Pop Cart provides artisan popsicles to Sarasota

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all photos courtesy of Donna Tortorice

According to the popsicle cart’s website: “Kids love popsicles.”

People love popsicles. Young or old, the frozen treat is somehow always such an utter delight — especially hand-made, locally-made popsicles from the pop cart, a mobile popsicle vendor inspired by the Mexican popsicle tradition and the sunny skies of southern Florida. Donna Tortorice and her son Martin, a certified sommelier well acquainted with the world of flavors, spend their days matching fruits with spices, concocting new flavors and perfecting the popsicle before bringing the pops to the masses every weekend at various local markets.

Based on the Mexican palleta, the pop cart crew has taken a hint from Mexican farmers of yesteryear who preserved over-ripe fruit by pureeing it and freezing it into tasty sticks. The Tortorices do the same by using local, organic produce as often as possible to craft their tasty pops. It’s not as easy as one would imagine to produce exceptional popsicles, Donna Tortorice explained. Though she was initially incredulous when her son proposed the idea of a popsicle-making venture, she couldn’t get the concept out of her head, imagining what the perfect marriage between popsicles and sunny Florida.

She began to practice making popsicles on a small scale, giving them to lucky family members  and friends for testing. They seemed to be a success, but it wasn’t until she met a Brazilian who’d been in the popsicle business for many years that she truly learned the art of popsicle making. Now the Tortorice’s popsicles emerge from a commercial kitchen, the product of a top-secret process.

“Honestly, I’ll tell you, there’s trade secrets involved,” Donna said, denying the Catalyst’s request to enter Pop Craft’s kitchen. “It’s that way among the whole little popsicle making community. Even when I tried to find out information from other popsicle makers around the country, uh-uh. No sharing. Everyone has their own little secrets.”

One lick of the popsicle explains it all. There’s got to be a secret ingredient — some classified popsicle-making method that results in something far greater than any old juice jammed in the freezer. The pineapple cilantro popsicle was the ultimate refreshment, with the sweet tang of the pineapple perfectly preserved in ice with the fresh green bursts of cilantro. Blueberry lemon basil, described by Donna herself as “one of our biggest flavor explosion popsicles,” lived up to her praise. The dark blue popsicle was intensely blueberry-y, tasting of sweet summer in the mountains. The slightest smack of lemon brightened the flavors and the basil came through like an Oscar-winning supporting actor.

Other flavors include Mexican chocolate (a staple), strawberry lemon, vanilla bing cherry, papaya lemon marjoram, and tomato orange anise — just a smattering of the thirty something flavors the Pop Craft kitchen has concocted. The Tortorices picked up on popsicles just as the trend was growing, with the frozen treat declared one of the top food trends of 2011 by Food and Wine — taking over from the beloved, but tired cupcake.

The pop cart combines two current food trends — the refreshing, summery popsicle and the nomadic food cart. Epitomized by the herds of food carts in Portland, Ore., the mobile restaurant has been on the rise for a few years, with foodies hungry for Korean tacos and savory waffles chasing vans and carts around cities all over the country.

But getting licensed to sell food on the street can be a challenging process here in Sarasota. Food carts aren’t too welcome — they have only a half dozen or so licenses are available in the city, according to Tortorice. But Pop Craft isn’t going to stay small scale. With plans to open a little pop shop near their kitchen and promises that “we’ll be seeing them all over soon…Because the people love them, they really do,” Tortorice concluded sweetly and accurately of her fantastic pops.

Pop Craft can be found Saturday mornings at both the Sarasota and St. Petersburg farmers’ markets, Sundays at the Siesta Key Farmers’ Market, and daily in the Selby Gardens café.

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