At about five to one on a 90-degree afternoon, a group of kids—late middle-school, early high-school—approached the front door to Eddie's Sweet Shop in Forest Hills, Queens and sat down in the doorway. The old-school ice cream parlor wasn't set to open for a few minutes, but one of the girls, firmly planted on the ground and blocking the exit, said, "I'm not going anywhere until Eddie's opens."
When the doors did open, they filed into a room from a different era. A bar runs along one wall of Eddie's, lined with stools that date back to the opening of the first ice cream shop to occupy the space nearly 100 years ago. The tiled floors, wooden booths, mirrored bar, enormous candy display, and tin ceiling will certainly evoke feelings of nostalgia. But flavor nostalgia trumps decor; it's the house-made ice cream, served in delirium-inducing forms—like monster banana split sundaes smothered in whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and every other decadent topping you can think of—that are the main draw.
Vito Citrano is the owner of Eddie's, and he makes everything "that doesn't grow on a tree"—ice cream, syrups, toppings—in the Eddie's basement, just as he and his father, Giuseppe, have done since Giuseppe bought the place in 1968.
Now, he gets the occasional help from his kids. But since Giuseppe took ownership, not much has changed other than the first names of his clientele, who now Instagram the hell out of Eddie's supremely photogenic towering ice cream creations, malts, shakes, and ice cream sodas.
"My father used to be in here saying, 'I remember you when you were a kid; now, you're bringing your kid,'" Vito Citrano says. "Guess what? That's me now. I've been here long enough that I'm seeing them growing up and having their own children. We've seen like four generations. We have customers who have watched me grow up, too."
Most of Eddie's 18-or-so flavors—rum raisin, coffee chip, and, currently, summer specials of blueberry and peach, to name a few—have been there for decades, and the formulas haven't changed. Longtime customers would know if they had.
But these days, most of the recipes and the equipment in Eddie's are older than the customers. The refrigerator, an original Frigidaire that Vito says was one of the first models of electric refrigerators on the market, is about 80-years-old. Machines used for mixing ice cream sodas have a patina to them. Vito pulls out old chrome plates, scratched by God knows how many spoons scraping up every last dribble of melted ice cream and marshmallow, that look like they could have come from Paul Revere's workshop.
"Some are about 80-years-old. If you see stainless steel, it's a newer thing, so that might be [from the] 50s, 60s. That's what I'm talking about newer here—newer here is 50s or 60s," Citrano says. "The new ones now…" he says of today's market offerings, "They won't even last a week here."
Finding quality ingredients has become more challenging over the years, too. As the quality of raisins went down, Vito started baking his own for the rum raisin. Another flavor, pistachio pineapple, is currently off the menu because he can't find ingredients that are up to snuff.
"All the good suppliers got bought out by bigger companies, and the quality just isn't there. The Internet has helped me so much to find the ingredients," Vito says.
And Vito whips them into decadent ice cream—rich and thick, with nuanced flavors that seem to goad you into eating everything on the plate. When drenched in whipped cream, melted marshmallow, chocolate fudge, and caramel, and topped with nuts, sprinkles, and a cherry, it's the Platonic ideal of a sundae. I imagine it tastes something like Kevin McCallister's sundae at The Plaza in Home Alone 2.
Very rarely is anything new added to the menu, but one special, The Ultimate American, is visiting the menu one day over Fourth of July weekend (not one Independence Day proper, a Monday, when Eddie's will be closed). In a 27-ounce cup, Vito mixes strawberry soda and blueberry, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, then tops it with red, white and blue whipped cream for five bucks, with proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Foundation.
As temperatures climb, Eddie's will without a doubt be busy. While some customers may have had parents and grandparents who frequented the shop, others are first-timers drawn from other boroughs by the allure of a monster sundae. It's worth the train ride and the walk through Forest Hills' architecturally significant neighborhoods, where you might pass a Ramones mural or two. On a hot summer day, it's hard to imagine a better place to be.