The Coast News Group
Lick the Plate

Rita’s brings delicious Italian ice and custard to Carlsbad

Whenever someone gives me a tip for a story and mentions there are lines out the door, that’s usually a good sign that it’s worth checking out.

Kent Harle and his son Jack are regulars at Rita’s Italian Ice in Carlsbad. Photo David Boylan
Kent Harle and his son Jack are regulars at Rita’s Italian Ice in Carlsbad. Photo David Boylan

Then, when I heard the name of the place was Rita’s, which just happens to be my mom’s name, and one I don’t hear much anymore, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out Rita’s started out in Philadelphia in 1984 when Bob Tumolo, a former Philadelphia firefighter, decided to open a small Italian ice business to augment his income. He opened his first store in Bensalem, Pa., and named the business after his wife, Rita.

Bob and his mother, Elizabeth, set to work making their special formulation of Italian ice fresh daily. The mother and son team added chunks of fresh fruit to the recipes and made sure to throw away any unsold product after 36 hours.

The Italian ice, which was also referred to as water ice, was a big hit with Philadelphians, who are arguably the most discriminating water ice eaters in the United States. So yes, add water ice to Philly Cheesesteaks as another must-try when visiting Philadelphia.

Rita’s Italian Ices are fat-, cholesterol- and trans-fat free and they also offer sugar-free options. There is also a cream ice that is a richer and creamier version of the Italian Ice. The flavoring is mixed into the ice before or during the freezing instead of at the point of sale.

Rita’s uses proprietary batch machines to make the product fresh every day in each store. There are currently more than 40 flavors of ice, with others continuously being developed and introduced.

And then there is the custard, a smooth and creamy delight. It’s offered in Vanilla, Chocolate, Orange Cream, Coffee and Strawberry. Rita’s Old Fashioned Frozen Custard can be enjoyed in a cup or a cone with sprinkles, M&M’s