Sley Deli: A Traditional Mexican Paletería in a Brooklyn Bodega

By Wendy Wong


(Photographs by Wendy Wong)

In Mexico, shops and carts selling paletas, or ice pops, are called paleterías. Here in New York City, these frozen, sweet treats are stocked year-round in many bodegas, delis and restaurants—and Sley Deli & Grocery, in Brooklyn, is the likely source.

This Borough Park bodega, where the paletas are made in-house, supplies ice pops to more than 100 delis throughout the five boroughs. Simon Leyba, Sley’s owner, worked in his family’s paletería in Atencingo—a small town in the state of Puebla, Mexico—when he was a teenager. He used those traditional techniques here, when he started making and selling paletas eight years ago.

Like many small family businesses, Leyba’s sons and daughters also work at the store and often arrive at 7:00 a.m. to help hand-mix ingredients, fill molds and freeze fresh batches of paletas. The store is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. during the summer, but despite the long hours, Leyba and his employees chat with regulars and warmly welcome new faces, suggesting flavors and offering samples.

The paletas are either milk-based or water-based, which determines whether they’re soft and creamy or icy and fruity. Sley sells 32 flavors of these ice pops ($1 each), which are available every day. Several batches of fresh paletas are made from morning until afternoon, and as flavors sell out they’re quickly replaced.

Paleterías in Mexico normally sell a mix of traditional flavors, along with others that are more Americanized. Sley follows this formula, offering flavors like guanabana (soursop, similar to a strawberry-pineapple blend) and mamey (a creamy fruit that tastes like sweet potato and pumpkin), as well as coffee and Oreo.

Many of their water-based paletas—like cantaloupe, pineapple, mango and tamarind—are embedded with pieces of real fruit. Nance, one of Sley’s most popular fruit flavors, is studded with tiny pieces of the slightly acidic “yellow cherries,” and it tastes like a piña colada blended with a hint of lychee.

Among the milk-based paletas, arroz con leche, made with vanilla, cinnamon and boiled rice, stands out. It’s creamy, yet light, with well-balanced flavors in each bite. The grains of rice dotting the surface are pleasantly firm, giving this paleta a nicely varied texture (unlike Sley’s similar but completely smooth horchata flavor).

Sley also offers a line of spicy chili paletas that combine mango, pineapple, tamarind or cucumber with ground chili powder. The mango with chili paleta combines tart sweetness with a spicy kick from the chili.

Rompope, Mexico’s rum-spiked version of eggnog, is also part of Sley’s repertoire. Eggnog is reserved for the winter holidays in the U.S., but in Mexico it’s consumed year-round. At Sley, rompope paletas are also available year-round—though there’s no rum to be found in these paletas, which combine vanilla, cinnamon, eggs and milk. These frozen treats are so rich and creamy, you won’t even miss the booze.

Sley Deli & Grocery
4217 Fort Hamilton Pkwy (map)
Brooklyn, NY 11219

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