On our very last night in New Orleans, up popped a Groupon for a French Quarter sweet treat that I had totally overlooked: Meltdown, an artisan ice pop store just a block from the French Market.
Meltdown makes what might be called "popsicles" (were that word not trademarked by Unilever) but are more properly known as paletas. These frozen treats originated in Mexico and take their name from the wooden stick, or palo, which forms their handle. The hallmarks of a true paleta are fresh, natural ingredients, creative flavor combinations, and impeccable texture, whether icy or creamy.
Meltdown is one of the youngest members of a loosely affiliated extended family of paleterias. Their ancestral hometown is Tocumbo in central Mexico's Michoacán state, where confectioners have long used local produce to create delicious frozen pops. In 1941 Agustin Andrade left Tocumbo to launch Mexico City's first paleteria, La Michoacána. He was so successful that a Tocumbo relative soon arrived to start a second store. Many more paleta entrepreneurs followed, setting up shop wherever they could find sufficient demand; they trained their sons or apprentices, who in turn extended the paleta network. According to a recent story in Saveur magazine, there are now more than 15,000 paleterias in Mexico and the US.
Among those ranks is Las Paletas, a Nashville, Tennessee paleteria that was one of the first to be owned by women. Sisters Norma and Irma Paz grew up in Guadalajara and moved to the US as adults. Struck by the absence of their beloved paletas, they returned to Mexico to learn the ropes, then started Las Paletas. Along the way to becoming a high-profile success, the store helped expand Nashville's palate, revitalize a formerly grim neighborhood, and inspire a new generation of paleta makers.
Among these is Meltdown's Michelle Weaver. After being initiated into the art in Nashville, she spent several years selling her wares from a Good Humor truck in LA, before moving again to New Orleans. She initially sold at markets and from another truck, but demand allowed her to open a small storefront last year. It houses her production kitchen, a small retail counter, and a couple of coolers holding a cache of fresh pops.
On our last morning in town, I left my bags in the hotel coat check and headed to Meltdown first thing. The shop wasn't open yet so I had time to study the chalkboard list of the day's flavors:
black sesame seed
The saffron rosewater was a lovely pale peach color--like a faintly embarrassed vanilla--and threaded with a generous amount of the bright orange spice. I gulped it down while hustling back to the hotel for the airport taxi and found that the floral sweetness helped to temper my sadness over leaving New Orleans. I might even have tried to run back for a second pop, but I didn't want to risk having a paleta headache on the plane.
New Orleans, LA