Rita’s Italian Ice offers sweet ways to top off a summer day

06/05/2014 12:00 PM

06/05/2014 12:02 PM

Wichita has gelato, frozen custard and a whole lot of self-serve frozen yogurt.

It has soft serve ice cream, hand-scooped ice cream and a fleet of snow cone trucks that come out only in the summer.

Now there’s a new frozen treat in town: Italian ice, a sorbet-like invention that’s popular on the East Coast. The first Rita’s Italian Ice shop opened in March at 2929 N. Rock Road, next to Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The store is owned by the local Five Guys franchisees, who say they hope to eventually open more Rita’s near all their Five Guys stores.

Rita’s also is set up at the Wichita Riverfest this year, serving several of its frozen creations at the WaterWalk Food Court set up to the southeast of the Hyatt.

•  ON THE MENU: Rita’s has the ability to offer 65 flavors of Italian ice, but it usually has about 12 available each day. Many of them are fruit flavors, such as the popular cherry, banana and blue raspberry. There’s also cream ice, which has a more creamy texture, and it comes in several flavors, too, from birthday cake to cheesecake to coconut cream.

The shop also offers frozen custard in chocolate, vanilla, twist and sometimes flavors such as coffee. It also serves a variety of milkshakes.

Much of Rita’s menu consists of creative combinations of its ice and custard. Mistos, for example, feature customers’ choice of ice flavor and custard blended together. “Blendinis” are Rita’s version of Blizzards and mix yogurt, ice and chunks of candy.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Rita’s offers its frozen lemonades, made with lemonade-flavored ice mixed with another ice flavor of choice. And a freezer case also offers custard cakes and cookie custard sandwiches to go.

•  DON’T MISS DISHES: The friendly woman behind the counter offered us a chance to sample any flavor of Italian ice and cream ice she had before we ordered, and we tried several. The little girls I was with were drawn to the neon-colored blue raspberry, which was good but too sweet for my grown-up palate. I liked the chocolate peanut butter but wasn’t sure I could finish a whole cup of it. And the cotton candy, which was blue instead of pink like I expected, had a tart zing but a distinct cotton candy flavor.

My favorite turned out to be a seasonal special called watermelon chip. It was a beautiful pale pink color and had a wonderful sour watermelon flavor. To make it look like it was spiked with watermelon seeds, the ice was mixed with teeny tiny chocolate chips. Watermelon and chocolate are not flavors I would normally combine, but this worked well. The tiny chocolate nibbles offered a nice texture.

Overall, I preferred the fruit flavors of ice to the ones that were more artificially flavored, such as birthday cake. The Italian ice was $2.59 for a regular, $3.09 for a large and $5.25 for a quart. The regular was the perfect size for a kid.

I also wanted to try a gelati ($3.59 for a regular, $3.99 for a large), which layers frozen custard and Italian ice, but it wasn’t my favorite. At the recommendation of the person behind the counter, I ordered a gelati with root beer Italian ice and vanilla custard – a sort of root beer float. The custard was super dense and had a nice flavor, but the textures of the two different frozen treats didn’t work together for me, and the whole thing was too sweet. Next time, I’d try it blended in a Misto.

We also ordered a strawberry shake ($3.99), and it was thick with a fresh strawberry flavor and was topped with a generous amount of whipped cream in a cup with a domed lid. Shakes also come in flavors such as chocolate-covered strawberry, Fruity Pebbles, peanut butter, caramel, cookies and cream.

Rita’s also has sugar-free ice options as well as a light vanilla custard. Fans can find out which flavors are available each day by visiting www.ritaswichita.com.

•  AMBIENCE: The shop is small, brightly painted and has a mix of tall and short tables. Its location next door to Five Guys can make for a fun night out with the kids. We started with cheeseburgers and a shared order of fries before our Rita’s visit.
•  PRICE RANGE: Reasonable and less expensive than many frozen options in town. We got treats for five for less than $17. The Italian ice is particularly inexpensive at $2.59 for a regular. Shakes are $3.99. Custard by itself is $3.09 for a regular cone or $3.69 for a large cone. Blendinis are $3.99 to $4.49.
•  SERVICE: The people behind the counter were friendly, engaged and patient with the kids.

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