Food & dining
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    What She’s having

    Toscanini’s ice cream is scooping at a new Kendall Square location while Central is renovated

    Toscanini’s micros — (from left) salty caramel, B3, and cocoa pudding — are served with and without hot fudge.
    Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
    Toscanini’s micros — (from left) salty caramel, B3, and cocoa pudding — are served with and without hot fudge.

    It was one of those raw days when you know a storm is coming and it’s hard to warm up, even though you’re inside. I had a head cold and a tickle in my throat. I knew what would make me feel better fast. I put a down vest under my warmest jacket, slipped on snow boots, and headed out.

    I needed ice cream and I made a beeline for the new Toscanini’s in Kendall Square. Faced with a long list of flavors that all looked tempting, I did the only thing I could think of — I ordered three little tastes: salty caramel, B3 (brown sugar, brown butter, brownies), and cocoa pudding. I put a spoon into each little cup and dipped the spoon into the first one, then another, then the third, and back to the first. In no time I felt so much better.

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    Salty caramel is sweeter than I imagined with a delightful little salt kick. B3 has big, satisfying chunks of brownies embedded in the creamy mixture; in the industry these bits are called “inclusions.” Cocoa pudding is dark and richly chocolate-y.


    There’s something about being cold and eating cold that is bred into New Englanders. I would blame this on Colonial ancestors who started the day with cold baked beans, but I’m not from baked-bean stock.

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    Toscanini’s little tastes (called micros), are smaller than small, a scant espresso cup that amounts to little more than a half-dozen spoonfuls. You can turn it into a sundae with fudge sauce if you’re into lily gilding, but I prefer just ice cream.

    I used to love stopping by Toscanini’s in Central Square, where it held court for more than 35 years, a place worn in with melted ice-cream love. It closed in January for elaborate building renovations and expects to open again in late spring or early summer. When the project is done, Toscanini’s will be a storefront in a boutique hotel, with Kendall operating as a second location and the production center.

    Toscanini’s co-owners Gus and Mimi Rancatore, who are siblings (their brother, Joe, owns Rancatore’s Ice Cream and Yogurt locations in Belmont, Newtonville, and Lexington) had already been on the look-out for a larger production facility; they got it all at the new First Street shop. You can see ice cream being made through a glass window. If you feel chilly, just imagine how they’re coping in that open freezer. Many have their hoodies up.

    As anyone who has ever lived in Boston knows, Bostonians eat a lot of ice cream. Mimi Rancatore says that customers don’t come into the shop during a storm, but the next day, when it’s typically sunny and everyone has shoveled out, lines start forming. The Central Square location was famous for its lines, which sometimes snaked out the store. On a busy Saturday, says Rancatore, Toscanini might have served 1,000 customers.


    Toscanini at Kendall is sleek and flooded with light. The shop was designed by Nick Winton of Anmahian Winton Architects of Cambridge (the firm did the Community Rowing Inc. boathouse in Brighton). Seating is at different levels, including a communal high-top near the glassed-in production area so you can sit, eat, and watch.

    Gus and Mimi Rancatore both worked at the original Steve’s Ice Cream in Davis Square, where they learned about homemade ice cream and inclusions.

    The best-selling Toscanini flavor is B3; it used to be burnt caramel. Mimi Rancatore’s own favorite is malted vanilla, and Gus’s is chocolate chip. “We like the classics,” says Mimi, though the shop is famous for inventing flavors and offers khulfee, miso nutella, Earl Grey, and peanut-butter honey.

    Here’s what I consider tempting, which I passed up in my trio of micros, but will order next time (one of the many next times): espresso, cookies & cream, butter almond, pistachio, Vienna Finger cookie,
    Belgian chocolate, sweet cream, and more. 159 First St.,
    Cambridge, 617-491-5877,

    Sheryl Julian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.