A Need for Nostalgia

Throwback frozen desserts grow up and make a play for the inner kid

Sometimes a Creamsicle is not just a Creamsicle. Plenty of patrons who grew up chasing the ice cream truck on summer afternoons are still doing so figuratively, satisfying that old-school urge to lick anything frozen on a stick right down to their sticky fingers.

They’re reminiscing at food carts, coffee shops, bars and top restaurants—even in white tablecloth dining rooms. But the best part of this frozen pop culture may be that Mister Softee is hitting the hard stuff.
“People need to hold a drink in one hand, a pop-up in the other,” says Toni Roberts, pastry chef at ROOF at the Wit hotel in Chicago.

Roberts spikes her push-pops with vodka, while the Four Seasons Hotel Boston proofs popsicles with Chambord or limoncello. Feverish Pops in South Beach, Fla., uses “enough alcohol to taste, but not get drunk” for a huge array of frozen ices—mango-bourbon is a big seller, Guinness-sage a particularly inspired one.

Nostalgia largely drives this trend, but so does the desire to scale back desserts so conceptualized they make your brain hurt. “People want to understand their food,” says Jamie DeRosa at Tongue & Cheek in Miami Beach, Fla.

Chefs still want to show off while having fun, though. So, DeRosa attempted a new-age popsicle, encasing chocolate cake in couverture on a stick with Marcona almonds. When friends and family tried it, one guest said it was better than a Bill Cosby Pudding Pop. A menu moniker was born.

The only dessert more popular on DeRosa’s menu than the frozen pudding pops is his “Cracker Jack” milkshake. He steeps popcorn popped in duck fat in an ice cream base with French vanilla bean and caramel, pairing it with walnuts and a housemade Baby Ruth bar.

Craig Harzewski, pastry chef at NAHA in Chicago, reclaims the Fudgsicle with a sorbet served as part of a chocolate plate. Beyond nostalgia, the “Fudgsicle sorbet” appeals to those with dairy restrictions. Bitter chocolate, sugar water and glucose syrup are frozen in an ice cream machine with no cream required.

For those seeking lactose-free indulgences, the new frozen frontier provides plenty of options. Felecia Hatcher of Feverish notes that all of her company’s popsicles are vegan, made with either coconut cream or rice milk, and without artificial colors “or any of the other crap you got when you were a kid.”

Jennifer Shelbo, pastry chef of Lot 2 in Brooklyn, N.Y., says these new treats “bring back that childhood feeling, but we can make it so much better with the ingredients at our disposal.” Shelbo serves a Meyer lemon caramel over ice cream in citrus season, but in August, switches to chocolate: salted-peanut brownies sandwiching chocolate ice cream swirled with peanut butter.

With flavors like chocolate-sea salt, chocolate-tarragon and pineapple-habanero, King of Pops, based in Atlanta, delivers a far cry from standard Good Humor fare. “It’s about time popsicles grew up,” Hatcher says. “There’s a convenience to eating dessert on the go.”


Popsicles by other names sell just  as sweetly. 

PaletaThis Latin American interpretation, made with fresh fruit rather than sugar water, showcases vibrant tropical flavors. 

Kulfi: An Indian variation that features an  ice cream base thickened with bread rather than eggs.

Italian ice, or water ice: Neither shaved ice or sherbet, Italian ice is made the same way as ice cream but without dairy or eggs