And then there were two.
With Jack's Ices sitting on the sidelines (the location at 2028 Bellmore Ave. was found in good repair, well appointed – and closed, despite business hours posted to the contrary), Rita's Ices at 2942 Merrick Rd. and Ralph's Ices at 206 Bedford Ave. are left to lay claim to icy cold, refreshing summer dessert supremacy in Bellmore.
As these two franchises good naturedly battle it out, customers ready for warm weather treats will benefit from the fray. This by-product of Bellmore's "(n)ice wars" was in full effect when I took a mini-tasting tour with my wife and 2-year-old boy in tow on a recent weekday afternoon. Embedded on the front lines, here's what we learned:
"We're here to have fun, to serve delicious desserts and give a little back to the community," said Laura Clement, owner/operator of Rita's. "All of our water ices are made fresh on the premises. That's a big part of what's special about (Rita's)."
Clement was all smiles and warm, good cheer when my tribe and I arrived as her first customers at noon sharp. I enjoyed an incredibly refreshing, tangy and sweet mango ice, while my little confidant loved (and loved wearing) his very first soft vanilla custard with rainbow sprinkles.
Rita's has been operating in its current location since 2004, with Clement taking over in 2006. Since then she's been happily cranking out dozens of unique flavors and different offerings including smoothies, shakes, soft ice cream and custard.
Clement is very involved in community outreach and runs several highly creative promotions. Every Friday through the summer she hosts "Flashback Fridays," where staff and customers are encouraged to thread themselves in vintage Woodstock garb and Clement "turns back the clock" (and the wallet) to 60s prices.
"We're totally family oriented," Clement said. "And giving back is very important to me, to us. We have our special promo family fun nights; we have the mobile truck that visits the schools and block parties. We also participate in the Wantagh Schools "reading rewards" program."
Rita's will keep up their great work through November. If you don't have time to hang there, you can always take Rita's home by the pint, quart or gallon.
Long Island icons (est. in 1928) Ralph's Italian Ices is also doing an excellent job of providing Bellmore residents with cold refreshment and overall delicious goodness. They are wonderfully represented by Nick and Antonio, two young employees who really knew their stuff and weren't afraid to spread the gospel of Ralph's.
"Graham cracker is the best," they replied in stereo when I asked them for some tasting advice. "By far our most popular," said Nick.
With that type of muscle behind the brand, how can Ralph's go wrong?
Ralph's features an expansive roster of rotating flavors and they continue to push the envelope. Besides graham cracker, they're also featuring jelly ring (which we tasted - outrageous!), chocolate fudge brownie, birthday cake, rainbow cookie and even peanut butter and jelly among dozens of others.
In the end, with the little man scurrying about trying out his new word – ices – it was clear there were no losers in the (n)ice war. Only winners – myself, my family and the entire Bellmore community.