How a Beloved Cambridge Ice Cream Flavor Came to Be

For Toscanini’s oh-so-popular B3, the name came first.

A scoop of an off-white ice cream with brownie chunks in a paper cup, with a white plastic spoon.

A scoop of B3 ice cream at Toscanini’s. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Brown butter, brown sugar, and brownies: It’s a sweet-but-not-too-sweet, subtly chocolate, comforting ice cream flavor. Known as B3, it’s the top pick at Toscanini’s, the Cambridge scoop shop that has been wowing crowds since 1981 (and winning accolades from us and other local—and national—press along the way). When you taste it, it feels like the three ingredients were always meant to complement one other; the flavor is perfectly logical, but a little stroke of genius. Turns out it was created in a way most culinary experts would deem backwards: The name came first.

We included B3 in “Death to Chocolate,” a guide to some of the tastiest chocolate desserts in Greater Boston, appearing in our February 2023 print issue. While its chocolate content is a little more understated than, say, the luscious chocolate mousse at Zuzu’s Petals or the fan-favorite chocolate layer cake at Grill 23, B3 is an outstanding flavor that any chocolate lover should try. Also delightful, as we learned working on the guide, is the backstory of how its name came to be.

Toscanini’s owner Gus Rancatore, chief ice cream maker Kevin Rafferty, and “perhaps two more pretty good ice cream makers,” were brainstorming new flavor ideas one day, as Rancatore tells it. “I’ve long felt that names are important, so we were working backwards, trying to conjure a flavor that fit a name.”

The team was stuck on C-4, “the plastic explosive that all boys are familiar with because it appears in almost every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie,” says Rancatore. Chocolate chocolate chip cashew, cinnamon chewy cookies, something with coconut…nothing alliterative was gelling. “Finally we gave up on a flavor with four ingredients that began with the letter C and switched to B3, which sounds like a vitamin or a military airplane.” Rafferty, to his credit, suggested the now-iconic combo.

“Some years later I was doing a demo for a program Harvard ran for mid-career military personnel, and one of them asked why B3 was called B3,” says Rancatore. “I guessed that the reaction would be some combination of exasperation and impatience. It was. These men and women did not get to where they were by focusing on props in Sylvester Stallone movies.”

So, the origin may be unconventional, but the flavor is a smash hit, having taken the throne a few years back from the previous customer favorite, burnt caramel, says Rancatore. (Incidentally, Toscanini’s burnt caramel has an unexpected origin, too: It was a mistake. Luckily neighbor Bruce Frankel, a chef whose restaurant, 798 Main, was nearby, walked in as the team bemoaned some caramel they had let burn while distracted by conversation. “Just call it burnt caramel,” Frankel said, according to Rancatore. “It’s a genuine Spanish flavor.”)

Today, both flavors continue to be readily available among Toscanini’s many rotating offerings. One might also find options like halvah, cocoa pudding, kulfi, or earl grey ice cream on any given day, as well as ice cream cakes. Give it all a try at Toscanini’s two locations—one in Central Square (which opened in 2022 at its original 1981 location, following several years of redevelopment at the site) and one on the eastern edge of Kendall Square, which opened in 2018 when the original closed for construction.

899 Main St., Central Square, Cambridge, 857-777-7899, and 159 First St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-491-5877,