I finally made it to Salt & Straw!

There are many “Best Ice Cream Shops in America” lists out there, but there’s only a couple shops that you’ll see time and time again. One of these is Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon. Run by two cousins, Kim & Tyler Malek, Salt & Straw started as a tiny food cart operation. Today, it’s a massively-popular chain (with shops in Portland and Los Angeles) and is a towering figure on the national ice-cream scene. Salt & Straw was one of the first shops in the country to churn out totally wacky and unconventional ice-cream flavors using ingredients like black pepper and blue cheese. But it’s the high quality ice cream & attention to local ingredients that continues to earn Salt & Straw accolades from publications like The New York Times, Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and even The Oprah Magazine!

Despite spending a lot of time in Washington State, I don’t seem to get down to Portland often enough. According to this blog, the last time I was here was 2012! While I knew of Salt & Straw back then, I failed to get myself to the shop during that short work trip. I did manage to sample the ice cream at Cool Moon, however, which I liked but didn’t love.

I finally had a chance to redeem myself last month, when I was in Portland to celebrate my college roommate’s wedding. It was a very busy weekend, full of wedding festivities and catching up with friends from college, so I had to make a point of getting to Salt & Straw…. it wouldn’t happen organically! Luckily, I was even able to round up a few friends to join me (thanks, Becca, Juan & Bryan!) on my Friday afternoon visit to the SE Division shop in Southeast Portland.

img_0688Having heard of hour-long waits, I was shocked to see no line outside of the shop! It was my lucky day. After a quick photo by the famous sign, our party of four headed inside. Salt & Straw’s SE Division shop is beautiful; it looks like a hipster’s take on a classic 1950s ice cream parlor. The interior is predominantly wood, but with bright accents of cherry red and chrome. Wafts of freshly-made waffle cones only adds to the atmosphere.

img_0689 Salt & Straw has developed hundreds of flavors, but their shops carry fewer than 20 flavors at any given time. About a dozen are “Classic Flavors” and are always available, and the remaining slots are dedicated to seasonal creations. Popular mainstays include Honey Lavender, Chocolate Gooey Brownie, Cinnamon Snickerdoodle, Arbequina Olive Oil, and Freckled Woodblock Chocolate. Today, the limited-edition “Late Summer Harvest Series” flavors sounded amazing: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J, White Toast & Apple Butter, Sour Cream Fig Pie, Oregon Honeyed Rocky Road, and Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries.

img_0690But the big question: What to order? The lovely and knowledgeable Ally patiently answered my questions and gave me a sample of the Freckled Woodblock Chocolate (her personal fave). I eventually settled on a double-scoop cup of two seasonal favors: the Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries and Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J. One crazy flavor, one safe bet. When hearing about the blog, Ally shared some inside info: the bone marrow is from cows and is slow roasted, clarified, and then blended with sugar and cream for the base (i.e. no weird clumps of bone marrow). And the PB&J involves two forms of peanut butter (liquid and cereal) and the jam is homemade using local grapes.

picturesaltstrawPrices were what I expected: high, but not offensively so. My double-scoop was $5.95.

Bottom: Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries; Top: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J

Bottom: Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries; Top: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J

The verdict? Salt & Straw lives up to the hype. My friends and I were floored by the deliciousness of Salt & Straw’s ice cream, our eyes bulging in happy surprise as we took our first bites. This is ice cream made by people who deeply understand the science of ice cream. The ice cream was the ideal eating temperate, was rich but not too dense, and every mix-in retained its original state (not soggy but also not frozen solid). My flavors were sweet but not so sweet as to overwhelm the more subtle notes. I promise: the Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries is good! Bone marrow may be a culinary trend, but I don’t go out of my way to eat it. The bone marrow just adds a bit of salt and umami flavor to the smooth ice cream, and the soft chunks of smoked Oregon Dark Sweet cherries add texture and familiarity. My other scoop – the Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J – was a dream; intense peanut-buttery flavor in light ice cream form. The homemade grape jam swirl brought me right back to childhood. The crunchy PB cereal bits were few and far between. These two scoops paired well with one another!

As I mentioned, my friends were equally as pleased with their order. Bryan’s Salted Stumptown Cold Brew Shake looked so creamy and inviting that I had to steal a couple sips. Oh-my-goodness was it yummy. I’m not one for shakes, but I would make an exception for this one. Smooth Stumptown cold brew blended with Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon ice cream.

All in all, Salt & Straw totally lived up to my sky-high expectations. My only regret was not coming sooner!

The Stats:
Salt & Straw – SE Division
3345 SE Division Street
Portland, ME 92702
(multiple locations in Portland & Los Angeles)

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in Bend, Oregon

One of the reasons I love ice cream is that it’s fun. Plain and simple fun. No matter how busy or stressful my life gets, ice cream provides me a moment of escape. It’s hard to be anxious while licking an ice-cream cone. Stress and ice cream just don’t go together!

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Bend, Oregon for work. It was a quick 36-hour trip during an already-busy week, so I was a bit frazzled by the time the trip rolled around. But I was glad to get the chance to see Central Oregon for the first time. And I made sure to schedule a stress-reducing ice-cream adventure 🙂

Bend is a small city to the east of the Cascade Range, so it does not suffer from the same rainy, dreary winters that Portland and Seattle do. In fact, the locals boast about the “300 days of sunshine” here. So it’s not surprising that Bend is a mecca for outdoors-sports enthusiasts. There’s plenty of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and canoeing to enjoy (provided you’re not here for work). But I got a bit unlucky; it snowed the entire day I spent in Bend!

Luckily, the snow didn’t impede my meetings or my ability to check out downtown Bend. In between work obligations, I drove through the quaint city streets. Downtown Bend is full of cute shops, unique coffee shops, family restaurants, and (of course) breweries! Bend does have a hippy/alternative vibe similar to that of Portland, but I appreciated just how clean and well laid out Bend is. In fact, the town reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado and Burlington, Vermont. (I just realized these three cities all start with “B”… Coincidence??)

I noticed a couple small ice-cream shops around town, but I had a particular pit stop in mind: Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in downtown Bend.

View from across the snowy street

Oh, the colors! Powell’s Sweet Shoppe is overwhelming in the best way possible. It’s a small store, but every inch of the space is covered with brilliantly wrapped candies and whimsical displays. It’s like a fun penny-candy store meets an old-fashioned soda fountain. Eying the huge array of treats in every size and color, I felt lighter and giddier, forgetting any work stress I was feeling just moments before. This place is every child’s dream, and this big kid explored every inch of the store. I saw all the familiar candies (like M&Ms, Jelly Belly, PEZ, and Nerds) and nostalgic candy (Jujubes, Cow Tails, and Necco Wafers), but also lesser-known retro treats like Ice Cubes, and Sky Bars. Powell’s website claims they carry 5,000 varieties of candy — and after seeing the store, I could believe it!

One of my favorite details about Powell’s Sweet Shoppe is the movie-viewing area in the back, where “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” plays on a loop. This must drive employees absolutely bonkers, but I loved how it brought such strong memories of my childhood back. That movie is just so timeless.

The fact that I meandered through the isles of candy instead of making a beeline to the gelato case is a testament to how fun this store is. The candy alone could have kept me occupied for an hour. But, alas, I was here for the gelato.

Much like the candy selection, Powell’s gelato case included both classic and nostalgic flavors. I counted about 20 options. From Dark Chocolate, Mint Chip and Cookies & Cream to Salted Caramel, Cherry and Coconut Macadamia, there is something for everyone.

I ordered a “small” cup which cost less than $4 and allowed me to pick two flavors. I went with the Crème Brûlée and Almond Crunch. It wasn’t until after ordering that I noticed that some of the flavors (including my Almond Crunch) were listed on Leo Leo Gelato signs while others (including Crème Brûlée and some of the more fun flavors) were posted on Powell’s-branded signs. I inquired about the difference, and the lady behind the counter told me that only some of the flavors are Powell’s own creations while others come from their favorite gelato company (Leo Leo).

The verdict? First of all, there is no real seating area in Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, so I had to stand inside to eat this before venturing out into the snow. On a sunny day, it would be fun to eat your gelato while window shopping downtown. Now, onto the gelato… Both flavors were enjoyable, but the Crème Brûlée was hands-down my favorite. While both flavors were too soft (almost like soft serve) and too sugary-sweet for my tastes, I was impressed with the thick, dark-brown swirls of caramelized sugar in my scoop of Crème Brûlée. Although the base wasn’t anything special; it was more like a sweet cream instead of the eggy custard I was hoping for. And the Almond Crunch wouldn’t offend anyone, the almond flavor was pretty bland. I did like the texture of the bits of almond, though. Nuts can sometimes be soggy, but these held onto some of their bite. While the gelato at Powell’s didn’t quite knock my socks off, I would go back to try some other flavors. The prices are affordable, and the store is just so fun!

The Stats:
Powell’s Sweet Shoppe
818 NW Wall Street
Bend, OR 97701
(multiple locations)