Strong Island Ice Cream opened in Nesconset Plaza in November, but its owner, Paul Cairo, has an ice-cream connection that goes back almost 50 years. “Back in the 70s,” he said, “my mother was a waitress at Krisch’s in Massapequa. Since I had no babysitter, I would just spend my weekends there. I mean, where else would I want to hang out when I was 14?”
Adolescent Cairo not only enjoyed the menu, he started to learn the trade, cleaning the chocolate molds, running the batch freezer. “I worked every position,” he said. Eventually, he became a partner in the operation, but left last August to open his own shop which is much closer to his home in Smithtown.
Cairo found that there are a lot of people in north-central Suffolk who grew up on the South Shore of Nassau. “And all of them said to me, ‘you gotta open an ice cream shop.’”
Cairo’s byword when conceiving Strong Island was “simplicity.” Instead of replicating Krisch’s extensive savory-and-sweet menu, full-service dining room and counter and nostalgic décor, he opted for a sleek design and counter-only service. He also resisted (mostly) the current trend for over-the-top flavors. “If you order pistachio,” he said, “I want you to appreciate the pistachio. If I put pretzels and candies into the ice cream, you can’t taste the ice cream.”
Bowing to the irresistible pressure of the youthful palate, he makes cookie dough, rainbow cookie, cotton candy and Rice Krispie Treat ice cream, but the emphasis is on such timeless combinations such as mint chip and salted caramel. He has a fondness for chocolate in all its variations, to wit: chocolate, double chocolate chip, rocky road, chocolate-peanut butter and, his pride and joy, “black ice,” a dark chocolate ice cream that’s almost black.
Cairo also has a fondness for senior-friendly flavors that, he believes, deserve a comeback: butter pecan, maple walnut and rum raisin. “With my flavors, I try to reach out to everyone,” he said.
Cups, cones, shakes, sundaes, pints and quarts are all available.
Strong Island Ice Cream is at 127 Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset, 631-656-5930, strongislandicecream.com