We’ve had gelato, we’ve had creamsicles, and we’ve certainly had ice cream…but have you ever tried spumoni? Well, for National Spumoni Day, it’s pretty much required! The traditional spumoni is an Italian ice cream layer dessert that includes alternating flavors of ice cream, with nuts and candied fruits sprinkled all throughout the dessert. It’s very much like the weird hybrid of a fruitcake and a Neapolitan ice cream loaf–except the alternating flavors in spumoni are cherry, pistachio, and chocolate, instead of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Nowadays, the candied fruits and nuts are left aside and you’re left with the alternating ice cream flavors. I always love spumoni because you typically find it in Italian restaurants and specialty stores, not ice cream shops, sitting right beside the large tubs of delicious Italian Ice. Italian spumoni has the same consistency of these ices: super-cold and refreshing, but not jagged or watery like snow cones or shaved ice. It’s got a silky-smooth ice milk texture which isn’t quite ice cream, but absolutely hits the spot when you’re craving something cold and sweet.
And the most famous place in New York City to get a paper cup of authentic spumoni is literally named after the product! L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn has become world-famous since its founding before World War II, but it’s not for the ice cream. Foodies from all over the world flock to this gem on 86th Street, close to the elevated N line, for their unique square pizza slices that have, at times, been listed as the best pizza in New York. L&B’s has revolutionized the way you look at a pizza: instead of putting the sauce on top of the square dough, then drizzling mozzarella on top of it all, they put down the cheese first, then the sauce, allowing the mozz to sink into the rising pizza dough as it cooks. The result is a super cheesy, delicious pizza experience, where the sauce, cheese, and dough all work together to create a full square slice, instead of running the risk of the mozz sliding off the pie in a river of marinara. Being a Di Fara girl, I never tried L&B’s square slices until I was well into my twenties, but I have to say: this is definitely one of the best square slices I’ve ever eaten. Not as messy as a normal Sicilian slice, and super flavorful, it’s worth wading through horrific Gravesend parking (or just double-parking right in front of the pizzeria!) to order a slice, or even a full pie.
But while you’re here deciding if L&B’s square slices live up to the hype, leave room in your belly for the Spumoni Gardens’s namesake. The pizzeria serves it traditional-style, with pieces of real pistachio nuts mixed into the pastel green pistachio layers. And although it forgoes the cherry layer and makes a pistachio, chocolate, vanilla combination, everyone loves the flavor and quality of these ices. A creamy, fat-rich ice cream would just feel like too much of an indulgence after eating a slice (or three) of their famous pizza, so a little paper cup of the spumoni is a perfect end to a Brooklyn pizza dinner.
L&B Spumoni Gardens has been highlighted on a number of television shows for their pizza, including Man Vs. Food, Food Wars, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate…but my favorite mention of this Brooklyn gem on national television was for its spumoni! On an episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts, one of the cheftestants faced the challenge of making desserts on a stick by crafting a baked Alaska lollipop, where the ice cream inside was cherry, vanilla, and pistachio spumoni. The head judge of the competition, New York native and star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, then began to tell her that she better not mess up the spumoni and wreck his memories! Turns out Iuzzini is a huge spumoni fan, thanks to teenage visits to L&Bs; on the show, he then goes on to gush about the Brooklyn institution, which had absolutely nothing to do with the challenge or the episode in particular. So, I’m to assume that Iuzzini kept that in there because he just loves L&Bs so much! The cheftestant did not disappoint with her spumoni lollipop, Johnny Iuzzini got to show his spumoni fanboy roots, and I saw a great little shoutout to a fantastic Brooklyn eatery. Everyone was happy!
L&B Spumoni Gardens
2725 86th St (between 11th St & 10th St), Gravesend
“If you’re a sucker for nostalgia and a connoisseur of Sicilian pizza, you’ll love this Bensonhurst landmark where locals and pizza pilgrims line up for the signature square pie (a light, crunchy crust, adorned with a bare minimum of mozzarella cheese beneath a layer of tangy tomato sauce) and a paper cup of the frozen house specialty.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The real deal was the spumoni and Italian ice. There is a reason why L & B is called Spumoni Gardens!!! I loved the spumoni and I didn’t think I would. It was a mixture of chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio Italian ice but it was mostly pistachio. The pistachio was a hideously fake Hulk colored green but it was so fierce! There were bits of roasted pistachios in it and it was just so good. Never tasted anything like it. L & B puts Rita and Ralph to shame.”–Rachel A.
“And if I had the creative capacity (or the perfect Webdings font), I would totally draw their famous, and equally addictive, spumoni for you. But really, you don’t just slice this triumvirate of vanilla, chocolate and pistachio ice cream in half with your plastic spoon and examine its inner workings. You’re just too damn busy shoveling one of the most perfect summer treats out of that little paper cup and into your spumoni-hole.”–Dan R.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!