You are looking at the centerpiece of many of my happiest childhood memories.  Rita’s Water Ice in Downingtown, PA, was on the way home from middle school and high school, and most every hot summer day, my friends and I would indulge in their delicious Gelati.  A Gelato from Rita’s bears no relation to the Italian eggy custard.  It consists, instead, of layers of frozen custard (in either vanilla or chocolate) and water ice.  The creamy custard adds a rich and smooth quality to the cool, crunchy, ice, and coming up with flavor combinations is half the fun.  Above is one of my mainstays: Mango water ice with vanilla custard.  It’s like a dreamsicle from heaven.

Of course, Rita’s wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t have an astoundingly delicious product.  Their frozen custard is the real deal – none of this powdered, crystallized, soft serve junk.  It’s unbelievably rich and creamy.  Their Italian Water Ice is a totally different animal from the shaved ice and other variations therof so popular in the South.  Rather than ice to which flavored syrups have been added, it’s made like ice cream: in batches in a freezer.  It’s not as sweet as sorbet, and nothing is added to make the texture creamy or soft.  And unlike granita, the product has small ice crystals.  The result is an icy cool concoction with real flavor, not overwhelming sweetness.

Even better, many of the fruit flavored water ice at Rita’s come with little frozen pieces of fruit in them.  Above: a chocolate and cherry gelati.

Rita’s is rapidly expanding – when I was growing up there were few locations, most in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Now, it seems they’re everywhere along the East Coast.  And my Houston friends – you can rejoice!  A Rita’s has signed up to open this summer along Seawall Blvd in Galveston.  Look for the sign below and you’ll find that it really is true:

Ice + Custard = Happiness.