ITSA Good Kind of Hurt—Brain freeze: A childhood affliction where cold food tastes so good you'd willfully endure fits of paralyzing headaches to suck it down faster. That's exactly what happened on Saturday, when I shoveled plastic spoonfuls of flavored ice into my chattering maw until it hurt. And I liked it.
This was no ordinary ice. This was ITSA Italian Ice, the very same stuff that was produced and sold out of a charming little parlor at Lomas and Washington. My dad and I used to ride our bikes to ITSA during the summer months for enormous Styrofoam cups heaped with hand-scooped fruit flavors like melon, lime and blackberry. It was a sure-fire brain freezer.
Italian ice bares very little relation to its sno-cone and Hawaiian ice cousins. Rather than dousing shaved ice in a bath of flavored heavy syrup, Italian ice is a frigid matrix of subtle, discernibly natural flavors. The “ice” is soft, crumbly and fine-grained, almost like snow.
Unfortunately, ITSA Italian Ice was bulldozed years ago and is the site of a gleaming new Kicks 66 gas station. It was a terrible loss to the neighborhood. I've tasted shovel-heaps of other Italian ices since then, but none have held a candle to the sweet brain-numbing agony of ITSA. I finally resigned myself to a life without brain freeze.
Until last weekend, at Summerfest. My boyfriend's mother offered me a taste of the rosy, cherry-flavored Italian ice she'd picked up from a street vendor. It took me one bite to figure out what we were dealing with. I was in the presence of greatness again.
It turns out the original ITSA mom and pop sold the business, along with their cache of secret Italian ice recipes, to another local family. The “new” ITSA Italian Ice has been operating out of a mobile food cart that shows up for special outdoor functions like Summerfest and car washes. They use the same family recipes as the original ITSA, which explains how the tastes and textures that colored those splendid childhood memories could hit me with such amazing precision.
They told me they're in the process of looking for retail space with a drive-through window. Until they find one, look for ITSA Italian Ice at Summerfest in the vendor area on Marquette. (Summerfest is relocating to the Balloon Fiesta Grounds for Fourth of July weekend, which the ITSA folks may or may not be around for. It's worth investigating if you go.)
I also hear the new Marco Pollo (Montgomery and Eubank) has Italian ices (fine) and frozen custard (better). It's similar to the old Pollo Loco franchise, only, from what I've been hearing, not as good. If that is indeed the case, you may want to save your brain cells for a proper frosting someplace else.