Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Paletography of Los Angeles - Part Two

The Warner Theatre in Huntington Park, closed
 If a helicopter were to drop you down on the sidewalk of Pacific Avenue in Huntington Park, you'd think you were in some small town in America's Midwest. On a sunny summer Saturday afternoon, the sidewalks are full of families shopping in the stores that line the street with its old-fashioned buildings, some from the early years of the last century, some art deco. There's a J.C. Penney, discount clothing stores, jewelry stores, bakeries, coffee shops and mom-and-pop restaurants.

There's even a old art deco movie palace - closed up, as it probably would be in any small Midwestern town, but fabulous with its ziggurat tower, scroll-topped pilasters, and curved neon marquee.

And on a warm summer afternoon, it's nice to see an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, hand-painted sign, kids' bikes parked outside, cheerful flowers in pots.


But this is California, just south of Los Angeles' south central industrial district, and the population of Huntington Park is 96.6% Latino. The stores' signs are in Spanish, and the ice cream parlor is Los Alpes Neveria, and sells icy sweet treats much loved in Mexican culture.

Inside there's a couple of tables and chairs on one side of the room, and on the other a long freezer case filled with paletas. Helpfully, here there are small signs identifying the flavors.

Like most small neverias, Los Alpes makes its own paletas, or Mexican ice and fruit bars, and here the range of flavors is unusually wide and exotic.

You can find the usual fruit flavored paletas de agua - lime, melon, pineapple, strawberry, watermelon. There are tamarind, guava, soursop, cactus fruit, too. But what about alfalfa? Or jamaica - flavored with hibiscus flowers?

Chicle is bubblegum flavored. There's something called pico de gallo - in this context it's usually a mixture of fruit and sometimes jicama, cucumber and chile. There's grosella, which is red currant; nuez, or mixed nuts; chamoy, the much-loved salty-puckery-sweet Mexican condiment, rice pudding flavored pops, and nance, made with a tropical fruit also called yellow cherry.

Even more exotic, the menu lists paletas made with rose petals, violet petals, and orange blossom. There's even a paleta flavored with corn, elote. The lady behind the counter urged us to try a taste of queso ice cream - cheese flavored! It was like the sweet cream cheese that's baked in a pastry - only icy!

Click to "embiggen"
What a vast array of riches. How could we decide? Luckily, at $1.25 - $1.50 per pop, we could indulge. We bought six paletas to keep in the cooler for the long ride home.

What did we choose?

I had to try the petales de violetas. After dinner, it went perfectly with the remains of a lush, fruit-filled zinfandel wine. It was milky, not creamy, and although the faint lavender-grey color isn't exactly pretty, the sweet floral perfumey flavor was wonderful.

The next day, as a fruit-flavored breakfast treat, I tried grosella - red currant. This was bright, sweet, and fruity, although it didn't seem to have a particularly distinctive red currant flavor. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful bar, a clear bright red.

We chose a queso paleta, based on our delight at the taste of the ice cream, one of mango and chile, one flavored with the classic Mexican caramelized milk syrup, cajeta; and - intriguingly - one flavored with mole.

We have to go visit again, because there are too many interesting items on the menu. There are raspados, which are like snow-cones or slushies, with conventional fruit flavors and more interesting combinations. A chupacabra raspado combines vanilla, bananas, marmalade and gummi worms. A mangoneado mixes mango with lime, chamoy and chile.

But what can you make of a paleta flavor called afrodisiaca?  I have to try that one!

Los Alpes Neveria is at 6410 Rugby Avenue, in Huntington Park, California.


Kizz said...

One of those is labeled as TUNA flavor!

Glennis said...

Yes - "Tuna" is cactus fruit.

Janet said...

tuna = cactus fruit, live and learn!

smalltownme said...

Thanks for clearing up that tuna mystery!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Tuna ice cream: dolphin-safe!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I also zeroed in on TUNA and am grateful to learn that no one is eating fishy paletas!
I am intriqued with several of these icy treats, although my safe side leans toward orange blossom, arroz con leche, and thanks to you, queso ice cream!
And despite your claim that the color of the petales de violetas wasn't exactly pretty, the photograph makes it look absolutely lovely.

Daniel Neuman said...

Also excellent photos accompanying the essay.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Posts like THIS are what I was talking about. I read this and immediately want to book mark it for a visit to California. Seriously, if you wrote an LA travel blog or (better yet) book, I would buy it!