Itsa Italian Ice
A real treat, whatever the weather
By Maren Tarro
It might seem a little strange to review frozen dessert when it's, to borrow a phrase common in the Midwest, “colder than a witch's booby in a brass bra.” But hear me out. Seasonally resplendent foods are great, but eventually steaming soups and endless turkey reincarnations get tiring. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I need to rebel and duck out for some good, holiday-inappropriate chow.
Itsa Italian Ice is an old favorite for many Burqueños. Originally located on Lomas years ago, Itsa was for kids and grown-ups alike. Though I wasn't around for the original, the dreamy-eyed reminiscing of my editor paired with the raving of several other longtime residents has made Itsa familiar to me, even if in name only. Now reopened on Second Street between Menaul and Candelaria--same recipes, new owners--I finally had a chance to taste firsthand these fabled Italian ices.
Brand-spankin'-new and still bright and shiny, Itsa's new digs are more comfy than its last outfitting--a truck. Chrome, red-and-white vinyl and checkered tile floors--admittedly a nostalgic yawn--are forgivable once the first icy spoonful finds its way to your tongue.
Diners can choose from several fruity flavors like cantaloupe, lemon, cherry, watermelon, black raspberry, lime, grape or banana, as well as other flavors like chocolate or "blue moon" (cotton candy). Served in small, medium or large cups, the portion sizes were enormous. I could barely manage the small, which came with two flavors.
My first cup held lemon and cantaloupe. Each tasted remarkably like the fruit it was named for. The ice crystals were tiny and fine, glistening like minuscule Swarovski crystals. Though the ice was firmly packed, the individual crystals separated and tumbled onto my spoon each time I went for more.
Each tasted remarkably like the fruit it was named for. The ice crystals were tiny and fine, glistening like minuscule Swarovski crystals.
I also tried a cherry and chocolate combo. Chocolate ices too often come off as watery and listless, but not this puppy. Rich and with defying depth, it was easy to forget I was basically gorging myself on frozen water. And the cherry? Besides marrying so harmoniously with the chocolate, it reminded me of eating cherries picked straight from trees in the High Rolls. Your taste buds needn't worry--they won't be assaulted with artificiality.
Itsa also serves more substantial food for lunch, dinner or just a gluttonous snack. The menu boasts Nathan's hot dogs, burgers and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. I set my spoon down long enough to sink my teeth into a Philly. I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. The beef was mercifully real, unprocessed meat, not Steak-umms or some other ungodly machined creation. Tender and visibly marbled, the steak actually tasted like steak. Just the right amount of cheese (of average quality) clung to it, along with grilled peppers and onions that were nicely caramelized without being overcooked. My only regret was not ordering fries. I caught a glimpse of the hand-cut beauties on someone else's tray and instantly knew I was missing out. Maybe next time.
Itsa's owners apparently know they have a great product, but they still seem to go the extra mile to make sure their customers are happy campers. All smiles all the time, they were eager to answer my questions and never tried to rush me. The service was quick as lightning and never missed a beat.
Your kids will love this place for an unexpected treat, or leave the rug rats at home and treat yourself. Just don't let some know-it-all meteorologist convince you to stay home with yet another helping of leftovers. Regardless of the time of year, Itsa Italian Ice is a great spot to grab a quick, quality bite.
The Alibi recommends:
• Philly cheese steak
• Any Italian ice, especially lemon and cantaloupe or chocolate and cherry combos
• Figuring out a way to prevent brain freeze that doesn't involve eating slowly
Itsa Italian Ice, 215 Phoenix NW, 268-2560. Hours: Tue-Sat 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Price range: $2.50 (small Italian ice cup) to $8.25 (Philly cheese steak combo). Ambience: It's the fifties! Again! Credit cards accepted.
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