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Pop Brothers Artisan Ice Pop Makers take frozen treats to a new level

If you think you've had a good ice pop on a stick, and you haven't been to Pop Brothers in Gulfport, my guess is that you are wrong.

Unless, that is, you've ever had a mamey fruit frozen pop, or an Elvis-inspired ice pop with peanut butter and banana, or maybe an ice pop infused with a Vietnamese-style coffee.

Octavio and Shannon Arzola, along with Chuck Kelly, serve those exciting culinary treasures at Pop Brothers Artisan Ice Pop Makers, 1501 25th Ave., Gulfport, which they established about a year ago.

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Those frozen treats are popular not only on hot days and during local events, such as festivals and markets (maybe you have seen their pushcarts at events), but also many people visit their shop after dinner for dessert.

The Arzolas stumbled upon the idea of making and selling upscale frozen pops while traveling throughout the nation. They combined Octavio Arzola's 20 years of experience in the restaurant business (perhaps you remember him from his days at Beau Rivage), Shannon Arzola's years of experience in marketing and Kelly's love for good food and being a professed foodie to start Pop Brothers.

"We started head-on into a business we knew little about," Octavio Arzola said.

They also followed Shannon's advice to "start in the box, and when established, move gradually out of the box."

That concept can be seen in the wide breadth of the menu, from simple, traditional flavors such as orange and strawberry to guava, watermelon mint and bananas Foster.

"We take customers on a trip around the world," Shannon Arzola said. "There is nothing ordinary about our pops."

Perhaps the most striking idea, albeit an adult one, is to dip a jalapeño and pineapple pop in an adult beverage. The pop is flavored by the strong drink and after a few dips the drink is chilled and delightfully flavored as well.

But don't get the idea that these sweet treats are an indulgence. There is nothing artificial in these ice pops -- no added refined sugar (fruit naturally has sugar and doesn't need any help being sweet), no gluten and half the menu selections have 100 calories or fewer.

Pop Brothers also buys as much fruit and other ingredients from local sources as possible, and what is not locally sourced is the best quality available.

"People want to know where their food comes from so we buy from local, known sources," Octavio Arzola said. "This is an open canvas, just as the kitchen is open, so our guests can watch the pops being made and can even request a custom-made pop."

With 50 flavors offered on the menu, finding something you like is not likely to be a problem.

"You can get chocolate- or strawberry-flavored pops, and it will be the best you ever had, or you can get something a little wilder," Shannon Arzola said.

I say go wild, very wild!

Check out the pop that has a frozen Oreo cookie at its heart or the pieces of whole fruit hidden in the fruit ice pops, where you might find a whole grape, a piece of pineapple or banana.

That Oreo pop is paired with cheesecake. Other offerings include a Reese's cheesecake, creamy avocado, salted caramel popcorn, grapefruit infused with rosemary, Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk and jalapeño and pineapple.

The frozen pop on a stick is a simple idea, but its application at Pop Brothers is amazing.

"You just have to taste one," Shannon Arzola said.

Julian Brunt, who is from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com.

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