Friday, August 08, 2008

Nathan's and Ralph's

It struck me, all of a sudden, that I hadn't seen the Atlantic Ocean in a while, so I took a trip out to Brighton Beach and Coney Island this afternoon. Besides strolling the boardwalk and gazing at the ocean, I snuck in a couple of snacks.

When I got to the Coney Island end of the boardwalk it struck me that I hadn't had French fries from the original Nathan's in about ten years. Sure there are other Nathan's outlets, but they're sanitized franchises, not the real deal. For the true Nathan's fries experience you've got to go to the original.

The fat, crinkle-cut Nathan's fries are an American classic, as classic as their hot dogs, as far as I'm concerned. It's been a long-popular urban legend that the fries at the Coney Island Nathan's are so good because they haven't changed the oil in years. Some versions had it that they hadn't changed the oil since they opened in 1916, others that they hadn't changed the oil in fifty years. I heard the fifty years figure for at least thirty years.

I don't remember what a small order of fries cost when I last had them, but I do know that the calories weren't listed back then. Well, now the calories are listed, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective. A small order of fries is 680 calories. I ate half and threw the rest away. If I hadn't seen the number I probably would have eaten them all. So I guess the labeling is serving its intended purpose.

The fries were still excellent, still classic, but (and this could be my imagination) they seemed just slightly less flavorful than I had remembered. I think they may have finally changed the oil.

Back on the boardwalk I couldn't resist the Ralph's Ices cart. I've never been to a full-fledged Ralph's Ices outlet, but I've had their product from several pizzerias in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and several years ago from the cart on the boardwalk.

Ralph's is almost as old as Nathan's, having been established in 1928. Ralph's is based in Staten Island, but they also have quite a number of locations in Long Island and New Jersey, and several in Queens and Brooklyn. Ralph's makes true Italian Ices, both water ices and cream ices. Cream ices, as the name implies, have some cream in them, but they're not a cream and milk product like ice cream or gelato. Cream ices are prepared much like water ices, but with ice-cream-like flavors rather than fruit. A little cream is added in the process, but cream ices are much lighter than ice cream. Ralph's shines in both departments. The fruit flavors are fresh and vibrant. But I'm especially fond of their cream ices. For a long time my favorite flavor had been cremolata, a vanilla-almond ice with pieces of crushed almond mixed in. It has a golden color, and I'm not sure what other ingredients it includes. Cremolata is also a component of their tri-color spumoni ices (along with pistachio and chocolate, both excellent too). This time I got a combination of cremolata and cappucinno. Well, I think the cappuccino has dethroned cremolata as my favorite Ralph's flavor. It had such a deep, smooth, well-rounded coffee flavor, with just the right touch of creaminess.

I can get pretty good Italian ices at several Uncle Louie G's locations in Park Slope, but their flavors are rather uneven (the passion fruit, I'll grant, is fabulous). I'd much rather there were a Ralph's in the neighborhood. The upstart Uncle Louie G has nothing on Ralph's.

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Blogger Richard said...

I had not realized that Ralph's was a chain. There's one on the corner two blocks down from me, and their water ices (the only kind I like) are decent but a little sweet for me, compared with what I grew up with as a kid (Ices Queen). You don't think there's high-fructose corn syrup in it?

I always wonder how it pays for them to rent a store year-round when they are open for, it seems, half the year or less.

I haven't eaten french fries in 20 years. For some reason, Nathan's were the only french fries I was told should be eaten with mustard and never ketchup.

I assume you were really in Coney Island for the Liza Minelli concert on Thursday night.

12:22 PM  

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