Summer doesn’t officially begin for another week, but things are already heating up in Queens. Good thing New York City’s most majestic and diverse borough has plenty of sweet frozen treats to cool down with. From old-school classics to new-fangled creations, Queens has everything when it comes to frozen desserts, including in true multicultural fashion treats from Mexico, Thailand and the Philippines. Let us know what your favorite Queens frozen treat is in the comments.
1. The Lemon Ice King of Corona
52-02 108th St., Corona
Many places in New York City serve Italian ices, but there’s only one king, and he hails from Queens. Benfaremo, The Lemon Ice King of Corona, has been making Italian ices in more than three dozen flavors—including the signature refreshing lemon—since the 1940s. The king himself, one Peter Benfaremo, died in 2008, but his legacy lives in on this old-school blue-and-white Queens institution. While lemon remains a classic, I am partial to spumoni and orange-vanilla swirl, both relatively new additions to the flavor roster. Whatever you choose, make sure to take your ice over to nearby William F. Moore “Spaghetti” Park and savor it while watching the boys of summer play bocce.
89-14 Roosevelt Ave., Elmhurst
Just as there are Italian ices, there Mexican ones, known as nieves from the word for “snow,” and they can be found at Nieves Tia Mimi in Elmhurst. While the creamy smooth ices in tropical fruit flavors like pitaya (dragonfruit), lime, tamarind and mango with chili are lovely, the thing that sets Tia Mimi apart are over-the-top Mexican frozen desserts like the chamoyada. It starts with a cup whose interior has been encrusted with a mixture of sour spicy chili powder. To this are added your choice of nieves—in my case tamarindo and mango con chile. It’s then topped with slivers of spicy sour fruit coated in chili and sugar, and drizzled with chamoy, a tart and spicy sauce made from chilies, salt and pickled fruit. The whole fiesta is then sprinkled with more sour chili powder and garnished with a straw coated in chewy tamarind candy enriched with, you guessed it, more chili powder. It’s a frozen treat that will cool your core while warming your palate.
98-14 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills
With its Asian-inspired cupcakes, including one flavored with the Japanese citrus yuzu and green tea and another that combines sriracha, chocolate cake and lime zest, the cupcakes here have long been a favorite sweet treat of mine. Now Chef Judy Lai has upped the ante for summertime by combining ice cream and cupcakes. “We wanted vanilla and chocolate obviously,” Judy’s sister, Amy, explained. Vanilla as envisioned by Silk becomes an ice cream inspired by Chinese egg tarts atop vanilla cake topped with crumbled butter cookies, while chocolate consists of chocolate cake topped with rich chocolate ice cream shot through with nama bits. The latter means “melt in your mouth” in Japanese, which is precisely what the dark bits do.
Lychee ice cream topped with a drizzle of tart kalamansi lime syrup atop vanilla cake, answers the question, “Can a cupcake be refreshing?” Even though they combine two of my favorite childhood treats, Silk’s new frozen confections are decidedly grownup. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself when I eat them for lunch in the dog days of summer.
76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst
Khao Kang, an Elmhurst steam table specialist, serves some of the best Thai food in town, much of it unabashedly spicy, humming with chili heat and fish sauce funk. I tim kah ti sod ($5), which the sign describes simply as “homemade Thai ice cream,” is a great way to cool off, whether from summertime’s heat and humidity, or the fire of Thai birds-eye chilies. Two scoops of creamy coconut ice cream are topped with roasted peanuts, corn and jelly like toddy palm seeds. Think of it as Little Bangkok’s answer to the ice cream sundae.
65-14 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside
The All-American ice cream sandwich gets the Filipino treatment at Woodside’s House of Inasal. Purple ube—that’s taro for you non-Filipino food aficionados—is cradled in an eggy pan de sal roll. Pandi ice cream ($5.50) is no mere purple ice cream sandwich, though; the roll is smeared with halaya, a rich spread made from ube, and the ice cream itself is topped with young coconut and pinipig, crunchy flakes of beaten rice. Best of all the roll is toasted, lending a contrast of texture and temperature, to what’s surely the most elaborate ice cream sandwich to ever be served on Roosevelt Avenue. It’s a good thing they come two to an order—that way you won’t have to share with your dining companion.
97-01 Shore Front Parkway, Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach’s City Sticks built its reputation on refreshing ice pops in flavors like strawberry-mint and mango-caipirinha, but it earns a spot on this list for something decidedly more decadent, a peanut butter and jelly donut ice cream sandwich ($7).
“Are you frying that donut again?” I asked the kid behind the counter as he proceeded to build my sandwich. The donut, standing in for the bread, then got a smear of peanut butter. Standing in for the jelly was a generous scoop of strawberry ice cream and a drizzle of strawberry syrup. Lastly, the whole lot was dusted in powdered sugar and topped with a miniature American flag.
For some reason I’m not a big strawberry ice cream guy, but after admiring the swirls of melted peanut butter and pink syrup, I devoured the whole thing. It was delicious and made my stomach swell with satiety and my heart fill with patriotic pride, or at least a newfound appreciation for strawberry ice cream.
98-17 Roosevelt Ave., Corona
Whether you call them raspados, frio frio, or just plain slushies, one thing’s for sure: there’s no stopping the low-key Dominican gent who sets up his shaved ice stand on the corner of 99th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. At one time his little shack stood next to El Bohio Grocery, then last year the store closed, and I thought, “Oh no, no more frio frio for me.” Wrong—he built a new shack next to the now-vacant store, and he’s back again this year.
Bottles of fruit-flavored syrup—tamarindo, naranja, limon, coco and frambuesa—line the counter along with a 75-pound block of ice. I like to stand directly in front he prepares the frosty treat. As he whittles away the block with a shuss shuss shuss of his scraper, shards of cool ice make a refreshing spray. If Benfaremo is The Lemon Ice King of Corona then this gentleman is surely Corona’s El Rey del Frio Frio Dominicano. My go-to order at this Corona staple is frambuesa, so named for a fuchsia-colored syrup that’s supposed to taste like raspberries. Along with a squirt of condensed milk, it tastes like a day-glo version of summer, icy cold and packed with a magnificent sugar rush.
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