“Oooooh, fancy,” said my youngest as I pulled a strawberry-orange juice popsicle from its mold. (Up until that moment, her pops had all been single-flavor.) Her comment reminded me of something I’d heard about gourmet popsicles — an idea which, for some reason, tickled my fancy more than gourmet cupcakes.
“I enjoy making people happy with a nostalgic treat like a frozen popsicle,” says Viva Pops owner Lisa Altmann (619-795-1080, ilovevivapops.com). “I just spin it a bit. You can put anything yummy on a stick; things like gazpacho, lemon curd, and goat cheese. The sky is the limit.” She started selling her pops from a cart at the Little Italy Mercato five years ago. She’s still there today, but she also has her storefront on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, and a presence in Whole Foods, Puesto, Caxoa Chocolates, the Sno-Cal Shaved Ice truck, and Lefty’s Pizza. She brings her wares to weddings and corporate events, and you can even rent a Viva Pops freezer cart, which holds up to 400 pops.
I popped into her shop with hubby and my oldest boy last Sunday. The pops — handmade onsite from local, organic ingredients (of course), based on either dairy or vegan-friendly fruit, and sweetened with either sugar or agave — were smallish but dense. “Wow, so refreshing,” marveled the boy as he sucked on a lavender-lemonade pop, “and with such distinct lavender!” Hubby was pleased by the strawberry-balsamic vinegar, which had a goat cheese base. “I get the mildest sort of tang from the cheese, persistent strawberry flavor, and a light balsamic finish. Everything in balance, the cheese gives it a richness, and it lasts and lasts.” And I admired the sedimentary layers of gingersnap crumbs in my creamy lemon-curd-gingersnap pop. But the clear favorite was the salted caramel pop we all shared at the end — yes, salted caramel is everywhere these days, but the chill and the firmness and the intensity made this possibly the best iteration we’d ever tried. (Pops are $3–$3.50, depending on flavor.)
“We take our time when we make our mixes,” says Altmann. “We hand-juice a lot of our citrus. We make caramel and curds from scratch, and we infuse herbs into our handmade lemonades. We have a core line of flavors that are available year round, but other stuff rotates seasonally. We focus on local produce, which I think gives the pops great flavor: Be Wise Ranch for amazing berries, Paradise Valley Ranch for citrus and avocado. And now that we’re in stone-fruit season, we’re highlighting pops made with fruit from Sweet Tree Farms.”
Altmann told me that the summer lineup would include “…white nectarine with lavender, strawberry-cucumber with mint and agave, lemon curd with gingersnap, and our lavender lemonade. That one, together with salted caramel, are consistent favorites with our customers. And we still have people ask after our orange-beet pop.”
The partnerships with locals don’t stop at the pops. Used popsicle sticks get donated to the Rare Hare children’s art studio, which specializes in art made from recycled products. And dog owners can ask for a cardboard-sticked dog pop, made from carrot and apple juice. It’s free, but any donation you make goes to Even Chance Pit Bull Rescue. (Altmann notes that the dog pop also works for teething babies!)
Other places around town:
If you’re down in Barrio Logan, you can stop by Tocumbo Ice Cream (619-230-0391). “Our pops are made in-store and are either water base or dairy base,” said Blanca. “Some fruit flavors include lime, pineapple mango chili, jamaica, yellow cherry, and strawberry. My favorite of the milk-based pops is walnut and caramel.” (Pops are $1.79–$1.99, depending on flavor.)
Fruitlandia in City Heights (619-282-9774) does not make their own pops, but they do carry a large selection of Helados, “Mexico’s premium fruit bars” ($1.25 each). Flavors range from lime, mango, strawberry, and tamarind to pecan, rice pudding, coconut, and cookes & cream.