In the eleven years that I’ve lived in University City, Philadelphia, much has changed. Hipsters moved in, small restaurants and food shops have opened, and bikes seem to outnumber cars. There are many things I’ve really grown to love here. The Lil’ Pop Shop is not one of them.
It’s a small – and funky-smelling – storefront hawking “artisanal” popsicles in whimsical flavors like peach rosemary, mango yogurt, blueberry coconut something or other, goat cheese something or other and insert fruit + herb/cream/yogurt here. They sell for $3 and are about 4 inches long and an inch thick. Here’s a quick snapshot of the one I ate (in about ten bites).
It tasted like pureed canned peaches and weak rosemary essence, no kidding. There was no subtlety, no summertime sweetness, no balance of flavors, and no pleasure beyond the cool mouth feel on a hot evening. The four of us tasted each others’ choices; one of us liked his, one was indifferent, one didn’t like it, and one felt totally ripped off. (That last “one” was me, and I didn’t even pay for it!)
I really do appreciate the spirit of the small business owner here, and do sincerely hope that the shop does well beyond its inaugural season. They are trying something new to the neighborhood and marketing well to the privileged Penn crowd.
Perhaps my gripe with Lil’ Pop Shop is really a gripe about the neighborhood, which aspires to be trendy with trends copied from elsewhere. The NYT wrote about artisanal popsicles over two years ago, for example. When I first tasted People’s Pops in Chelsea Market a few years ago, I was both enticed and delighted by their creative flavor combinations and their pitch. Encountering a similar pitch – and far weaker execution – two years later in my own neighborhood holds neither intrigue nor joy.
But there’s something deeper, too: can copying another’s ideas and pouring liquids into freezer molds really be called “artisanal”? Does ‘artisanal’ no longer imply craft and artistry, but simply “handmade”? Has the word simply become yet another empty marketing trend?
If you seek inspiration from a real artisan, check out Artisanal Pencil Sharpening, by author David Rees, who “considers it a privilege to sharpen pencils for friends and strangers”. I encourage you to buy his book, to click on the video link on his website, or watch his recent performance in Richmond below.