Cheap Eats - Hail to the King

Street food finds a new foot soldier in King of Pops

FOOD GROUP: Paleta. Or, if you don't speak Spanish: Really, really good handmade popsicles.

CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN: Pass by Buddy's on North Highland Avenue on a sunny spring day and you're almost guaranteed to spot 26-year-old Steven Carse, the wide-smiling, laid-back "King of Pops." For $2.50, you're welcome to pick from an always-changing rotation of creative, fruit-based paletas made with natural sweeteners. Unlike the flavor-from-a-chemical-plant pops you might've been handed at summer camp, Carse offers up such flavors as strawberry lemon, tangerine basil, pineapple habanero and chocolate sea salt. Although he generally sticks to that corner, follow him on Twitter – he's @TheKingOfPops – for his location, hours and occasional sneak peeks at his daily menu.

ROOTS: After Carse lost his job poring over spreadsheets as an insurance company analyst last June, the Edgewood resident decided to pursue an idea he and friends often discussed after they backpacked from Panama to Mexico: starting a paleta cart. Figuring now was as good a time as any to give the idea a try, he began experimenting with flavors, bought a used paleta cart from a now-defunct Dallas, Texas, company and started mixing flavors.

THE PROCESS: Carse drives down to the State Farmers Market in Forest Park to stock up on fresh ingredients. It's taken a while to develop a relationship with some of the suppliers – unlike most customers, who buy four pallets of strawberries, he'll just buy three cases. Three or four times each week he makes the popsicles at the Irwin Street Market, gives them several tastings, and lets the market's walk-in freezer work its magic.

SOLD OUT: Even though he's been in business less than one month (and Atlanta's street life isn't nearly that of New York or Chicago), word-of-mouth and a unique offering have helped him generate brisk sales and build a loyal following. On a recent festival-heavy Saturday, Carse rolled his cart to three locations and sold more than 300 popsicles. He recently partnered with Souper Jenny in Buckhead, which one day handed out free popsicles with lunches.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Carse's popsicles – which are all vegan – have almost the same taste (but better quality) of a smoothie. If you're looking for a dessert-type pop that's more filling, you can find those on the menu as well. Add to the fact that they're made with fresh fruits – he buys organic and local fruit when possible – and you have an independent upstart with a sustainable mind-set. Summer on the streets of Atlanta just got more delicious.

King of Pops. Mon.-Fri., 3 p.m.-7:30 p.m. (approx.); Sat.-Sun., noon-7:30 p.m. (approx.). Corner of North and North Highland avenues. www.kingofpops.net.

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