Italian ice, a popular frozen treat back East that’s like “a cross between a snow cone and gelato,” has found its way west to Santa Cruz, courtesy of native New Yorker Scott Edelstein.
I’ve eaten plenty of ice cream, gelato, snow cones and popsicles — but until this week I had never had Italian ice.
In fact, I had never even heard of it before Izzy’s Ices opened an Italian ice shop in downtown Santa Cruz in early August, but I’m not alone. Most people on the West Coast have no idea what it is, says owner and native New Yorker Scott Edelstein, but on the East Coast, that’s like saying you’ve never heard of ice cream.
“It’s called Italian ice but it should be called East Coast ice,” says Edelstein. “It pretty much stopped in Chicago and didn’t get any further west. But from South Florida up to Pennsylvania and west to Chicago, you’ll see it everywhere.”
Italian ice is made with water, rather than dairy, that’s blended with flavors until the texture is almost smooth, with very small ice crystals. It’s kind of like a cross between a snow cone and gelato and is similar to Sicilian granita, which, legend has it, was the inspiration for this cold, creamy treat more than a century ago.
One major reason Italian ice stands out from other frozen treats: It’s surprisingly refreshing. Because it’s mostly water, I felt revived and ready to return to work after polishing off a double scoop of pistachio and vanilla chip on my lunch break.
That’s one of the reasons Edelstein fell in love with Italian ice when he was a kid, and why he continues to enjoy it as an adult. “A lot of people have issues with dairy and fat, and sometimes people don’t want something heavy after a meal,” he says.
Just by the nature of the ingredients, Izzy’s Italian ices are all low-fat or nonfat; most are 70 to 80 calories per scoop, and Edelstein offers many gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free options. Some have a small amount of a dairy-based emulsifier to add creaminess to flavors like almond joy, but the majority are entirely dairy-free. Edelstein has taken care to import his ices from a manufacturer on the East Coast that doesn’t use corn syrup or other additives. His ice, he says, “is as clean as we can make it.”
Izzy’s Ices is the culmination of a dream Edelstein had for more than 30 years, since he moved to California. For three decades, he owned AA Safe & Security in Santa Cruz but craved his favorite treat from back home.
“My whole existence in Santa Cruz, I’ve thought, why isn’t there an Italian ice shop? I’m not a big ice cream guy, so I didn’t feel like there was anything for me,” he says. After surviving two bouts of cancer and selling his shop in 2021, he decided to go for it.
Izzy’s Ices is named after his dad, Isaac, nicknamed Izzy, who died when Edelstein was 24. Izzy was, ironically, an ice cream lover, but would take Edelstein and his brother to get ices when they were kids. The swirls on the logo are a nod to his dad’s hairstyle, and the phrase “choopchip” is used on the menu instead of chocolate chip in reference to Izzy’s unusual pronunciation.
Izzy’s Ices offers around 25 flavors every week, rotating through a catalog that includes more than 70, with new flavors on the menu every week. Coming soon: seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice, salted caramel and cherry Garcia. Prices start at $5.50 for a small cup with two scoops. The menu includes pints and quarts.
While Italian ice is traditionally served only in a cup, Edelstein breaks from tradition by also offering his ices in an ice cream cone. So far, the most popular flavors are mango and green mint chip. Edelstein’s current favorite? Banana “choopchip.” Customers are welcome to try as many flavors as they’d like, especially if they’ve never had it before.
Says Edelstein: “People come in, they say, ‘What is it? What is it?’ I say, just try it.”
Izzy’s Ices is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday at 5 p.m. 106 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz. izzysitalianices.com.
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