Is it local? At Cool Moon Ice Cream, it is!

“Is it local?”

The city of Portland, Oregon is known for its focus on keeping things “local.” When it comes to food, Portland knows that “local” produce, dairy, meat and even beer are more likely to be organic, fresh, and tasty. Even the wildly-popular television show “Portlandia” pokes fun at this Portland stereotype (if you haven’t seen this clip, I highly recommend it). But there is definitely something behind this stereotype; and Portlanders aren’t afraid to admit it.

Last week, my job took me to Portland for a few days. Anyone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest knows that December is one of the worst months to visit Portland. Rain, rain, and more rain. But I’ll take a paid trip to Portland any day. Work meetings over organic, grass-fed dinners at The Farm Cafe? I guess I can manage. Networking happy hour at Deschutes Brewery? If I have to. Prepping for a presentation at Powell’s Books? Twist my arm.

But the best perk of my Portland trip was the chance to see my college roommate Jamie’s dad’s brand-new bike shop: West End Bikes. Jamie’s dad (like mine) is an engineer by trade, but his passion is biking. A couple years ago, he teamed up with a buddy to open their own bike shop right downtown. After all, Portland is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. This was my first time visiting West End Bikes, and I was beyond impressed with the store and its inventory. The shop’s beautiful layout and impeccable decor is a testament to the owner’s engineering background. And the inventory is top-notch. While I don’t ride myself, my parents do – so I can appreciate the high-end bikes, helmets, shoes, and clothing that West End Bikes carries. If you are even remotely interested in biking, West End Bikes is a must-see in Portland. Plus, there’s no sales tax in Oregon!

Given Portland’s focus on all things “local,” I couldn’t resist trying some ice cream during my visit. After a quick Yelp search, I headed over to Cool Moon Ice Cream. This Portland favorite is located in the heart of the Pearl District – a funky neighborhood full of hippy coffee shops, local brew pubs, and one-of-a-kind clothing shops. I was drawn to Cool Moon Ice Cream after reading that they make all of their ice creams and sorbets right on the premises. You can’t get more “local” than that!

A well-lit and colorful storefront invites you into Cool Moon Ice Cream, brightening the dreariness of a rainy December day. Inside, the shop has an funky ice cream parlor vibe. During my visit, the store was fully decked-out in holiday cheer. Cool Moon has over 40 different flavors of ice cream and sorbet on its website, but there are about 15 flavors on its menu at any given time. While most of the flavors sound fairly common, I did see a few unique creations in the freezer. Four flavors stood out to me, but I couldn’t decide which I wanted to order. Luckily, the young man behind the counter was incredibly patient and happily gave me samples. The first flavor I tried was Salted Caramel. Personally, I don’t classify Salted Caramel as an exotic flavor anymore, as it’s cropping up on menus across the country. Heck, even Haagen-Dazs sells a salted caramel flavor! And, sadly, they do a better job than Cool Moon with it. I could certainly taste salt – but my hunch is that Cool Moon used table salt, as the saltiness lacked the pleasant mineral-y taste of kosher or sea salt. Also, the caramel lacked the buttery richness of the best Salted Caramel ice creams. But my impression of Cool Moon Ice Cream improved with the next sample:
Sicilian Spumoni. Cool Moon pays homage to the traditional Italian dessert with a pistachio ice cream base, which they blend orange and lemon peel, orange liquor, and cherries into. The specks of citrus and cherries were incredibly fine, so these components were overpowered by the pistachio flavor. Luckily, Cool Moon makes a mean pistachio ice cream – creamy and full of natural flavors. I was excited to see another pistachio-based flavor in the case: Kulfi. The young man behind the counter told me that kulfi is a popular dessert in India. Wikipedia says kulfi is similar to ice cream, but it’s denser because it’s not whipped. Kulfi comes in a variety of different flavors – including rose, cream, raspberry, mango, saffron, pistachio and cardamom. Cool Moon chose to blend three of their favorite kulfi flavors (pistachio, rose, and cardamom) into one yummy fusion. I can’t lie and say I really tasted the rosewater, but I’m sure it helped to temper the strong cardamom and added to the sweet creaminess of the ice cream.

After three samples, I knew it was time to commit to a real scoop. Little did I know, but I happened to have saved the best flavor for last. I learned that Cardinal Zin is made by infusing bittersweet chocolate ice cream with Zinfandel wine and sweet bing cherries (both from Oregon). Wine and chocolate? Sign me up! I happily forked over $3.90 for a “regular” cup… or should I say glass? When you order “for here,” Cool Moon serves your ice cream in a proper glass bowl and hands you a real silver spoon. How earth-friendly! Oh – and leave your AmEx at home. Cool Moon gives a 5% discount when you pay with cash. You gotta love Portland…

Christmas makes everything taste better.

The verdict? Cardinal Zin is definitely the best flavor I tried while at Cool Moon Ice Cream. The bittersweet chocolate base wasn’t anything to write home about; your average store-bought chocolate ice cream is just as good. But the bites of sweet cherry and the light Zinfandel aftertaste are what won me over. Unfortunately, the texture of Cardinal Zin isn’t as light and creamy as the Salted Caramel, Spumoni or Kulfi. Perhaps the Zinfandel is to blame for its ice-y texture? Overall, this ice cream was very enjoyable and the “normal” size satisfied my sweet tooth without ruining my appetite for dinner. While I would happily order Cardinal Zin again, it doesn’t make my “Top 10” list. Still, Cool Moon’s reasonable prices, friendly service and downtown location makes it a great family-friendly destination for tourists and locals alike.

The Stats:
Cool Moon Ice Cream
1105 NW Johnson Street
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 224-2021

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