National News

A Bayside Italian Ice, Bursting With (80) Flavors

Posted June 23, 2018 3:58 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Marty Lieberman said he’s living the dream being semiretired. Although he clocks in a few hours a week working as an ad salesman for The Queens Tribune, his daily schedule largely consists of a 12-mile bike ride across Queens from his home in Fresh Meadows to Little Bay Park.

Lieberman, 78, who estimates that he’s cycled over 8,000 miles, admits exercise and fresh air are not his only incentives to get out every day: He always stops by Pesso’s Ices & Ice Cream in Bayside, at 35th Avenue and 204th Street, on his way home.

“I paid for braces, paid for a house and commuted into Manhattan every day for over 45 years,” the former art director said, as he polished off his near-daily treat of fudge brownie Italian ice. “Now I do this.”

Gidon Pesso, the owner, said that Lieberman, who’s been a regular for about 10 years, doesn’t have to order anymore. Employees start scooping when they see him parking his bike.

“We usually have about 80 flavors a day, but Marty knows what he wants,” said Pesso, 60, with a laugh.

In 2004, Pesso’s chiropractor suggested that he might want to consider retiring from his career as a house painter. So, when he was in his 40s, he switched professions, taking over a friend’s Italian ice business, Crispino’s, and introducing his own lineup of homemade frozen treats the following year. Pesso, it turned out, had a Takashi Murakami-like eye for color; on any given day his display case looked like a piece of pop art. Many locals took notice, and soon became regulars.

On any given day, a large onscreen menu in the store lists about 80 ice, ice cream and gelato offerings (the shop has a repertory of 200), with new options outlined in red, said Aylon Pesso, Pesso’s youngest son, who now works there full time and often comes up with new flavors.

“I’ll have a dream, or see something in the grocery store, and I’ll text my dad and we’ll start mixing the ingredients in the back of the store right away,” Aylon Pesso, 27, said. Recent inventions include butterbeer ice cream, based on the drink from the Harry Potter book series, roasted marshmallow ice cream, Swedish Fish ice, and a salted butter caramel gelato. Some customers are hooked on Dole Whip, a pineapple soft serve, which was once only available at Disney theme parks, he added.

Customers have also chimed in with their suggestions, including a sour apple ice and a red bean ice cream.

“We get bored with the flavors, so we’re always willing to try something new,” Aylon Pesso said.

Drexel Harris of Hollis, Queens, said he ventured into Pesso’s about 10 years ago to settle a debate among friends about the best Italian ices in the city. The names of famous local purveyors, and even cart locations, came up.

“Once we got to Pesso’s though, that argument was put to bed,” said Harris, 32, a contracts compliance director at a nonprofit.

Even if it’s freezing outside (the store is open year-round), he said that if he’s driving by and doesn’t see a line, he’ll pop in for an ice, likely a combo of two flavors. His favorites include an amalgamation of raspberry and limoncello or peach and watermelon.

Lieberman, who admitted that he can be occasionally persuaded to veer from his favorite flavor and go for a cappuccino ice, described his daily Pesso’s visits as “heavenly.”

“You’ll laugh if you look at my monthly bank statement,” he said. “It’s all Pesso’s, Pesso’s, Pesso’s. And then a charge from the supermarket.”