New York City's Popsicle Renaissance


The Infamous Gdub/flickr

Long ago, when I was one of five kids chasing Spaldeens around Staten Island, a twin popsicle from the Good Humor truck cost five cents. An adult could crack the fruit-flavored ice and divide in half. This called for some parental decision-making, but at its worst my father or my mother could spend 15 cents and make all of us happy. That humblest of treats has been reincarnated, first by Mexicans and now by urban artisans.

Paleta means little shovel or trowel in Spanish, and paleterias can be found selling them in any large Mexican neighborhood, first in Texas and California and now almost everywhere, including Locopops in North Carolina and Las Paletas in Nashville. And on a recent trip to New York City, I dashed around sampling new artisanal popsicles that cost from $3.50 to $5.00. I was lucky enough to be there during a late spring heat wave when the temperature neared 90 F. Or I was lucky enough to be sampling popsicles when the temperature neared 90.

People's Pops, co-owned by Atlantic Food Channel contributor Nathalie Jordi, sells two wonderful summer products. It began as a local food initiative, intended to use and highlight native fruits. The shop is located deep within the Chelsea Market on Manhattan's suddenly transformed West Side. The centerpiece of the bar at People's Pops is a great, clear, almost Freudian chunk of ice that the barista scrapes to make a cup of shaved ice, familiar to hot-weather travelers throughout the world.

New Yorkers already eat smooth Italian water ices, once a nickel a cup, a product that is unavailable north of New Haven. In the rest of the Northeast people eat slush, also associated with Italian neighborhoods. Snow cones are available everywhere. I'd say that shaved ice is on a continuum with these products and a classic granita from Italy.

The big block of ice prompts many musings and reactions, most surprising. The display suggests an art object. Juice left over from the manufacture of popsicles is poured over the shaved ice. I'm not sure whether I liked the popsicles more than the shaved ice or vice versa. The popsicles are very distinctive and invitingly chewy.

Another artisan shop is the East Village's Popbar, conveniently next to Grom, a northern Italian gelato concept store with another shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Popbar is a branch of Milan's Stick House, and it is a completely thought-out "concept" that is ready to be rolled out across the nation, with units that will be found in better urban neighborhoods and good malls. They use fruit, yogurt, and even cream to make gelato on a stick, what people in the ice cream industry call ice cream novelties.

The store is beautiful and so is the product. The display of ready to lick popsicles reminds me of votive candles in a church, glowing in banked rows. Popbar has the best variety of melted chocolates coatings of any ice cream store of any type. There is dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, as well as pistachio nuts.

New Yorkers are prepared for July.