Perpetually #huangry. Occasionally #huangover.

#Huangry: King of Pops

As a native South Carolinian, I’ve learned a few inalienable truths about summers in our great state. It is undeniable that the season brings about an incredible amount of joy. There’s a certain joie de vivre that comes from having longer, sun-drenched days. However, I’d contend that the true character of South Carolina summers is misery. Misery from oppressive humidity and heat, the inevitability of swamp butt, and sticking to everything. 

However, after 26 Southern summers, I’ve at least learned that you can combat its misery with a few well-timed, ice-cold sweet treats. And so, in preparation for the coming heat-pocalypse, I called up Jeremy Elrod. He’s the guy behind Greenville’s King of Pops, a street cart operation specializing in paletas, or Latin American-style ice pops. 

You’ve no doubt seen King of Pops carts posted up on Main Street, at a farmers market, or at festivals like Artisphere. But while the carts are fairly ubiquitous, they typically only carry a selection of standard crowd pleasers, along with one or two more exotic flavors. I selfishly wanted to see his entire arsenal for dealing with the heat—after all, the promise of something fresh and new is what keeps me going in the doldrums of August.

Luckily, Elrod offered to show me around the new King of Pops kitchen, located in a space beside the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery. Of course, I took advantage of this access and raided his frozen coffers for six slightly less conventional flavor incarnations: cookies & cream; the Arnold Palmer; jalapeno margarita; blueberry lemonade; peach; and strawberry rose oil.

In all honesty, the first three flavors, while interesting, didn’t tickle my fancy. The milk-based cookies & cream fell a little flat—it straddles this line between ice pop and ice cream, which makes it not quite rich or creamy enough for me. The Arnold Palmer, on the other hand, tasted rather like its namesake drink. It’s enjoyable, but crunching my way through this pop reminded me of an iced tea slushy, which I’d rather just experience as liquid iced tea. The jalapeno margarita pop, on the other hand, tasted nothing like its namesake beverage. It’s nonalcoholic, for one, and has a light, citrusy base that seemed a bit bland, if refreshing. What saves it is the jalapeno note that hits at the beginning before backing off—it’s essence of the pepper without any of the heat. 

The other three flavors, on the other hand, exemplify summer refreshment to me. The blueberry lemonade has a ripe sweetness—blueberries fill your mouth, but it’s light on the tongue. The sweetness doesn’t linger and overstay its welcome the way a blueberry-flavored Jolly Rancher might. It’s very much a prototypical summer treat for me: sweet, light, and refreshing. The peach pop is similarly summery, but with a more pronounced tartness. It tastes like biting into a fresh peach, only its better because it’s already frozen. The fruit isn’t blended into oblivion, so it even retains some of the texture of a peach when you bite into the pop. 

Then, there’s the strawberry-rose oil pop. Real talk: this was my favorite flavor by far. Like the blueberry lemonade pop, there’s a robust fullness to the strawberries that make up the body of the pop. The rose oil, however, adds this incredible natural fragrance that permeates the entire pop. But as concentrated and intense as the floral notes are, they dissipate quickly, lingering only as memory. For me, it hits the right balance of intense flavor without being heavy handed.

So I guess that’s the good news. Summer suffering is inevitable, but at least I can count on the King of Pops to deliver icy morsels of joy.

(+) PROS 

  • Like you need further justification for ice pops in summer?
  • Only 45 calories, and made with organic, local produce and cane sugar. It’s practically a health food.
  • Tons of flavors, and more to come.

(-) CONS

  • King of Pops carts have a limited selection of flavors, although the new kitchen will be opening a serving window in the coming months so you’ll soon be able to choose from the full menu.

King of Pops
Main St, Greenville, SC
(706) 224-2063, greenville.kingofpops.com
Pops, $3 each


Originally published in the [Greenville Journal] on June 3, 2016.