Joes Italian Ice

Karl Marx had it all wrong: the proletariat unites not under the hammer blows of capital, but rather around the Italian ice. Just check out the diverse working-class clientele that makes its way to Joe's Italian Ice come nightfall. Elderly inhabitants of the trailer park next door rub elbows with heavily cologned cholos who, after purchasing a gallon of the ice, mysteriously retire to a nearby pay phone and scoop alone. Neighborhood kids on roller skates, bicycles, scooters—every imaginable prepubescent mode of transportation—zip around on the sidewalk, paying little regard to the death-dealing Harbor Boulevard traffic mere feet away. Tired Latina maids from the mega-hotels up the street stand patiently for their order, seeking a chilled capper to the rough day just passed. And obnoxiously loud tourists in full Disneyland regalia annoy everyone with their ever-dropped cups.

A Pennsylvania-based chain, Joe's Italian Ice has just one West Coast location, this one in Garden Grove from which the company has hawked its namesake product to the heated hoi polloi for two years. (They also offer such soda-shop standards as ice cream cones, sundaes and root beer floats.) It's a colorful place, both literally and metaphorically. Steel counters and stools are the only seating options, and they're outside. A red-white-and-green canopy provides shade. K-Earth-era oldies blast nonstop—you half-expect Frankie Valli and his Four Seasons to start harmonizing on the corner.

Joe's employees are all high schoolers, probably newcomers to the working life, which explains the infectious, genuine enthusiasm they display the minute you approach. Even before you've so much as glanced at the menu posted outside, one of the youngsters will skip out from his or her post with a complimentary serving of Italian ice—usually two. If you ask about the quality of another flavor, they don't even bother with a response; they amble back inside Joe's and return with another cardboard thimble.

The free samples do their job, as ordering at Joe's then becomes a matter of which of the more than 50 options will battle the summer tonight. The kids prepare the Italian ice daily using fresh fruit, and nature's bounty does not lose its God-bestowed sweetness in the transition from solid to ice, whether it be passion fruit, raspberry or a fleshy cantaloupe variety. And the Italian ice itself is how it should be: soft but not slushy, firm enough that you can turn your spoon upside-down and the ice doesn't drip off, taiga rather than tundra in its chill. You can order the Italian ice as is, but it's infinitely better as a Joe Latti: your choice of Italian ice now crowned with a Babel-esque tower of velvety vanilla ice cream, each frosty product retaining its charm until uniting inside your mouth to create the most pleasant brain freeze of your life.

And if it's raining, even better—that makes it a Joe's two-for-one day.

Joe's Italian Ice, 12302 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 750-1076.


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