Hoboken, Hudson County, New Jersey 07030
Anyone who knows me knows ice cream is my obsession, but then again, who doesn’t like ice cream? To me, a night isn’t complete without a pint of Haagen-Dazs or a few scoops of really great ice cream. I prefer a creamier ice cream made from cream, milk and sugar (Philadelphia-style) or a silky-smooth custard (French style) ice cream made with eggs as opposed to ones with artificial ingredients or "gums." That’s why any ice cream shop with a "homemade" tag under its name attracts me.
Luckily, I live in Hoboken where my need for a cool, smooth "homemade" treat can be satiated. After all, this town has an ice cream soda named after it: the "Hoboken special" made with pineapple soda and chocolate ice cream. As legend has it, the Hoboken special comes from the city’s raging longshoremen’s use of a "pineapple" hand grenade to intimidate. The city also serves as the birthplace of the ice cream cone. In 1896, Italo Marciony sold homemade lemon ice from a pushcart wagon on Wall Street in glasses. The glasses had a tendency to break or to not be returned, so he invented an edible cone to hold the ice. In 1903, he patented the cone and sold ice cream from cones in his shop on 219 Grand Street until a fire destroyed it in 1934. Marciony would be proud that Hoboken has three ice cream shops that make the frozen delight from scratch.
One is the Ice Hut (201 Washington St.). The Ice Hut has been serving the city its homemade Italian ices and ice cream from its walk-up window for five years. Richard Irving, who runs the shop, notes that all its ices and ice creams are fat and cholesterol free. Health-conscious Hobokeners know where to go for a guilt-free treat without climbing a mountain as runners used to do for Roman Emperor Nero two thousand years ago. The insane ruler sent them to the mountains of Italy to get fresh snow to which would be added wine, honey or fruit for his highness to eat. At the Ice Hut, flavors are more palatable. They change weekly and include lemon, orange, strawberry, raspberry, lime and more. Most of the ices are made from natural ingredients except those like pina colada, which are hard to make with natural flavors. Vanilla and chocolate are the two flavors of soft ice cream sold here. Ices and ice creams can be combined for a "cooler," or you can order an "ice shake," which is a shake made with any flavor of ice.
I come to the Ice Hut when I’m in the mood for a light, refreshing sweet. Five-year Hobokenite (and my partner-in-ice cream-crime) Sheree Feigelson likes that all is fat-free here. "I can’t taste the difference," she admits. Another favorite of ice cream hound Feigelson is Baskin-Robbins, the only non-homemade, commercial ice cream shop in Hoboken. Opened as "Snowbird" in California in 1945 by Irv Robbins (who later went in business with brother-in-law Burt Baskin), the store debuted its 31 flavors in 1953. Though not homemade, Baskin-Robbins has fun flavors and all-around good ice cream. Feigelson swears it has the best cookies and cream around. The shop has fat-free, lowfat and no-sugar-added ice creams and sherbets, sorbets and ices.
Back to homemade: Family Scoops (320 Washington Street) makes homemade Italian ices, gelato, ice cream and yogurt. Owned by Robert McGrath, Family Scoops has been dishing out yummy, natural frozen treats since last summer. The spot used to house Flip’s Ice Café, which McGrath owned with a partner for three years. They made like bananas and split, McGrath opening a shop of his own under the name Family Scoops with two locations, one in Old Bridge and one in Hoboken.
The walk-up window in Hoboken attracts drivers, including Carlito Francese from Riverdale in the Bronx, who stopped by with a friend named Henry for some soft-serve cones. "It’s quick and easy to get some ice cream," he notes.
While the Bronx boys went for soft ice cream, I’m more impressed with Family’s unusual flavors like tiramisu gelato, which is addictive. My friend Ben Slatkin, another ice cream lover, really dug the chocolate hazelnut. The store has low-fat vanilla and chocolate yogurt as well. Ice cream flavors include cookie dough (McGrath’s favorite and I like it too—lots of chewy cookie dough), rocky road, strawberry and cookies and cream (real cookies in here), and their gelato comes in flavors like chocolate raspberry, coconut, malted milk ball, pistachio and vanilla chip. McGrath’s gelato is made with milk (no eggs). He orders the base from Italy and adds milk and flavors (which he stresses are all-natural). His ices are just as interesting and all-natural: green apple (for all the martini lovers), cantaloupe, cannoli, banana, passion fruit, watermelon, lemon and cherry.
"I try to keep flavors more natural with fruit," says McGrath. He mentions a competitor making ices with names like "moose tracks." He adds, "I use fruit, no extracts or colorings added. I keep it on the healthy side."
McGrath makes his frozen treats daily in the Old Bridge location and delivers daily to the Hoboken store. He loves his business. "Everybody’s always in a good mood when they get ice cream," he says. "They’re treating their families, grandkids, kids, boyfriends, girlfriends…"
And they’re dogs. Yes, dogs. Family Scoops sells Frosty Paws as well.
Up the street a bit is Hobos (636 Washington St.), which has the look of a traditional ice cream shop. Unlike Hoboken’s other two homemade shops, Hobos is open all year. Mary, the owner, says the store churns out 56 flavors of ice cream though some of the flavors are seasonal. In addition to ice cream, she mentions the store’s homemade candy as well (check out the chocolate party favors like the heart-shaped trinket box with lid—all made from white chocolate). Out front, there’s a huge sign advertising chocolate dipped strawberries, which the shop sells year-round. Inside, there’s a line of folks waiting for the unusual flavored ice creams and ices. Its ices include yum-yum (the old-fashioned term for vanilla and my mother’s favorite), chocolate, pina colada, root beer, tutti frutti, pineapple and more. The shop also has fat-free ice cream (in flavors like raspberry and chocolate marshmallow) and sugar-free (in flavors like peach). It also has yogurt in flavors besides vanilla and chocolate, like peach. They also have sherbet in flavors like cherry lemon. (For those of you wondering what sherbet is it’s sorbet—fruit, sugar and water—mixed with egg whites and maybe some milk.) The big thing at Hobos is the ice cream, in various flavors like strawberry fudge chip and chocolate brownie cookie dough. And everyone has a favorite flavor. Mine happens to be caramel swirl, which is lusciously creamy with just the right touch of sweet caramel. Mary likes cherry vanilla.
Tim Emr, a one-year Hoboken resident who works in pharmaceuticals, loves coffee chip. He says, "I really like the consistency and smoothness of the ice cream."
"I like the hint of chocolate chip and the kick of the mint," says Dave Briganti, a one-year Hoboken resident who works in market research and loves the mint chocolate chip.
Italo Marciony would be happy that the shop also has a variety of cones from which to choose, including regular sugar and waffle to chocolate sugar and waffle and waffle cups.
But ice cream isn’t the only reason people come to Hobos. Emr says, "Hobos has a great selection. I like the family atmosphere."
Whether you’re stopping by on a day trip, taking the kids out, enjoying a walk with a significant other or taking a break from a stressful day, you’ve got many yummy choices for a sweet treat along Washington Street.
Family Scoops - 320 Washington Street
Hobos - 636 Washington Street
Ice Hut - 201 Washington Street