Classic Long Island ice cream shops: Hildebrandt's, Krisch's and more
Why do we crave ice cream during the winter? There's snow on the ground and a chill in our bones, yet banana split with hot fudge and a cherry on top never sounded so good.
Maybe it's that little bit of comfort we need to thrive in this harsh climate, or maybe sitting down at an ice cream parlor is just a fun indoor activity right now. Here on Long Island, it's also a history lesson.
Before new wave artisans like Van Leeuwen came onto the scene, East Coast immigrants of German and Greek descent mastered the art of chocolate, opening candy shops that doubled as ice cream counters and soda fountains. To keep their businesses competitive, eventually the proprietors added hot food and operated as luncheonettes, said Spencer Singer, new co-owner of the iconic Hildebrandt's in Williston Park. Like many of the businesses on this list, Hildebrandt's has been open since the 1920s. And after a short closure to refresh the space, it's back and more enticing than ever.
So try one of these ice cream spots for a little scoop of New York's culinary past. Even when the temperature dips below 40, it's never tasted quite as sweet.
11 Central Ave, Massapequa
As seen on "Man vs. Food," this family-friendly '50s-style diner boasts two food challenges: the Massapequa Monsta cheeseburger that you eat in an hour for a free T-shirt, and the Kitchen Sink challenge, a 10-scoop banana split served in a portable kitchen sink that they crown with a raging sparkler. There's more approachable kitsch too, like cotton candy and Rice Krispies ice cream as well as 20 different sundaes including the mini waffle ($9.50) with some of that incredible housemade whipped cream, ten times fluffier and more flavorful than the canned stuff. No wonder this business has been around since 1920. More info: 516-797-3149, krischs.com
Hicksville Sweet Shop
75 S. Broadway, Hicksville
An old "Newsday" clipping on the wall of this strip mall institution claims it once had the cheapest breakfast on Long Island, 75 cents for a plate of eggs with toast, potatoes and coffee. That blue collar spirit still stands at the almost century-old shop, which has been run by Phil Zouras since 1974. He chats with the servers in Greek as he mixes up antiquated concoctions like an egg frosted ($5), cracking an egg into a silver tin and reaching from tubs of chocolate syrup right behind the bar top. The drink tastes like a cross between an egg cream and a milkshake, with a little effervescence from the soda and a richness that comes from the eggs, milk and the scoop of chocolate ice cream. It's practically a meal, but that doesn't mean you can't make your way out of there with a few housemade chocolates in a paper bag. The sea salt caramel is worth the trip alone. More info: 516-931-0130. Cash only.
211 Rockaway Ave., Valley Stream
The legendary hot fudge is even better than the ice cream. Made from scratch by Grace Zhao, it's thick and oozy and the chocolate flavor shines through. So delicious you'll be scooping it onto your spoon and rationing every drip. But that's the specialty at Itgen's, founded by German immigrant Walt Itgen in 1967 and now run by Zhao and her husband Yan Zhang. They've kept most of the throwback items on the menu, including the Valley Stream special with three scoops of housemade ice cream on a mound of fruit salad. And the Flat Car ($7.95), which is a scoop of vanilla and chocolate with the hot fudge, on top of thick slices of pound cake. Is it breakfast or dessert, or maybe both? Who needs labels anyway. More info: 516-825-7444, itgensrestaurant.com
84 Hillside Avenue, Williston Park
Recently revamped by its new owners, the iconic Hildebrandt's has a gorgeous tin ceiling that gives the 96-year-old restaurant an air of sophistication. New co-owner Spencer Singer is still dedicated to making homemade ice cream and fountain drinks, like the syrupy sweet Lime Rickey, a tall glass of tangy cherry soda that sits in a retro steel holder. It's not on the menu board but if you ask, the server will still make you a pie smash ($8.50), putting a slice into a steel shaker to be smashed together with ice cream. The apple pie smash is a bombshell -—— rich vanilla studded with chunks of pie crust and sweet caramelized apples, all topped with a mound of that thick housemade whipped cream. Oof. More info: 516-741-0608, hildebrandtsrestaurant.com
8 Glen St, Glen Cove
The vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia matches the red walls of Henry's Confectionery, a throwback soda fountain that feels like stepping into the '40s. The clientele is a mix of regulars who sit at the counter and chat with the server as they down their scrambled eggs. In business since 1929, Henry's is mostly a diner and goes harder on the frozen treats in the summertime. But even in February it still has 16 flavors of homemade ice cream including banana, raspberry and lemon custard. The server suggests an Oreo milkshake and it was cup of childish decadence, with big chunks of Oreo that gave it a little crunch. More info: 516-671-3222, facebook.com/henrysconfectionery/
Northport Sweet Shop
55 Main St., Northport
It's a museum of ice cream, chocolate confections and show dog memorabilia. Second generation co-owner Pete Panarites runs the joint in keeping with his father George's traditions, making 17 different flavors and mixing old-timey drinks like milk frosts and ice cream sodas with antique bar equipment. Pete and his sister Georgia fashion their own chocolate Easter bunnies using metal molds passed down from their father. On a recent afternoon, customers streamed in to buy a small chocolate or candy before making their way past the shops in Northport's harbor. Those who stayed were treated with a heck of a BLT sandwich and a float called a French soda ($9.75), which is basically an ice cream soda plus whipped cream. Every few minutes, Pete's cellphone would ring and make a barking noise, in a cheeky nod to the prizewinning Labrador retriever show dogs he raises in his spare time. More info: 631-261-3748, northportsweetshop.com
4 E Main St, Riverhead
Known by the locals as Papa Nick's, Star Confectionery has been in the Meras family since 1920 and is a landmark of downtown Riverhead. The walls of the brick building are crowned with Art Deco stained glass, leading to a display case of antique milkshake mixers and neon signs that say ice cream and luncheonette. Inside is a long counter with wooden bar stools still attached to the mosaic tile floor, where patrons sip their malteds and milkshakes and party "like it's the 1920s," as the menu says. Homemade ice cream flavors include pistachio and butter pecan, and arrive in a decked out banana split called the Banana Royale ($12.50). You can get it with as many toppings as you'd like, but make sure to order the wet walnuts for a syrupy nutty crunch. More info: 631-727-9873, star-confectionery.com. Cash only.
40 NY-27A, Southampton
It may be winter in Southampton but every wood-paneled booth at the Sip'n Soda is full. The walls are decked with cartoons beckoning you to order a Lime Rickey, a refreshing soda made from lime and cherry syrup that's only available during the summer. (The posters are originals by comic book artist Irwin Hasen, creator of "Dondi.") Sip'n Soda is an institution, owned by the Parash family since 1958. And on a recent visit the luncheonette offered more than a dozen original ice cream flavors, including Nutella, salted caramel and the standout black raspberry chocolate chip. They came in cones and silver dishes, but those who didn't want to choose could order a Four Queens ($14). That's four heaping scoops piled onto a silver platter that rises into the air, so that the hot fudge drips down onto the napkin below. It's shaped into something you'd see on a deck of cards, which is fitting, because it tastes like a winning hand. More info: 631-283-9752, sipnsoda.com. Cash only.