‘Chill out’ with gourmet ices at Stewart’s




Alongtime Kearny retailer is aiming to bring a taste of the Jersey Shore here, just a block in from the Passaic River waterfront.

For the first time, Stewart’s, 938 Passaic Ave., just south of the Rt. 7/Marine Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca Memorial Bridge, is adding “Boardwalk Desserts” to its classic menu of root beer, hot dogs, and lots more.

“I’m offering a line of ‘Carmine’s & Johnny’s’ 20 gourmet ices which are manufactured by JT Ices out of Brooklyn,” said longtime Stewart’s owner Mike Decato. “It’s a $1.99 for a small squeeze cup.”

The ices are named in memory of Johnny Decato, his late uncle, who took over the business from founder Walter Stahl, originally a tool and die maker from Union; and the late Carmine Decato, Mike’s dad who bought the place from his brother.

Decato’s personal mouthwatering favorites are honey graham cracker, cannoli, spumoni and black cherry cheesecake – “the cake has real cheese in it,” he promises.

“We’ve never had anything like this before in the 64 years the store has been here,” he said. The original Stewart’s franchise was established in 1924 in Mansfield, Ohio.

Up to now, Stewart’s fans have been treated to the normal roadside staples of franks, sandwich specialties (like kielbasa with pierogies, Italian sausage, Taylor ham, grilled cheese) and a value meal menu with a variety of beverages at reasonable prices.

But now, with Mother Nature turning up the heat, Stewart’s is rounding out its daily selections with traditional summertime fare.

There’s refreshing Italian ices with enough flavors designed to tickle the palate: vanilla black cherry, cappuccino chocolate, vanilla oreo, coconut, banana, banana fudge swirl, mango, peach, tropical passion, cherry, lemon, root beer, creamsicle, blue raspberry/sky blue and rainbow.

Not to mention “a full line of hard ice cream” – with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, chocolate chip cookie dough, butter pecan, chocolate chip mint, pistachio and rum raisin.

Prices for ices and ice cream range from $1.99 for a small size to $8.99 for a takeout quart.

Customers can also choose from among strawberry, hot fudge or caramel sundaes, cones, floats or a Stewart Blizzard (pick your candy and flavor of ice cream).

Still not satisfied? Desserts include: zeppoles, 16-ounce slushes, banana splits, waffle sandwiches and 22-ounce homemade milk shakes with hard ice cream and real milk.

Take your choice of side candies: M&Ms, Oreos, Reese’s Pieces and Heath Bars.

“My 83-year-old mother is baking pies and desserts for me,” Decato said.

The idea of serving up the savory sweets came to Decato when a retired chiropractor pal from Staten Island “introduced me to it at the end of last summer.”

Since his business had taken a slight downturn – which wasn’t helped by Superstorm Sandy doing some of its own damage to inventory – “I figured it needed a little oomph” to get it moving,” Decato said.

Now, Decato’s hoping to see a payoff in summer trade.

The 52-year-old merchant has learned the business, from the ground up, starting at age 12, washing down tables, cleaning the bathroom, waiting on customers. Seven years later, he had, essentially, taken over running the operation.

The owner says he’s put his life blood into making the place a welcome stop for families in the area, providing enclosed, comfortable outdoor table seating for up to 70 diners and counter seating for an additional 10 individuals.

“We also provide carhop service,” he said, for those who prefer munching in their vehicles. There’s on-site parking available for about 50 cars.

While most patrons are from the West Hudson/South Bergen area, Decato said he’s “heard of some people coming down from Rockaway [in Morris County] where there’s another franchise, because they find our food better.”

Decato said he remains committed to providing the best produce and service available so he can stay local. Originally from Cranford, he’s made North Arlington his residence since 1980 and he likes the area.

He acknowledges that the property could have value for a fast food-type outlet and he’s considered renting it out but that would only be as a last resort.

“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” Decato said. “I’m not married, got no hobbies. This place has been my life. It’s in my blood.”

– Ron Leir

The Observer Staff