Category Archives: Ice Cream

Villa Tronco: Historic Italian (and Oldest) Restaurant in South Carolina

My new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, debunks myths about Italian food in the United States. One of those myths is that returning GIs from World War II brought pizza back from Italy to America and that’s how pizza became popular in America. DEBUNKED. Pizza was already here–brought by the Italian immigrants of 100 years ago who opened Italian restaurants around the country wherever they settled. Villa Tronco is one such restaurant, opened in 1940, which predates WWII, and it claims to have introduced pizza to South Carolina. (It is also the oldest operating restaurant in South Carolina.)

The family originates from Naples and Sicily, according to owner Joe Roche. The Carnaggio family first moved to Columbia in 1910 and opened a fruit store. From Philadelphia, James Tronco was stationed nearby during World War I. He met the daughter, Sadie, and they married, eventually opening what would later become Villa Tronco.

Current owner and granddaughter of the original owner, Carmella Roche, details the racial discrimination her grandparents endured in an article in the Cola Daily, such as having to sit at the back of the bus and having to use non-white bathrooms. (In my book, I also discuss racial discrimination that Italians endured in the United States.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining there and meeting one of the owners. Villa Tronco is located in a historic firehouse in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

And you can still see the exposed brick in one of the dining rooms.

The menu details the history of the restaurant.

Of course, while visiting I ordered the pizza. The pizza here is a square pie cut into square slices. It is a thin crust pie with a crunch. The tomato sauce is fresh and tomatoey–not herby. There’s a good amount of cheese.

For dinner, I ordered one of the specials, a pork with creamy polenta dish. I really enjoyed this dish. The pork was cooked perfectly, through but not dry, and the creamy polenta was a delicious accompaniment.

My friend got the eggplant parmigiana and enjoyed it.

For dessert, we got Carmella’s famous cheesecake. It is excellent.

And a generous serving of some tricolored spumoni ice cream. Yum!

–Dina Di Maio

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Haagen-Dazs Free Cone Day May 13

Haagen-Dazs is giving away a free cone on Free Cone Day May 13 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Click here to check for participating shops.

Sweet Potato Ice Cream

For Thanksgiving dessert, we always have the usual suspect pies–pecan, pumpkin, apple and sweet potato.  This year, I wanted something different, so I made ice cream.  I made a pumpkin pie ice cream following this Cuisinart pumpkin pie ice cream recipe.  In addition, I was going to make a sweet potato pie with my North Carolina sweet potatoes but opted to make sweet potato ice cream.  Now, this recipe made a more liquidy ice cream, so for the sweet potato ice cream, I put less whole milk.  Also, the sweet potato had a thicker consistency than the pumpkin puree, so it also helped to thicken the ice cream.  This ice cream has a starchy mouthfeel similar to taro ice cream, so if you like that, you will like this.  I did!

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Sweet Potato Ice Cream

2 large sweet potatoes, mashed

1 cup whole milk

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Wash and peel potatoes.  Prick potatoes with a fork and microwave for 20 minutes.  In the bowl of a mixer, mash potatoes.  Then add milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and cream.  Mix well and add to ice cream freezer.  Follow ice cream freezer directions.  It took about 30 minutes of churning.

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Dinner: Delmonico’s

delmonicos

I have wanted to dine at Delmonico’s for a very long time, and I can’t believe it took me this long!  It is such a huge part of New York history and also culinary history, as it set restaurant standards and created time-tested dishes.

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The original Delmonico’s opened in 1827 and had many locations and different owners since then.  It also involves a bit of trademark law.  The Delmonico family tried to keep rights in their last name, but a court ruled that when their last restaurant closed in 1923, the name went into the public domain.  So there were other owners who opened restaurants with the name Delmonico’s.  While the current restaurant isn’t in the lineage of the original restaurant, it serves the dishes Delmonico’s is famous for.

delmonicos table

Delmonico’s is historically famous for its grandiose dinners like those for Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.  It is also famous for being the first restaurant to let diners order a la carte.  It originated some dishes that have become classics like the Delmonico steak, Delmonico potatoes, Lobster Newburg, baked Alaska, chicken a la king, eggs benedict and Manhattan clam chowder.

On the night of my visit, CNN was there with a camera crew filming about the history of the restaurant and its famous baked Alaska.

As it is white truffle season, there was a white truffle special on the menu–lobster risotto with white truffles.  The appetizer version was $45.  I decided to splurge since I can’t recall having eaten white truffles before.

white truffles

My friend ordered the bacon appetizer that came with octopus.  I tasted it too, and it was delicious.

delmonico bacon

For my entree, I was deciding between lobster Newburg and Delmonico steak, and I opted for the famous steak.  Boy, am I glad I did.  You can’t tell from this picture, but this steak was cooked to perfection, slightly crispy char on the outside and pink on the inside.

delmonico steak

The 40-day aged bone-in rib eye was even better, if that can be.  This was an exceptional steak.

delmonicos steak

For sides, we got creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.  Both were very good.  In fact, I think the creamed spinach is my favorite of all the steakhouses I’ve been to in the city.

delmonicos creamed spinach

delmonicos mashed potatoes

Since I saw the baked Alaska being showcased for the CNN program,  I knew I had to try one.  Generally, I’m not a meringue person, but of course, I love ice cream.  I didn’t know what to expect, but the meringue wound up being my favorite part.  The meringue has this light crispiness to it

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but it’s soft and frothy on the inside.  I loved it.  I could eat that alone.  But with ice cream and a nice crust, it was the perfect dessert.

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Two for Tuesday: Ice Cream

I’m going to do a Sweets Week, since we kicked off the week with Italian bakeries. So this week’s Two for Tuesday is ice cream. I can’t believe I haven’t written about my favorite ice cream shop yet. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has the creamiest, yummiest ice cream in NYC. They also have a wide variety of standard American flavors like strawberry cheesecake and Oreo, but my favorites are the Asian flavors like ginger, black sesame, red bean, taro, lychee, pandan and even durian!

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In the picture above, I have my favorite flavor on the bottom, almond cookie, followed by taro and red bean.  Yum!  While Chinatown ice cream is a classic, having been in NYC for 28 years, there are always new ice cream places popping up.

Davey’s Ice Cream is a new ice cream shop in the East Village.  A very cute shop, Davey’s has a limited menu of ice cream, but the staff is super friendly and very enthusiastic about the ice cream.  I got vanilla and sweet corn.  I was hoping it would be more creamy than it was, but the vanilla had a very pure vanilla flavor.  I am also a fan of corn ice cream, and I guess I was expecting it to be more like the corn flavor at Sundaes and Cones, a flavor I love.  However, it tasted more like the buttered popcorn jellybean from Jelly Belly, with caramel swirls.

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Brooklyn Flea’s Ice Cream Bonanza

Today was a gorgeous day to be out and about, so I went to the Brooklyn Flea’s Ice Cream Bonanza in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I sampled ice cream from many vendors:  honey lavender from Luca & Bosco, salted caramel from Fort Grace, Thai from Odd Fellows, mole from La Newyorkina, banana whama and coconut key lime from Phin & Phebes, Old Bay corn from The Bent Spoon and sweet as honey and ooey gooey butter cake from Ample Hills.  My favorite was the ooey gooey butter cake from Ample Hills.  This was seriously delicious ice cream!

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Dinner: Keens Steakhouse

Things are great at Keens Steakhouse.  It won a James Beard “America’s Classics” award this year, and since then, business has really been booming.  Not that the 128-year-old steakhouse needed an award–it’s obviously doing something right.  And that’s steak…atmosphere…service…and dessert.

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Speaking of atmosphere, the first thing(s) you notice when you step down the steps, besides the dark wood, is/are the thousands of pipes, yes, pipes, hanging all over the ceiling.

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The history is that travelers would check their pipe in at their favorite inn because the pipes were too fragile to be carried.  They are hard clay churchwarden pipes, and famous names like Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt and Albert Einstein had pipes at Keens.  Right by the door, there’s a case, including an autographed pipe from Michael Jackson and other present-day celebrities.

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I didn’t know about this history before eating at Keens, so it was an interesting, fun history to learn.

My dinner at Keens was a belated birthday dinner with a friend.  I was instantly pleased that along with a bread basket and butter, we got veggies and spinach dip for a somewhat clean-eating snack.  (Hey, we needed some celery before this meal.)

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For appetizers, we got littleneck clams on the half shell.

clams

Tomatoes and onion salad with blue stilton cheese.  I like that there was just a sprinkling of cheese on the tomatoes and onion.  Just the right amount of flavor.

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Thick-cut smoked bacon.  My friend ordered this.  I’m not a bacon fan, but I decided to take a taste.  Oh wow, this was so smoky and flavorful.  This is definitely not your average bacon of bacon and eggs….

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Keens is known for its mutton chop, but I wanted steak.  I know I’m not a big steak eater, but lately, I’ve been enjoying it.  So I got the steamed Maine lobster and filet mignon.  The lobster was perfect and delicious.  The filet mignon was cooked to my liking.  It was very good–not as tender as the one I recently had at the Old Homestead, but still excellent.

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My friend got the prime rib of beef, king’s cut.

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For sides, we got mashed Yukon gold potatoes and creamed spinach.  I like mashed potatoes without garlic, so I was very happy with these.  I also liked the creamed spinach best of all I’ve had recently.

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We were pretty full after this meal, but our waiter talked us into a dessert.  Yes, the butterscotch sundae, with housemade butterscotch sauce made with real scotch.  They brought it with a birthday candle for me.

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OK, I usually find steakhouse desserts boring, like the standard cheesecake, chocolate cake, key lime pie…but this sundae takes the cake…er, ice cream.

This butterscotch sauce was sooooo good, we both want to come back and get our own.  I wanted to get a close-up so you could see it better.

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Yes, there is a reason Keens has been in business for more than a century, and that is because it serves classic food that is delicious.