Food: Four stars
Service: Three stars
Ambience: Three stars
Address: 1048 Pearl St., Suite 107, Boulder
Contact: 303-443-9803, lepopsboulder.com
noon-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
noon-6 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Moderate, and quiet enough to hear low-key noises of appreciation regarding the different flavors.
Whether it was a trademarked Popsicle or other hot weather treat cryptically labeled "quiescently frozen confection" on the box, these bars were a favorite of mine growing up. But over time, I moved away from these treats, as many are packed with loads of sugar as well as frightening amounts of artificial flavors and colors. However, one Boulder venue is prompting me to look at these frozen delights with fresh eyes, or tongue, as the case may be.
Le Pops, on Pearl Street, ups the frozen dessert game by producing "gourmet ice lollies" with such ingredients as real fruit, whole milk, eggs and spices like clove and ginger.
This compact shop's layout is much like that of a typical ice cream parlor, albeit with more contemporary, industrial lines. Seating is limited to a few counter stools, giving the impression this shop gets more on grab-and-go than eat-in traffic.
What makes this venue stand out from a more pedestrian ice cream shop is the presence of a colorful display of the day's frozen offerings under glass. There's also a shave ice machine, but the informative counter person sold us on trying their signature pops for our first visit, rather than these syrup and granulated ice confections.
Le Pops divides their namesake goods into two categories. The first is cream, which unsurprisingly contain dairy products, although some are gluten-free. The second is ice, which are vegan, gluten-free and fruit-based. Each pop costs a reasonable $3.95.
On its web site, Le Pops also helpfully lists ingredients and calorie counts for each flavor. The cream varieties clock in at 155-185 calories apiece, while the ice ones range from a modest 85 calories to 140 for the coconut milk-laden bananas Foster.
Available cream selections at the time of a recent weeknight visit included strawberry buttermilk and tiramisu, while pineapple habanero and watermelon were among the iced choices. In addition to the base pops, there are also gluten-free chocolate dips and such coatings as toasted coconut, Oreo crumbs and chocolate sprinkles.
I first sampled a salted caramel cream pop, dipped in dark chocolate for an additional 50 cents. The cocoa coating was a vast improvement over what one might typically find enveloping a chain store soft serve cone, as it possessed a pleasantly smooth, but not waxy, consistency. It was easy enough to appreciate the depth of the dark chocolate flavor, but it wasn't as powerful as a 60 percent or higher cocoa solids variety.
That said, I would order the salted caramel without the chocolate next time, as I wasn't able to fully appreciate the subtleties of the underlying bar. I could certainly make out a smooth, if not nearly custardy, richness thanks to the presence of eggs. The bar also boasted a fine balance of sweet and salty, but the chocolate slightly masked the buttery undertones. Nevertheless, the overall flavor was still satisfying without being too rich or sweet.
A more successful pairing involved the gluten-free and vegan coconut milk bananas Foster pop dipped in a milk chocolate coating. The Foster was more assertively flavored than the caramel, thanks to such heady ingredients as dark rum, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. The taste profile convincingly replicated that of this classic dessert, and nicely complemented the more low-key milk chocolate.
As much as I relished the creamier varieties, the fruit-based ices might get the nod as my personal favorites. A bright tasting and colorful cucumber lime number was one of the most refreshing things I've enjoyed in a while. While the lime's citrusy tang was certainly front and center, it didn't overshadow the cucumber's soothingly mellow and smooth qualities.
The orange flavored bars of my youth left a lot to be desired, having more in common with the flavor of off-putting bitter frozen juice concentrate than actual fresh fruit. In contrast, Le Pops' spiced honey orange bar, like the lime cucumber number, perfectly balanced citrus zing with contrasting elements. Ginger and star anise made for a unexpectedly well rounded taste profile, and the pairing of clove and orange evoked a cozy hot apple cider.
While Le Pops' menu might not be as expansive as that of an ice cream parlor, the uniformly high quality of their frozen bars is awfully tough to beat. As a matter of fact, these are among the best I've ever had, by virtue of their quality and masterful blends of ingredients making for balanced, if not memorable flavors.
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