John's Water Ice, 701 Christian St. 215.925.6955
Pop's Water Ice, 1337 Oregon Ave.215.551.7677
Rita's Italian Ice, 239 South St. 215.629.3910
Jimmy D's Italian Water Ice, Ninth and Sears sts.
Italian ice. Water ice. Wooter eyes. What-ever you choose to call it, it's a frozen summertime refresher of water, sugar, flavoring syrup and occasionally fruit served in a paper cup. Constantly mistaken for Sno-Cones and sorbet, real water ice is churned in a special machine that creates a uniform flavor and a crystalline ice texture that can be almost creamy. I was pretty excited to do a bicycle tour of local water ice institutions--who wouldn't want to spend a sweaty summer day slurping frozen sweets?--but I was kind of disappointed. The best thing about water ice, besides the price (usually $1--cheaper than a bottle of shwanky water!), is that it's never really bad. At the same time, it's rarely spectacular. To my surprise, out of the four sampled, franchise queen Rita's was the most flavorful. A cappuccino cream was creamy and coffee-licious, while tangerine was sweet, juicy and studded with bits of fruit. The ice texture of both was nicely uniform, but not too firm. And props to Rita's for having the friendliest service. Not only did the counter girl say "please" and "thank you," but she kindly wiped the drippings from the sides of the cup. Pop's was also tasty. Once again, good texture--the lime was tart and refreshing, with shreds of lime pulp throughout. Jimmy D's (self-proclaimed "King of Water Ice") chocolate water ice was acceptable, although the strawberry-lemon had a weird bubble-gum hint to it. I found John's sadly underwhelming, especially since everyone in my armchair water ice poll recommended I try it. The cherry vaguely suggested cough syrup, while the limpid pineapple needed more, well, pineapple. The grain of the ice was smaller than Rita's and Pop's, which had the unfortunate effect of completely numbing my tongue after the first three spoonfuls, and lacked the others' creamy melting quality as well. As much as I love my Schwinn, I wish I had a car to check out more distant wonders of water ice: I've heard rumors of greatness at both Esposito's and Rose's in Northeast Philly, as well as Famous Italian Ices in Kensington and Anthony's in Runnemede, N.J. (Kirsten Henri)
In last week's PW, Tim McGinnis offered PW's official guide to the city's best water ice. PW intern Tara Moore offers her own list:
PW's Taste of Philly 2014