Ron Covitz began making his own ice cream just to help boost his bowling alley's image. But his frozen treats went on to conquer the neighborhood - and now the world.
"How many places do you know that are ranked 10 best in the world?" Covitz asked while three people stood in line for ice cream on a 19-degree December night.
The honor apparently hasn't sunk in yet, as Ron's Gourmet Ice Cream was the third-best ice cream parlor in National Geographic's "The Ten Best of Everything, The Ultimate Guide for Travelers," written by father and son Nathaniel and Andrew Lande. Covitz didn't get the scoop on the distinction until late last month, when his brother read about it in North Carolina.
"With selections, we depend upon research, first-hand experience, correspondents to advise and evaluate to our standard," Nathaniel Lande wrote in an e-mail from London last week. "Often terrific places, services, and products come to our attention. As journalists, we are not surprised by discovery."
Ron's trailed places in Ohio and California, and just nipped Berthillon of Paris. No. 8 was Crescent Ridge Dairy in Sharon, a testament to Massachusetts' refined taste in ice cream.
The Landes weren't the first to rave about the cold and creamy flavors served regularly inside the nondescript building in Hyde Park's Cleary Square. Covitz sent a few gallons of his confectionary masterpieces to Hillary Clinton in 1997 when she was in Boston promoting healthcare legislation. She later sent staffers to his shop for some pints of Kahlua chip and brownie nut.
Former Governor William Weld is known to stop in for a sundae, "and Tom's a regular customer," Covitz said, referring to the mayor of Boston. The Phantom Gourmet has sent kudos to Covitz, and the shop twice made Boston magazine's Best of Boston list.
Critics, politicians, and the folks at National Geographic are figuring out what Roslindale's Mark Cuqua, 42, has known for decades.
"I've been coming here since I was what, 10 or 11," Cuqua said, while working on an ice cream sundae and renting bowling shoes for his wife, Sylvia, their two children, and his daughter's friend for a few Saturday night strings of candlepin. "The Irish coffee is delicious and the prices are very reasonable," Sylvia Cuqua said.
Twentieth Century Bowling has always occupied the top floor, at first above a pool hall that Covitz described as "both famous and infamous." He began to make changes after taking the property over from his mother in 1976.
"The next thing I knew, we went from a place where toughies hung out to a place where families went over and over again," he said. "We are a bowling alley that's learned how to survive."
Much of that survival is thanks to the ice cream Covitz and his family have made since the 1970s. He sold soft-serve until Hood sent the wrong mix for the machine. When a Hood vice president came by to correct the error, "He said, 'Ron, the wave of the future would be if you started to make your own hard ice cream.' "
Covitz enrolled in ice cream school, where he learned to control the amount of air pumped into the small-batch freezer, and to use top-quality ingredients, he said. "Only the good stuff."
Wife Pat makes the ice cream cakes, working alongside their children, Jay, 27, and Julie, 25.
"After 10 years of working my head off and studying everything," Covitz said, "I got it right."