back.
    What fun!

  9. Food Lover Kathy says:

    What a nice post. Your nostalgia for these ices matches my mother’s, but she grew up in NYC in the 40s. It seems that the lemon ice magic hasn’t changed in all those years. Whenever it would get scorching hot here (in CA where I grew up) she would reminisce about lemon ice and the lemon ice stands in her neighborhood in New York. When I was younger I thought it sounded like a slurpee, but I quickly learned that lemon ice and slurpees should NOT be used together in a sentence.

  10. Kerrin says:

    wandering educators, yeah the pb is really good, excellent choice !

    BEXX, summer childhood memories – oooh I am all for nostalgia. Could do post after post just about delicious sweet memories… ices and s’mores and more ! 😉 Thanks !

    Kathy, thank you ! That’s just what my mom said above, “time stopped at Corona” – still the same. Too funny about slurpees ! Yes, definitely can not compare a good Italian Ice to a slush puppy or Slurpee from 7-Eleven, HA ! Now you have me thinking back to summer camp and getting “graveyard slurpees” at the canteen, with one squirt of every flavor (thus turning totally black in the end !). 🙂

  11. Ilana says:

    Rip the bottom of the cup to get those stray chips! Ps – watermelon marino’s was my fave, too, and I also can still hear that delicate scrape-scrape!

  12. Stéphanie says:

    Miam, slurp…

  13. Rachel says:

    I have been buying ices for Lulu and I all summer, yet nothing quite compares to the KING!

  14. Kiki says:

    a cool, refreshing, amazing and utterly delightful post, my friend! I personally would have a serious problem with NOT mixing flavours, is it a selling point? I ALWAYS take two scoops of different flavours… 🙂
    We have in Western Switzerland another very, very famous Italian ice-maker, VENETA – a family business with little carts on wheels just about everywhere in the Romandie… There was the Italian founder, who produced and still produces (3rd generation of same family is still working and holding stalls at all places!) ice creams and sorbets with no artifical stuff at all, no flavour enhancers, no E-numbers, no nothing at all but real good ingredients. The ones in Lutry, Vevey, Lausanne Ouchy, and others were frequently and quite regularly visited by me and my mouth waters just thinking back to those happy, happy times!
    I even bought some when just visiting for a weekend last month; so great was the craving!
    You bring back all the goodness of a genuine delight – Thank You

  15. Kerrin says:

    Ilana, ok I seriously need to make a trip to Corona at some point in the future – and rip that cup when I get to the bottom ! 😉

    Stéphanie, miam miam =)

    Rachel, oooh you two have been enjoying ices all summer long ? So jealous. Well you have to take Lulu to Corona then ! xo

    Kiki, why thank you ! 🙂 And I’m with you, whenever I eat ice cream, I always get two scoops of different flavors. But at Corona, you just get two separate cups. Or three. I am not familiar with Veneta, thank you so much for sharing. You have my mouth watering too just at the thought of it ! I tried to find more info about them online, but no website. I found this article though on Paolo Gervasi and “La saga Veneta”:

  16. Kiki says:

    Kerrin THANK YOU SO MUCH for this link; I was just trying to place a comment on TripAdvisor on this company and sadly couldn’t get through because of course they have no website…. quite understandably, they are busy enough making good honest and delicious ice cream and sorbets!
    A very good post; I shall send it to TripAdvisor France (usually I always comment in English…) – so IF THEY get ‘adopted’, you will have to be thanked for…. 🙂
    I also have this small company mentioned twice in my Flickr photos; I don’t know If you wish me to add the links:

    (now I’m crying….)

  17. Emma says:

    I was fortunate enough to have Italian ice twice this summer: once at a long-popular and well-established pastry and ice cream shop in New Haven, Connecticut, and once in the parking lot of a beach in St. Augustine, Florida. I don’t know which I preferred… New Haven, when I also bought a rather large bag of some of my favorite Italian cookies? Or… St. Augustine, where I HAPPILY MIXED FLAVORS (*eeep!!!*), and did some stellar faux body surfing??

    They are both terrific memories, I prefer both:)

  18. Kerrin says:

    Kiki, you’re very welcome ! And thank YOU for those links to your photos. Mmm, la vie en rose ! =) Definitely hope to taste those ice creams one day.

    Emma, love your two very different memories of Italian ices, and lucky you to have had them both this summer. Cookies vs. faux body surfing… I think I would choose the former. 😉

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