We All Scream for Toscanini’s

People in Boston eat a lot of ice cream—just ask Gus Rancatore, longtime purveyor of these two beloved Cambridge scoop shops.

Gus Rancatore behind the counter of his Central Square scoop shop. / Photograph by Pat Piasecki.



The week before Gus Rancatore opened the doors to his ice cream shop, Toscanini’s, in Central Square, he stood on the sidewalk just up Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, surveying the landscape. It was 1981, a time in Boston when Rancatore says there were a “comical number of ice cream stores,” from the hallowed Bailey’s downtown and iconic Steve’s in Davis Square to the small local chain Brigham’s. That day in Cambridge, it was winter—and snowing. “I looked to my left, and I looked to my right, and people were everywhere eating ice cream cones,” Rancatore remembers. “I thought to myself, This will probably work out.”

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A few days later, Toscanini’s debuted in what Rancatore described as an “industrial zone,” with buildings either half-abandoned or churning out Tootsie Rolls and Necco Wafers, but close to the college students of Harvard and MIT. Needless to say, Rancatore’s prediction was right: Toscanini’s did work out, largely because “people in Boston eat a lot of ice cream,” he says. Of course, it was more than just that: Thanks to Rancatore’s vision—and some choice flavors, including the signature B3 (brown butter, brown sugar, brownie)—Toscanini’s remains one of the city’s most beloved ice cream joints with two Cambridge locations and 16 Best of Boston awards under its belt.

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

Another reason for the shop’s enduring popularity? Its ability to adapt to the times. As Rancatore says, the kinds of ice cream flavors Bostonians eat have changed dramatically over the past four decades. “The mix of customers has become a lot more international, and younger people are more willing to eat across traditional boundaries,” Rancatore says. At Toscanini’s, that translates to peanut butter-miso, halvah, and matcha ice cream.

The biggest and most dramatic change since the ’80s, though, has been in how we purchase and consume our frozen treats. Once a gathering spot, Toscanini’s is now a place where most people get in and get out quickly with a pint. Often, they order it online. “It’s a need for convenience,” Rancatore says. As if on cue, he’s summoned in the middle of our Thursday-afternoon phone call by one of his employees, alerting him of a surprise midday rush of orders from DoorDash.

Photograph by Pat Piasecki.

That being said, people do still come in and take a seat—more often than not for the nostalgia. “This is where they went on their first date, or when they got accepted into graduate school,” Rancantore says. In other words, the Toscanini’s of yesteryear is still alive and well, despite—or thanks to—some modern advances.

899 Main St., Cambridge; 159 First St., Cambridge, tosci.com

First published in the print edition of the July 2024 issue as part of the Best of Boston 50: Dining package.

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