Photos courtesy of Steven Rome: “At night the line outside Ralph’s allows customers time to decide their order.”
One centrally located slab of parking lot has announced to Mamaroneck that summer has arrived.
Drive down Boston Post Road and you are almost guaranteed to see a horde of eager onlookers gaping at the infinitely large menu of Italian ices served by Ralph’s, a franchise of the 85-year-old establishment based in Staten Island that opened in April.
The shop, located in a triangular inlet of concrete right off the Post Road by Rye Neck High School, serves ices and ice cream out of a window and offers minimal seating. And yet Ralph’s has an unmistakable charm, a crossroads (literally) that attracts residents of Mamaroneck, Rye Neck, Larchmont and Harrison for a refreshing dessert item that tastes like summer.
For such a simple set-up, Ralph’s could pose difficulties for the indecisive. The first decision one must make is between water ice, creme ice and ice cream. Consider these varieties on a spectrum ranging from watery to creamy; creme ice falls somewhere in between. The nearly 60 flavors under this label are the same ones one may find in a traditional ice cream place, but its consistency is thinner and lighter. Water ice flavors are largely fruit-based (including orange and lemon, which are made using the same recipe from 1928). For some, creme ice is the perfect median (the s’mores flavor is particularly well-received by this crowd), while for others its seeming identity crisis leaves them desiring the more definitive options of either water ice or ice cream. Also available are smoothies, “icebergs” (a mix of soft ice cream and a smoothie) and “twisters” (italian ice layered between soft ice cream).
All in all, there are over 100 different selections from which one can choose (not to mention all the permutations if you opt to mix multiple flavors). Considering the dizzying menu, it is impressive that the always-present line moves as fast as it does; that said, patrons have plenty of time to make their decisions before they can order.
“Given the number of flavors, I think I might need to get some prosthetic taste buds,” said Joe Liberti, who teaches social studies at Mamaroneck High School. Liberti lives in Harrison and has been spotted waiting in the line–twice– by Globe spies.
As the temperature warms, Ralph’s fills a need in the dining community. Larchmont’s Ice Cream Parlour has not recaptured the central role once played by Longford’s, the previous tenant in its building, as a summer dessert staple. Red Mango, the serveit-yourself shop across the street, is largely a frozen yogurt vendor. With Rita’s gone, Ralph’s is the only place to go for a lighter, more refreshing ice.
alph’s could prove to be costly if it becomes a summer habit. A small ice costs $3.50, a full dollar more than a plain slice of pizza from Sal’s. (For frequent customers, a kiddie size ($2.75) should be sufficient for satisfying both the taste buds and the budget bottom line.)
Although its expansive service window and grated circular picnic tables evoke a beach-town feel, Ralph’s offers only the roar of the Post Road and any open pavement not occupied by parked cars as surroundings for flip-flopped patrons–the optics aren’t great. But this juxtaposition works to build an alluring sense of community, nostalgia, even, that here in Mamaroneck all we need to do is close our eyes, scoop up some ice, and hear the waves crashing down the beach.
Summer has arrived indeed.