The calendar waits until June 21, but in Sunset Park, summer actually begins in late March.
That’s when Fabio and Priscilla Fernandez reopen their beloved Fourth Avenue shop, Helado de Coco and Tropical Ices, after six months on hiatus.
“I’ve been eating their ices for years — and they’re one of the oldest businesses around here,” said Aguilar Nelson, a regular, who visits almost every day with his 14-year-old son, David.
Like the Aguilars, many customers make a routine of stopping at Helado de Coco, which is near 50th Street.
“I come back every year, sometimes two or three times a week,” says Sunset Park resident Vilma Villatoro, whose typical order includes pineapple, guava and mango ices, each paired with coconut.
“You can’t leave out the coconut,” she says. “It’s the best.”
Plenty of other shops offer traditional ice cream and water-based Italian ices, but the milk-based confections that the Fernandezes have crafted for more than 20 years stake out their own territory somewhere in between.
The best-selling flavor, coconut, has the fresh, light flavor of coconut milk without the cloying sweetness or heavy mouthfeel of traditional ice cream. Bits of shredded coconut add contrast to the otherwise smooth texture. At least 60 tubs of coconut ice are in the freezer at any given time, and Fabio makes 12-15 buckets a day of that flavor alone.
The shop offers two dozen other flavors, as well, making it tough to pick just one (good thing you don’t have to; $1.75 buys a small cup with two flavors, and a $3 cup comes with three flavors).
There are standards like blueberry, cherry, and lemon, as well as exotic fruits like soursop and mamey. Each year, the Fernandezes introduce two new flavors or bring back old favorites. This season’s are papaya and crunchy almond.
The anticipation of discovering the new flavors for the year is another element of the tradition that inspires the shop’s loyal following.
“When we open the store in March, it could be snowing out, but when people see our gate up, they start banging on the door,” Priscilla Fernandez said. “When they see us, they know summer is on its way.”
Helado de Coco and Tropical Ices [4918 Fourth Ave., between 49th and 50th streets in Sunset Park, (718) 492-8644].