Sassy Spoon Cafe Visit

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As many have been made aware of by now, in a rather loud fashion, Sassy Spoon (for those unaware, read my review to get an idea of their theme and what my opinion of them has been so far) got themselves a little café in South Minneapolis! I finally had the opportunity to visit on a recent Sunday with the folks, and for Brunch time which seems to fit their theme and atmosphere oh so well, and check yet another local truck-staurant off my list!

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Let me start off by saying that I am very happy for them, or maybe it’s more accurate to say in REACTION to them, based on two different things. Firstly, though I really cannot comprehend how they got the popularity and capital to start up a brick-and-mortar (oh well, my opinions aren’t everyone’s, I accept that… still think there are at least other trucks that should have gotten to this point sooner), we finally have an environment that fits their food style! No more do I have to bitch about their very non-street food going on the streets, this stuff was really made to be served up on plates and eaten in a diner or café of some type, and now we can do that!

Secondly, I’m not sure when they did it (I know it wasn’t in the beginning at all), but they’ve shed their main advertising face of general “healthy and nutritious food” focus and openly narrowed their culinary focus to a “Gluten Free” façade. Now, that’s something I can get on board with! It fits, it makes sense, there’s nothing in the food to non-corroborate it, and I would bet if they used this excuse/marketing strategy since the beginning I would not have complained so much. I mean really, when you’re only offering piles of meat with either slaw, sweet potatoes, and creamy cauliflower, it’s not the kind of food that REALLY screams nutrition is it? Say what you will, no one really cares about the Atkins diet anymore… but gluten free, in a café, and the menu gels, my urges to contradict and bitch gone (well, sort of, I still have those memories…).

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Oh well, I’m shutting up now about that and getting onto the actual café! You can tell it was designed by the truck owners, the inside is just as bright, appealing, sorta-modern and welcoming as the big pink truck used to be. There’s a little wrap-around bar to the side of the order ‘window’ and dessert/drink display case. Which has some not-so-bad looking sweets in there, would be very interested in trying the Beet Cake myself one day… (gluten-free cookies scare me though)

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First up, of course, is drinks. Besides the classic morning coffees, juice and tea, one can of course find some trendy Kombucha, specialty soda, Organic Milk, and a few interesting shop coffees. This includes something called a “Maple Cream Cold Press” and a “Spiced Butter Coffee,” which my mom picked up, and I swear it smells like biscoff cookies! But sort of tangy, makes me wonder if it’s a nicely acidic coffee bean or something else added; really good and tasty, I can see the appeal of this new ‘butter in coffee’ craze, kept in control of course.

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I leaned more towards the booze of course, they having a nice little selection of wines but, more importantly, Local Beer, Cider, and Mead (which I’m only noticing now after looking through pictures, damn if only I knew before!). I myself got to try the Loon Juice; yay, another Minnesota Cider besides Sociable that I get to say I’ve had!

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Food is mainly comprised of the truck classics, the Sweet Potato Hash w/ Egg, Turkey Meatballs, Miso Pork/Tacos, and a Salad, with some notable extra options, especially during brunch. Goat Cheese-stuffed Dates, “Yucca Patties” w/ Olives and Jalapeno dipping sauce (I’ve been intrigued by this one), Wild Rice Black Bean Salad, and some eggy breakfast dishes in Omelet, Scramble, and Basic structure come together. Of course sides based off of these, breakfast, and apparently the option to buy cups of $4 broth is also available.

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A group of plates for our little party had us trying the Sassy Scramble, Yucca Flatbread, and Buckwheat Pancakes; the last being the definite highlight, just being super fluffy and flavorful, stuffed with delightful blueberries with a tasty citrusy syrup, one of those ideal modern brunch offerings we seek out nowadays after being exposed to places like Pizza Luce and Hola Arepa. Mixed with goat cheese and spinach (and onion), the scramble in comparison certainly TASTES really good, nice and healthy, but I myself have never really appreciated scrambled eggs that have gotten brown from the pan. Maybe it’s me, I know some professionals still consider the perfect omelet acceptable with some brown on it, but the texture in scrambles like that just end up too firm, not the light/fluffy or moist/silky expressions that actually show a sign of quality. And considering they’re probably using really good quality organic eggs here (they seem to stick to the local farm product theme for whatever they can), I end up feeling somewhat sad for what these proper eggs were probably turned into.

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My focus was the Flatbread, curious as to what the crust was actually like. First off, let me just start off by saying come on, let’s just call this what it is: a Pizza. I know the flatbread and pizza label are rather interchangeable these days, but we all have some impression of a flatbread, usually thick grilled or some artisan crisp dough topped with some unique sauce and/or cheese and/or garnish, really embodying a perfect appetizer for sharing. Just one look at this guy, red sauce and mozzarella with that apparent golden brown painting across the top from the hot oven, and clearly it’s nothing other than pizza; tell me that does not remind you of the frozen pizzas you bake at home (visually speaking, not quality wise, I’m not THAT much of a douche or imbecile). Why don’t we just call it pizza and get it over with?

As for flavor, as a pizza I did enjoy it in that similar manner; firm crunchy edges, a softer but still-holding and fully-cooked dough bottom, tasting red sauce and stretchy cheese. I added the pepper mix on mine, which for the price additions seems to be the only thing worth it, and was quite happy. As a gluten free pizza, the crust did a great job substituting; I’m wondering if they used something like yucca flour for it, but considering they have it elsewhere on the menu, my guess is more on the lines of mashing and using in a ‘potato flatbread’ manner. It’s not the best flatbread or pizza in the city, by far, but it fits a certain style and craving well enough.

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One big complaint and note we all had was the pricing, a lot of the items are rather pricey considering what we’re getting, which seems to be a common thing with most ‘healthy/organic/gluten-free’ based businesses. With luck the place actually delivers or provides something that IS totally awesome along with the healthy stuff and we don’t care, but in a café like this it seems to stand out even more. I mean, a BASIC breakfast on their menu is $11.50; that’s supposed to be one of the simpler, affordable options on a menu, not one of the most expensive (unless it’s one of those modern ‘deconstructed’ things, which are usually downright awesome). Not to mention a side of Bacon, which the mother got to add to the pancakes, cost $4, for TWO measly strips. We wouldn’t even normally care, you know, if we got two nice, thick-ish pieces. But even if it is from a local farm, we ended up with a barely cooked, thin, sorta fatty couple pieces that just aren’t worth it; feels a bit insulting actually. Same with the pizza topping add-ons; $0.75 for the veggies, okay, but $2 for each meat (which they only have two kinds to begin with)? It’s already $11 for just cheese and sauce man!

All that said, I’m not necessarily saying one shouldn’t go; it’s a fun and different place for the gluten-free required to find a meal in a welcoming environment! Or to grab yourself a local drink or butter coffee with a meal. Just make sure to pick the right items, I definitely suggest the buckwheat pancakes; not only have they likely been the best things I’ve had from Sassy in my trips, but they’re the best price too (Mom still says $8.50 for only two café/diner pancakes is larceny, but for special, delicious, and gluten-free affairs in a place like this, I don’t mind it). And the service and staff ARE absolutely great, nice, and fantastic and all that. I myself just won’t be going there again. Ever.

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Green + The Grain

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https://www.facebook.com/greenandthegrain/info

https://twitter.com/GreenNtheGrain

Main Location: Minneapolis

By now I’ve made quite a few things known about what will and will not set me off through my various mobile visits. For example, the most puzzling oddity of someone indulging themselves in the street food culture only to get an item that is the most counterproductive I can think of; a Salad. Even more grievous are those places that seem to ruin what would otherwise be one of the perfect Food Truck offerings; my time at a certain vehicle still leaves a bad taste in my mouth from their attempt at Wraps.

So imagine my intrigue during my first visit of Green + The Grain, a very healthful and organic-inspired truck which made its way on the streets in June of this year, when my eyes sweep over a menu filled with nothing but these two different items which have made such an impact on me this past year. Only this time there actually seems to be a proper focus, and it’s actually done WELL.

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As you’ve surmised by now, GtG focuses on Salads and Wraps; or, to be more surprised, has a menu filled with different salads with the option of stuffing those same mixes into wraps (or vice versa). Peaking inside, one can see a whole row of mise en place stretching from one end of the giant order/delivery window to the end, each little container filled purely with greens, veggies, and the rare protein additions.

A seasonal menu, with various mix options supposedly changing at least once a week, future items may reach well beyond those discussed here (as should be considered for all seasonal Trucks I review, though I often fail to include the disclaimer due to laziness), but there seems to be a bit of a pattern so far. Chicken is the often-seen protein, commonly on the menu in Asian (also seen with Beef Tenderloin), Caesar, and Buffalo iterations, though the Berry Natural seems to be a set menu favorite, adding a delightful handful of fresh and dried fruit to the herb roasted poultry. If there’s anything that’s constant, outside of perhaps the Caesar, it’s the shared load of ingredients every single salad is filled with; greens, multiple veggies, croutons, apples, dressing, and who knows what else, the specifics of which morph and adjust depending on the final decision on focus.

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But of course there technically IS one other thing we can enjoy on our visits here; Organic Frozen Yogurt, supplied by Cloud Top and churned by GtG, garnished with whatever fruit and granola one desired. Their site does also make mention of a “signature tart,” though my luck in seeing it on my visit seemed to be quite poor. Ice cream machine wasn’t working either, luckily I wasn’t in the mood… maybe on future visits though…

So, what kind of potential can a downtown mobile Salad-based caterer have? Let’s find out.

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Food: 9.5

                I’ll admit, though my thoughts of it as street food is notably questionable, I still LOVE a GOOD Salad. An even dressing coating, with bright flavors and a range of crunchy texture, maybe some creaminess, just the best of lettuce and accompaniments. This pleasure has always been heightened even more when enjoyed inside a tight, soft tortilla shell.

So being able to have a wrap that properly fulfills these cravings, unlike the sad weak and dry versions seen in convenience stores and certain businesses, was quite the pleasure. All the vegetables were fresh, some apple slices brought the juicy crispness, and the croutons… oh the croutons. When I saw it opened up, I actually worried they may have already gotten soggy; silly me, their crunchiness was glorious as it should be. As for my salad of choice, Buffalo Shrimp, the shellfish was cooked properly with that nice snap, not dry or mealy. It wasn’t actually as “buffalo-y” as I though; the one thing I could say is that the flavor didn’t come through quite as much with everything else going on, but I still got some of that nice little heat here throughout. A good kind of hot sauce marinade, not the cliché traffic-warning-orange-colored stuff some places get in gallon jugs. Their use and manipulation of it allows my assumptions to stay positive in how they handle their other proteins and sauces/marinades.

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Holdability: 7

                 The first hurdle in a truck like this is, of course, their handling and display of the salad; and though one can never change its inability to eat with one hand when served plain, I do like and respect GnG’s packaging for the copious vegetation. A nice, tight, compact bowl that seems easy to carry and likely easy to consume out of. Ironically, it’s where the wraps come into play that issues pop up. It’s such a great way to eat on the go, a nicely tight, folded package around delicious filling, wrapped again in parchment to handle/avoid mess… and then they cut the damn thing in half, completely negating the whole purpose. I mean, I don’t mind having it halved in a restaurant, but now a one-handed ease venture turned into using both hands and trying to figure out how to ease it from its parchment bindings without everything collapsing on itself (I couldn’t quite figure it out, had some spillage). It makes something that should have been simple into an annoying challenge.

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Price: 6.5

                  Besides a $4 Soft Serve Yogurt ($6 for the large) and I’m assuming similarly priced Tart (or fruit cup in today’s case… interesting), every main-menu item is $9. Or, to be more honest, almost $10 with the tax; definitely one of the higher “set costs” on the street, though at the very least they DO give out a good amount of product for it. Tasty ones at that.

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Speed: 8.5

  Somewhat faster than average, it doesn’t take too long to pile and mix the various greens and fillings of these ingredients together and in a bowl or wrap of your choosing, even (or especially) with the decently sized serving.

The TOE: 9

                  Gotta give them credit for taking a style that makes my approach quite cautious and dubious and being able to turn it into a pretty fun and interesting visit. Image is clean and bright, sense of place is strong, and menu options are intriguing enough to create a need to come back (dessert… need…). Now if they only stop cutting our salad burritos in half then they could be a fully-load, strong warrior of the street.

Tally: 40.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Sad as it is to say, despite the Wraps this is still not one of the ideal mobile stops for those wanting to eat their main items while walking; best enjoyed sitting down. That said, whether your cravings lead to a boring salad (boooooooo) or an exciting version wrapped inside a tortilla (Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy… I’m not biased at all am I?), there are some fun ways to go.

There seem to be a few customer favorites, though overall I think the best experiences would lead from ordering the Asian Chicken/Beef, perhaps a Buffalo option, or one of the more interesting Seasonals (we still have yet to see what all they may have yet to do). Outside of this, their Tart looks to be a great small item as the snack-on-the-go, between stops or when one just wants something sweet. Frozen Yogurt is always good, but one can get that at a lot of places, I wouldn’t put it high on one’s list until they’ve tried other things desired.

SFC: Frozen Bomb

                Winter means a lot of things to different people, especially us Minnesotans. Holidays, ice skating, impossible-to-treck driveways, warm fireplaces and toasted marshmallows, chicken noodle soup, snowball fights, the inability to drive anywhere without warming up the car for half an hour… and others. But above all others, the highlight of winter to me always comes down to one thing: it’s Pomegranate season!

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                Yes, these sweet, purple grenades filled with bundles of tart, juice-filled “seeds” (which in reality are the actual “fruit,” by technical definitions), just waiting to be opened and snacked on when it gets cold. Of Middle Eastern origin (I believe), I think quite a few people throughout the continent have become thankful of the treck these guys have made to land here in the US.

                And then we get it, and want it, and crave it… and have to spend an hour or so carefully getting every last delicious seed out with painstaking annoyance. I’m sure we’ve all tried certain methods, only to find them not as succesfull as claimed, or simple struggle in keeping as many seeds unbroken as possible. Whether this is due to bad techniques or simply poor execution can be debated, but either way it leads to frustration.

                As such, I thought I’d go over a couple of the more successful and useful methods as I work to salvage as many seeds and juice as possible for a special frozen treat.

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                Gotta break this open first; a few things I found tell you to cut the top off like an orange, but you’re still slicing through a small cluster of the seeds with that. Same obviously goes with straight cutting it in half; the safest method (with a bit of practice) comes with carefully scoring a line, just a bare few millimeters deep or so, around the tough skin (I think vertically is supposed to work better, as opposed to laterally like I did).

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                Carefully grasp the scored line with your fingers and pull apart; it can be difficult, since you don’t want to put too much pressure directly on the fruit itself (causing more seeds to burst). Oh, and I think it’s safe to say that by at least this step you should be working over a bowl to collect any falling seeds and escaping juice (it’s impossible not to get a few broken seeds, no matter how hard we try).

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                We’re about to employ the “beat them out” technique of releasing the seeds, but before that we need to actually loosen the fruit up a bit, otherwise those seeds will just want to stay where they are. Just grab the edges and sort of stretch and work the outside skin a bit, you’ll know when it’s good.

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                Invert over the bowl, fingers holding underneath, and grab a good wooden spoon or equivalent. The rest is simple: smack it down, HARD, and Many Times. Do NOT be shy, otherwise you won’t get many seeds; well, you’re not going to get them all anyways, but you can get big chunks out with some hard wacks. Don’t forget to rotate the fruit around to get all the “corners.”

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                Pick out any bit of “flesh” you can (that spongy white stuff, which believe me, does NOT taste good at all… burn it to hell I say) and pour seeds over a fine strainer to collect any juice from potential broken seeds. This can be reserved (say, in a tiny little porcelain lion thumb cup) for recipes or just doing a little health shot.

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                A slower but seemingly more thorough and less damaging method (and a good one to use with any seeds still left on the fruit after beating) involves that ubiquitous bowl of water. Submerge the cut open and loosened section of fruit inside (I’ve seen some recipes suggest soaking it in there for 15 minutes, I don’t really see the need) and carefully pick through the many clusters with your thumb. The water makes the process a little gentler (it’s hard to say why, you just don’t need to force it as much), and the best part is all that bitter flesh floats to the top.

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                Of course there are always some small bits of it still stuck to seeds that don’t float, but the majority is now taken care of. Just skim off the top with a strainer and dump to a trash. The one downside of this method is, while the other garners more RISK of breaking seeds, at least you can collect the juice after. With this it all dissolves into the water. Thus why I prefer combining the two.

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                Store your pomegranate seeds in a covered container with a dampened paper towel and save for snacking or for whatever application you choose.

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                In my case, honoring the coming winter snows and the classic pairing of pomegranate (or other fruit) with yogurt, I’m trying my hand at Frozen Yogurt with Pomegranates mixed in. The seeds themselves need no more prep than popping in the freezer on a tray beforehand (since we’re mixing them in at the end, this will both firm them up from bursting and retain little risk of disrupting the frozen treat’s all-important ice crystals).

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                Another reason for my choosing to do frozen yogurt this day was when I researched various recipes; expecting to encounter many a mix requiring about ½ cup of yogurt mixed with 2 cups of crème anglaise mixture, and opinion formed after looking over MANY boxes of Edy’s and other Store Frozen Yogurts during a certain period of lactose intolerance, which had at the point completely and thoroughly destroyed my initial hopes and impressions of what “frozen yogurt” was. Fast forward to my online research in the last week, where to my surprise I found not one, but TWO separate recipes made with 100% Yogurt for their dairy source. I think a few companies have some explaining to do.

                But making your own frozen yogurt is pretty easy, particularly with this recipe. You’ll need to get some good, Plain Greek Yogurt (no flavored, it’s all artificial and doesn’t really taste that good anyway), or make your own by straining regular yogurt as I did (hopefully I’ll be able to make my own from scratch at some point, but for now storebought it is). Here’s How:

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                Take your giant tub of yogurt and upend it into a strainer lined with 2 layers of Cheesecloth. If cheesecloth isn’t readily at hand, or it’s a little pricey for you to buy (the only cheesecloth I can buy is this small 10ft roll at my local Cub, the price which can add up if you were to buy often), you can easily use a clean, white cotton dish towel. I use them a lot, and at the moment have ended up just reserving one or two purely for food use.

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                Place inside a large bowl and set in fridge to strain overnight, covered of course. The original recipe detailing this states that the amount of Strained Yogurt received after this will be half the starting amount, but ultimately I think it’ll depend on what yogurt you use. Either way, what you’ll end up with is a firm, compact package of what I can only describe as seeming to be a cross between yogurt and goat cheese in texture (and sorta flavor too, but still very strong yogurty).

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                To this we can now add the very few ingredients needed. For every 2 cups of Yogurt, add ½ cup of sugar-source (raw sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc) and 1 Tsp vanilla or other extract. Though, I don’t like adding in the sugar raw to such a thick substance, so I put it in a sauce pot with honey and a touch of water and heat up to ensure that it fully dissolves and incorporate better.

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                Mix those together, and place in fridge for at least an hour to fully cool down and ensure complete sugar dissolvement.

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                Ready whichever device one uses to freeze and churn their ice cream, and add your prepared Frozen Yogurt base. Follow directions for proper churning, and it will be ready when it looks like thick ice cream.

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                While it’s freezing, we can make the topping: Pomegranate Molasses. Basically put, a thick syrup made from reducing pomegranate juice to pretty extreme lows (if you’ve ever made a balsamic reduction for a sauce, think about 1 or 2 steps FURTHER than that). But we need some juice to do this first, which can be gotten pretty simply.

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                Just take any leftover seeds one has and pop it into the blender. Cover and pulse until it’s all DESTROYED. Believe me, this is the best way to get juice out of fresh seeds, probably just cuz it acts as a container so that you don’t get exploding juice everywhere. Not that you’re getting a lot of it; a whole pomegranate is likely to only give, say, a half to a whole cup of juice to enjoy. It’s fine if you don’t need a lot, but if at some point you are needing a LARGE amount of juice for some bulk job, just buy the stuff pre-juiced, seriously. Otherwise it’s a lot of bitchy work getting yourself.

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                Strain into a bowl and transfer to a wide sauté pan. Get it hot, watch it bubble, swirl the pan and do NOT leave it alone. It’s a very thin line between reduction, molasses, and too-damn-thick. Not that it can’t be fixed with a little bit of added water or more juice and heating back to thickness.

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                Just remember, as with all cooled sauces it’ll be thicker once cooled down, so take it off the heat when it’s a little looser than the ideal thickness.

                Now that that’s ready in the fridge and the yogurt is frozen, we can finish and serve. Pour the frozen pomegranates into the churner to mix in (never want to do this at the beginning, otherwise they’ll just break up and make it all purple, won’t have any of those beautiful little pockets). Depending on the strength and style of ice cream maker, though, you may have to just take it out and do it by hand; it DOES get pretty thick after freezing, much easier to get a thorough encorporating with your hands.

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                Can either serve it as is, “soft serve” (ish), or transfer to a container and move back into the freezer for a few hours or overnight to firm up. Once done, scoop into the preferred vessel of choice and garnish. My toppings included fresh seeds, the molasses, and slivers of handmade candied ginger and ginger-sugar sprinkles.

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                And there we have it, a classic winter fruit completely taken apart and made into a classic frozen street delight. Though it may not be the first thing we crave with this weather, one can’t deny the mix of nostalgia, fun, and deliciousness. I hope this at least inspires some of you to pick up more than one pomegranate throughout the season and dive into it with a further. Good Luck when you do, and Good Eating when you’re finished.