A couple weeks ago, I finally made it to one of America’s top ice-cream destinations: Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee.
I’ve been hearing about Toscanini’s Ice Cream (or “Tosci’s”) for years. I believe the first person to tell me about it was my friend Phil, an amazing volunteer for the organization I work for. And ever since Phil put Toscanini’s on my radar, I’ve noticed the name popping up all over the place… in conversations with locals, in Boston-area food blogs, and heck, even in the New York Times! So when my sister suggested that I meet her for dinner and ice cream in Cambridge after landing at Logan airport, I was MORE than game. As it turned out, her boyfriend and our youngest sister were also up for the adventure.
Home to Harvard University and MIT, Cambridge is a unique part of Boston. It’s hip, eclectic and a true representation of the cultural diversity in the city. We started the evening with a lovely dinner at Cuchi Cuchi, which featured an extensive cocktail list and small plates from around the world. But we soon found ourselves ambling down Main Street to Toscanini’s. It was a gorgeous night, and there was plenty of people watching to be had. We knew we must be getting close to Toscanini’s when nearly every other person we passed on the sidewalk was clutching a cone (or cup) of ice cream. The word is clearly out!
Toscanini’s storefront is nearly all windows, and you can peer into both the store and the kitchen from the sidewalk. Nothing much was happening in the kitchen (it was nearly 8:30pm on a Friday), but there was plenty of action going on in the main shop. And since Tosci’s has been around for over thirty years, I was surprised to see minimalist, modern wood-based decor and furniture when I walked through the door. Nothing about the place seems outdated – and least of all their menu of flavors! I’d read that Gus and his employees like to experiment a lot, so the flavors are constantly changing. And these were some of the most unique and appetizing flavors I’ve seen: Turkish Mocha, Saffron Khulfee, Malted Vanilla, Ovaltine and Cambridge Lime Pie were just a few that caught my eye. As did the interesting flavors of ice-cream cakes!
The line to the ice-cream counter was long, but we needed the wait time to mull over our choices. I’d emailed owner and “Ice Cream Maker in Chief,” Gus Rancatore, earlier to inquire about his favorites. Gus told me that the insanely rich-sounding B3 (brown butter, brown sugar and brownie) is the best seller, but his own (current) favorite was the Mango sorbet. And while I couldn’t try the gluten-full B3, I sure knew I couldn’t leave without tasting the Mango. When I got to the front of the line, the person serving me obliged when I requested a sample. And, boy oh boy, the Mango was deliciously refreshing and chock-full of that sweet tang of the fruit. In the end, we ordered five flavors among the four of us (from left to right): Ginger Snap, Green Tea, Burnt Marshmallow, Cocoa Rum Raisin and Fluffernutter.
Prices are a bit higher-than-average at Tosci’s, but the scoops are generous. And I’d gladly pay nearly $6 for a double-scoop of small-batch artisan ice cream than $4 for frozen yogurt at the mall (although I do that, too!). And to those price sensitive or the light eaters out there, have no fear! Toscanin’s offers a baby size (pictured below) to satisfy your sweet tooth and budget.
The verdict? Overall, Toscanini’s ice cream is among the best I’ve ever had. What sets this ice cream apart from the rest is its FLAVOR. Ice-cream maker Gus Rancatore is a master at creating insanely-flavorful ice cream. Every scoop we ordered was a playful punch to the taste buds and perfectly lived up to its name. As a novice ice-cream maker, I kept asking myself “How did he DO this?” Flavors like green tea and maple sometimes have a hard time breaking through the sweetness of butterfat and sugar, but Gus has figured out the perfect ratio of unique ingredients to the traditional base ones. Biting into my scoop of Burnt Marshmallow was like chewing on a smoky marshmallow straight off the campfire. But Gus uses enough milk and cream to retain that creamy, velvety texture of the best premium ice creams. The same devotion to intense flavor was evident again in the Green Tea, which was so strong that only true green-tea aficionados could eat a whole pint. The Ginger Snap, however, went down very easily! Carolyn was very happy with her choice, and I can only imagine how great it would be alongside some apple pie. Classic New England flavors!
The surprise crowd-favorite was the Fluffernutter, which my sister’s boyfriend ordered. My sisters and I were are big-time fans of the iconic sandwich (made with peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff), and Gus beautifully captured the magic flavor combination. The ice cream itself was rich yet pillowy soft, and the peanut butter and marshmallow were perfectly balanced – making for an addicting concoction!
The one and only disappointment of the night was the Cocoa Rum Raisin, whose flavor was spot-on but was served in a melted state. I’ll let the photo below do most of the talking (it was taken just minutes after we sat down), but this ice cream was so soupy that the young man behind the counter should have warned me about the problem. Not a single bite was frozen.
Anywhere else, the whole “ice-cream soup” thing would have been a deal breaker. But I’ll give Toscanini’s the benefit of the doubt because everything else we ordered was superb. I can’t wait to come back!
Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee
899 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139