Contrary to what you might think, the Pop-Tarts taco is not made with meat. "They’re like, ‘OK, so it’s ground beef with Pop-Tarts.’ No, no," laughed Sandra Di Capua. "The ground beef is Pop-Tart." Specifically a Cookies & Creme Pop-Tart that's been crumbled up and served in a real corn tortilla, dusted with a mix of cinnamon and sugar and topped with jelly beans for "tomatoes." The taco is just one of the many savory-turned-sweet dishes on offer at the pop-up Pop-Tarts cafe that has taken over Kellogg's NYC, the cereal cafe in Times Square that Di Capua runs with Anthony Rudolf, for one week.
Starting today, February 21 and lasting until Sunday, February 26, Kellogg's NYC has transformed into Pop-Tarts Cafe. The collaboration came about when Pop-Tarts, a Kellogg's brand, reached out to Di Capua and the team at Kellogg's NYC. "We’ve been so thrilled with the Kellogg’s NYC cafe. It’s really allowed people to experience cereal in a different way, reimagining that cereal experience," said Angela Gusse, marketing director for Pop-Tarts. "We wanted to do the same thing, so we wanted to find a way to inspire our fans to think creatively about Pop-Tarts." And that's exactly what Di Capua and the team at Kellogg's NYC did, taking on the challenge of creating an all-Pop-Tarts menu with New York City-inspired menu items.
"They really just said, think about what you want to do," Di Capua said. "Anthony and I both come from fine dining backgrounds, so both of us are a little bit over-the-top for lack of a better word, but we like to do things in a sincere way. If we’re going to do a Pop-Tarts recipe, we’re going to do a Pop-Tarts recipe. It’s not going to be just a Pop-Tart."
They were, however, limited by the lack of a hot kitchen at Kellogg's NYC. "We put things together, but we don’t have an oven, we don’t have a stove. So the idea of doing something like a chocolate chip cookie or a pancake was out of the question," Di Capua said. So for this menu, the team at Kellogg's NYC had to get really creative, though the techniques are probably familiar even if the dishes seem a little nutty. "I think we cooked in the way that a lot of people in our generation cook, which is a little bit more creative with food. It’s thinking about the best way of doing something instead of the most classical way of doing something." That's part of the reason the three cheesecakes on the menu are no-bake cheesecakes, made with sweet condensed milk, cream cheese, lemon juice, vanilla, and a Pop-Tarts crust.
One of the first dishes they created was the Birthday Fiesta Nachos, inspired by the store's general manger's idea to make chips and salsa. The chips in this case are Confetti Cupcake Pop-Tarts that have been broken into triangular shards. They’re topped with strawberry “salsa,” “sour cream” frosting, rainbow sprinkles, and some fresh mint. The whole thing is topped with a birthday candle (which—fair warning—may be lit when you pick it up from the counter).
The goal was to make dishes that were as delicious as they were playful. "It’s not just for the Instagram, it’s not just for the picture they’re going to take," insisted Di Capua. The trick with the menu, she continued, was making sure they highlighted the fact that "Pop-Tarts are ridiculous and delicious and how can we showcase that, put bright lights behind them, but still really let the Pop-Tart come through."
Sometimes, that means pairing the Pop-Tart with a fresh fruit, a tactic employed with the Pop-Tarts Burritos. There's a S'mores Burrito and a Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Burrito, but I tasted the Nutty Caramel Banana: a chopped up Chocolatey Caramel Pop-Tarts wrapped inside a sweet crêpe "tortilla" with fresh banana, toasted pecans & salted caramel sauce. “So there’s strawberry salsa, kiwi salsa, and frosting cream cheese,” pointed out Gusse as she walked me through the dish. “She really means roasted tomato salsa, tomatillo salsa, and sour cream,” joked Sandra.
The playfulness is especially clear with the Personal Pop-Tarts Pizza, which is served in a little cardboard box like a real slice of pizza. The only difference? This pizza has a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts crust and is sweet. There’s strawberry “marinara sauce" with frosting as cheese. The pepperoni are actually little slices of fruit leather—but think Fruit by the Foot rather than that thick stuff from health food stores—and the “basil” is actually mint. On second thought, it's really nothing like a slice of pizza—but it's definitely delicious. Di Capua noted that this kind of ground-up Pop-Tarts crust would be easy to make at home and would be perfect for a cheesecake or icebox cake. "I’m not ashamed of shortcuts, but I like thoughtful shortcuts, and I think doing a Pop-Tart crust, I would do that in a heartbeat."
Traditionalists will be pleased to know that you can get a single Pop-Tart for a dollar, either toasted or untoasted. (“A lot of people eat them fresh out of the foil. You don’t have to do anything to them at all,” said Gusse, and according to her, only half of Pop-Tarts consumers "toast their Tarts.") There are also Pop-Tarts Flights, groupings of four Tarts for $3.
But there's something liberating about thinking of Pop-Tarts beyond a rectangle that can either be served hot or cold. "I think about it now as an ingredient as opposed to a thing that stands on its own," Di Capua said. And when these Pop-Tarts are served up in milkshakes, pizzas, and even makeshift chili fries with sour candy "scallions," it's hard not to be totally charmed. But be warned that the Pop-Tarts Cafe menu items will only be around until Sunday, February 26, when the store reverts back to a cereal cafe.