I know it’s not polite to stare, but I couldn’t help myself.
Before me sat a sugar cone topped with homemade mint chip ice cream, a dollop of delicately torched, homemade marshmallow sauce and a pinch of rainbow sprinkles. Certainly, it was a treat for the eye, but the explosion of natural mint would transfix my taste buds as well.
It’s hard to anticipate anything but scrumptiousness from Chef Nick Di Bona, a former winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” who is also the owner of Madison Kitchen in Larchmont and creator of Bona Bona, a collection of restaurant-crafted ice creams.
Di Bona found that the key to guaranteeing great taste is to create ice cream from scratch — syrup toppings included — and let the flavors speak for themselves.
“The more homemade, the better it is,” Di Bona says. “We have good technique, we use good ingredients and everything is homemade.”
The menu covers the dessert basics — waffle sundaes, brownie sundaes, milkshakes, cones and bread pudding. But the flavors — which include Nutella S’mores, Salted Caramel, Rainbow Cookie, Brownies and Cream, Guava and Coconut Sorbet — are what make the experience delectably memorable.
“I like to keep it simple,” Di Bona says. “As sophisticated as most people’s palates could be, at the end of the day, they kind of just want something simple. And if you could hit more people with an idea, it’s usually the way to go.”
Di Bona strives to create desserts that appeal to all ages. So aside from fine-tuning each flavor, he offers treats that are sexy to look at and appropriately portioned.
During my visit, I had the pleasure of sampling the Holy Cannoli milkshake, a heavenly blend of cannoli ice cream topped with homemade whipped cream — referred to as “whip’d by” Bona Bona — and rimmed with rich vanilla frosting, crushed pistachios and mini chocolate chips. Before the creamy beverage made its way to the table, I reminisced on the overwhelmingly large strawberry milkshakes that I used to order at the local diner as a kid. Much to my relief, Di Bona’s milkshake was served in a tall, slender glass that was perfect to share — and even better to sip solo.
“It’s a great way to end your meal on a high note,” he says.
(And it was certainly date-night approved, at least in my book.)
Like many great ventures, Di Bona’s ice cream business was unplanned.
Shortly after the opening of Madison Kitchen in September 2013 — a chic New American-style restaurant and lounge offering globally inspired tapas plates — The New York Times published a restaurant review that suggested the ice cream was so delicious, Di Bona should consider selling pints.
And the young chef and entrepreneur took that idea — and ran with it.
Di Bona, a native of Yorktown, began visiting the local farmers market just blocks away from Madison Kitchen, where he bought many of his ingredients and started selling pints using an ice cream cart. This season, the 2-year-old business has grown to include an ice cream truck — which is available for private parties — that visits various Brooklyn locations on weekends, as well as Cortlandt’s Hemlock Hill Farm on Fridays. The ice cream is also offered at the Fortina family of restaurants, with locations in Rye, Armonk and Stamford.
But in the near future, Di Bona aspires to move Bona Bona out of Madison Kitchen and open a separate location dedicated exclusively to desserts.
“It would be Mr. Softee meets brewery,” he says. “It could be our Bona Bona ice cream trucks meet creamery.”
And he is looking to expand the truck’s weekly route to include locations in Fairfield County.
“We’re working hard on getting the ice cream on a level where it could really sustain itself,” he says.
WAG is certainly looking forward to revisiting Bona Bona in the near future — and sampling the new desserts, of course.