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.
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.
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.
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…