As a native Philadelphian, I grew up eating Water Ice.
And yes, as a native Philadelphian, I do call it "wudderice."
For those not familiar with water ice, in consistency, it's a bit like a more solidified and frozen version of a slurpee. As such, it's a member of the all-important "sweet and cold" food group, which is not yet considered one of the major food groups by everybody, but it is by me.
Readers of this blog know that I love ice cream, and I love sorbet as well. But a water ice isn't really much like sorbet, or granita for that matter. In sorbets and granitas, you're really trying to get at the essence of the fruit.
Water ice is always fruit flavors (or almost always, anyways). But it's not the all-natural, essence of the fruit treat that sorbets and granitas are. With water ice, you have to be willing to embrace the artificiality. Those colors sure aren't natural. And not all flavors work. The sour cherry that I ordered once didn't. But then, water ice isn't really about having a wide variety of flavors, for me. It's about having a few flavors and doing them right. And by 'a few,' I really mean two: lemon and cherry. Although if you want to only have lemon, that's fine, too.
Most people who pay attention to this stuff consider John's Water Ice, in Bella Vista, the best in the city, and it only has four flavors: Lemon, Cherry, Pineapple (which I tasted, it's pretty good) and, for some reason, chocolate. That said, I'm not sure that I think that John's is All That. Two factors here: first, John's doesn't have the ice chunks that plague many water ice places. But the flip side of that is that it's a little liquidy. I don't like the ice chunks, but I'm willing to accept them as the cost of a water ice that's more solid, less liquidy. Second: most of the water ices I've had are pretty similar in quality. So I don't see it as worth it to go all the way across town to go to a particular water ice place. I'm happy with the ones that are nearby.
When should you eat water ice? Any time is good, but – this won't come as a shocker to anyone – it is best when you're hot. It's especially good when you've been exercising. Towards the end of a long bike ride, perhaps, stopping and having a water ice and then feeling nice and cool on the last few miles home... isn't that what summer's all about?
photo from slashfood.com