Italian water ice is a traditional summer dessert in the Eastern United States, especially in the Philadelphia and South Jersey regions. The major difference from ice cream is the lack of any dairy products. The creamy consistency comes instead from the process of freezing and mixing the ingredients. The three base ingredients are simple: water, sugar and flavoring (typically fresh fruit or syrup).
While Italian ice has spread across the United States, its roots are strong in the Philadelphia region. The history of the dessert isn’t certain, but we do know that it’s based on the popular Italian dessert, granita. Once Italian immigrants brought that recipe with them to the U.S., it was modified over the years to become the iconic frozen delight we all enjoy. To get a taste of this chilled sweet treat, try out one of these many popular shops across the First State.
Fusco’s has been serving up Italian water ice since 1957. It boasts freshly squeezed lemons daily and does water ice the old-fashioned way: just water, sugar and lemon.
610 Union Street, Wilmington | 757-6984
You can’t talk Italian water ice without mentioning Rita’s. The chain started with a small Italian ice stand in a Philadelphia suburb. Over the years it has grown into the massive Italian ice and frozen custard chain that it is today. You can find a Rita’s near you online. The brand has a presence in over 30 states and serves up water ice, custard, gelatis and more. Each shop has a diverse list of flavors, and the selection changes every day.
Dino’s Ice Cream truck specializes in catering and special events. It has both a permanent store in Wilmington and a truck that travels all around Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. The list of flavors is also extensive, covering everything from mint chocolate chip to tropical fruits.
6 South Union Street, Wilmington | 983-1666
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Cool J’s was founded in 2016 by a 17-year-old Charter School of Wilmington student. The shop offers premium water ice, smoothies, cleverly-named “J’Lati” and more. It also serves foods like chili cheese fries and hot dogs and has a spacious dining area to sit down and escape the heat.
1857 Pulaski Highway, Bear | 595-4252
Bernie’s offers old-fashioned Italian water ice made fresh with real lemons. It also has an extensive list of other flavors. The shop always makes an appearance at St. Anthony’s Italian Festival, and also sells five-gallon buckets of water ice for parties.
1701 West 8th Street, Wilmington | 429-8985
This family-owned ice cream shop serves up soft-serve ice cream, hot dogs and, of course, water ice!
400 West Main Street, Middletown | 378-4011
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Head to Tre Sorelle for ice cream, Italian ice and mini-golf all in one stop! Designed after old-school ice cream parlors with atmosphere in mind, Tre Sorelle is a great place to stop and enjoy an Italian water ice. The flavors are mostly fruits, featuring lemon, strawberry, sour apple and more.
27 South Railroad Avenue, Wyoming