Growing up in the Upper Midwest, I heard stories from my New Jersey-raised mother about the Italian ice treats she used to get when visiting her grandmother in Brooklyn, but the concept of Italian ice was about as foreign to me as, well, Italy. We had ice cream, popsicles, and as a special treat, frozen custard, but far from any 7-11s — and not possessing a Snoopy sno-cone machine — we could only imagine icy, slushy things. Fortunately, my children will not suffer the same fate now that Rita’s, the popular Philadelphia-based Italian ice chain, has opened a franchise in Eagan.
Not only does Rita’s dish up Italian ices, it also offers frozen custard, so you are free to choose between a light and refreshing dessert and a rich one. In fact, you can combine the two into one treat called the Gelati ($4.70, including tax, for a regular), which layers the ice and custard in a generously sized cup. Flavors vary daily, but you can always expect to see the classic lemonade ice and several other fruity flavors, along with vanilla and chocolate custard.
Though I almost always pick a chocolaty dessert over a fruit-flavored one, Italian ice ($3.20 for a regular) is one treat where I favor fruit, and a tall cup of lemonade ice is perfectly satisfactory on its own. The flavors inspired by fruits actually found in nature, such as mango and mango strawberry, fare best at Rita’s, while the ones based on Jelly Belly or Sour Patch Kids candies taste cloyingly sweet.
The soft-serve custard ($3.63 for a regular) avoids the artificial flavor some of the ices contain, but the texture certainly is different from what you’ll find elsewhere in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The custard’s consistency is light, almost like some whipped cream has been folded into the base — it’s not bad, by any means, but unusual, if you’re used to a thick, dense scoop of custard. The combination of the ice and custard will be nirvana to some and just plain weird to others, so stick with your favorite if you prefer to enjoy each on its own. (The custard also can be whipped into milkshakes or tossed with toppings like a Blizzard.)
Franchise owners Adam and Angela Ailloni plan to open 20 Rita’s in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area over the next several years, so if Eagan is too far a drive to get a taste of Italian ice, you likely won’t have to wait long for one to come to your neighborhood. But if the urge for something cold, fruity, and slushy becomes overwhelming – particularly in the heat of August — it’s worth the trip to Rita’s so you can finally find out what you’ve been missing.
Italian ice and frozen custard in Eagan
1016 Diffley Road
Eagan, MN 55123
OWNERS: Adam and Angela Ailloni
PRICE: Starting at $3.20-$4.70 / treat