If you’re one of the many mid-Hudson residents who relocated here after having grown up in New York City, chances are good that you have happy memories of slurping down Italian ice in a paper cup on a summer day — perhaps on a boardwalk at Rockaway or Coney Island. And you’ve probably tried in vain to replicate that sense of pure refreshment by purchasing packaged Italian ice at the supermarket. But it’s never quite the same, somehow.
A genuine Italian ice, as any native New Yorker can attest, isn’t icy like a snowcone; it has a finer, creamier grain — more like actual fresh snowfall. And if it’s the classic lemon flavor, it has to be more tart than sweet.
Feeling nostalgic yet, with hot weather coming on? Good, because relief is at hand: On June 10, a new shop opened up in downtown Highland, called Ice Bros Frozen Treats. Operated by the Hovling family of Clintondale, it’s now your local source for the Real Thing, Italian-icewise.
Located in a bright little nook at 29 Main Street, Ice Bros offers a changing array of ice flavors: Cherry, Captain America, Orange, Zesty Lemon, Chocolate, Black Cherry, Coconut and Mango on a recent afternoon when we paid a visit. Our standard baseline for judging, the lemon, exceeded all expectations: tangy and smooth and slurpable, cold enough to induce brain-freeze. All that was missing was the familiar pleated white paper cup of our childhood.
Making things even better is the fact that Ice Bros Frozen Treats are locally sourced. They’re made in small batches by a New Windsor-based business called Mr. Cannoli. The manufacturer is actually named Scott Wilkinson, but don’t let the non-Italianness of his surname fool you; these ices are the real deal.
Wilkinson also makes glorious ice cream, which constitutes another tempting display of choices at Ice Bros. On the day of our visit, the ice cream flavors included Bourbon Vanilla, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Salted Caramel, Mint Chip, Double Chocolate Brownie, Birthday Cake, Vanilla Peanut Butter Cup…and a to-die-for Kahlua Coffee laced with chocolate-covered espresso beans. Co-proprietors Joanna and Peter Hovling both termed the latter their personal favorite of the current ice cream offerings, and it got a double thumbs-up from the New Paltz Times as well: flavorful, rich and creamy, not gritty at all, satisfyingly sweet but not to excess.
Mr. Cannoli uses no high-fructose corn syrup in his products, and “not too many artificial ingredients,” notes Joanna Hovling. She’s a sixth-grade math teacher in Poughkeepsie, while her husband Peter is a nurse at Vassar Hospital. They started the Frozen Treats sideline about four years ago at the behest of their three sons — Jack, now 17, Adam, 15, and Theo, 12 — who are the purveyors you’ll meet behind the counter when Mom and Dad are at work, and who are actively involved in managing the business. “It was our oldest son Jack’s idea,” Joanna explains. “He said, ‘I want to make money. Nobody takes me seriously because I’m a kid.’”
Ice Bros started operating out of a pushcart, which you may have seen around these past few years at events like the Rosendale Street Festival and the Gardiner Cupcake Festival. “Then we were approached by Walkway Over the Hudson,” Joanna relates. The Hovlings hawk their wares at the Walkway entrance on weekends, and also on summer Saturday nights at the free, family-friendly “Movies under the Walkway” outdoor screening series in Poughkeepsie’s Upper Landing Park.
Ice and ice cream flavors on offer at the shop are “going to rotate with the seasons,” such as pumpkin in the fall, says Joanna. You can also get candy, milkshakes and ice cream floats, including old-fashioned root beer floats made with New York State-sourced soda. You can order custom ice cream cakes, and the Hovlings will also bring their Italian ice cart to private parties and fundraising events. Batches of special flavors of ice can be arranged, including alcoholic “adult” varieties like Peach Prosecco and trendy “Frosé.” They’ve also been in conversations with the folks at Hudson Ales, who are interested in developing “malty” ice creams in flavors like Vanilla Stout.
Ice Bros represents the latest in a wave of energetic entrepreneurs who are excited by the potential of downtown Highland, as it blossoms with tourism stoked by the Walkway and its growing connectivity to other parts of the region via rail trail. The Hovlings happily tout other new businesses in the neighborhood, and are networking with various community groups by offering special discounts. “We’ve seen an influx of young families coming in,” Joanna observes. “I love it when students come over [from Poughkeepsie] on the Walkway. It means they’re spending less time on social media and their electronic devices.”
In the Hovlings’ view, the new Ice Bros Frozen Treats storefront operation is one more piece falling into place in the Highland hamlet’s long transformation from a decaying Rust Belt town into a vibrant 21st-century destination. “What we want to create is an all-American ice cream shop vibe,” says Joanna, “a clean, safe environment where everyone is welcome.”
Ice Bros’ hours of operation at 29 Main Street are from 1 to 9 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, including new flavors and special offers, check out www.facebook.com/icebrosny.