As a transplanted Californian, I am constantly surprised by the food offerings found on the East Coast.
This is a vast generalization, but it can be very hard to find West Coast restaurants with the longevity of those on the East Coast. The West Coast food scene is about innovation and the next new thing. That is exciting and vital to the evolution of food culture, but it means that a lot of important and storied eateries are trampled along the way to progress. The East Coast tends to place value on the history of a restaurant and the significance of it to the people who have dined there for generations.
That’s the reason that a little Italian ice stand in Queens is still alive and well.
Italian ices are often fruit based juices, stirred as they are frozen, resulting in a sort of soft serve sorbet. Softer than sorbet and lighter than frozen yogurt, it is a dessert all its own that is perfect for a summer night.
The penultimate destination for Italian ice lovers is The Lemon Ice King of Corona.
This shop, serving up Italian ices for over 60 years, is quite unassuming. On a pristine corner in Corona, catty corner from the storied Park Side Restaurant, is a little storefront. You line up, wait your turn, and choose your ice. No indoor seating, no individual menus, no time to hem and haw about your order once you are at the front of the line. Just some of the best Italian ice on the planet. The line is always long, but it moves quickly.
Once you make your decision, watch the efficient workers gather the ice out of a large tub, pack it into a small paper cup, and form a perfectly dense scoop that you eat like an ice cream cone. Cross to the nearby bocce ball court to enjoy your treat.
It ain’t called the Lemon Ice King of Corona for nothing. This ice is the gold standard. Once you have had it, that hard sorbet out of the carton just won’t satisfy you. The texture is incredibly smooth, with none of the hard, grainy bits that lesser ices have. It is sweet, tart, and straightforward – it reminds me of when I was a kid and used to hang out on the stoop, watching the neighborhood kids play kickball while my nonna hung laundry out the window to dry.
Well, that wasn’t my childhood, but this ice makes me wish that it was.
This pistachio is so much better than you think it will be. Creamier, deeper flavored, with the fatty, slightly salty taste of pistachios mingling with the sweet ice. Refreshing but also indulgent, this might be the sleeper hit of the menu – it is so satisfying, it could easily replace the need for more fatty pistachio gelato.
The Lemon Ice King of Corona isn’t just about the delicious ices or the insanely cheap prices. It is about so much more than that. It is about lining up outside with other neighborhood locals and foodies, chatting about the virtues of fruit salad vs. cotton candy flavors. It is about enjoying your ice while watching wizened old men playing an intense game of bocce ball scream at each other in Italian before embracing each other and laughing. It is about sitting on a park bench, enjoying both the frozen treat and a view of New York that many Manhattanites never get to experience. This is community, it is tradition, and it is part of why food is so important to cultural identity. This isn’t just a dessert, it’s an icon that has not changed in over 60 years.
Here’s hoping it never does.