When I was a kid in Maryland, we traveled 20 minutes in the summer to go to a special ice cream shop. It was called Newdecker’s and it had a couple picnic tables out back. The ice cream was churned there, and they had three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. In summer only they added peach because, well, that’s when peaches were in season. It was peach that we were making the trek for—the exotic, seasonal, special one.
As much as things seem to have changed from the days that formed those nostalgic memories, in many ways they’ve stayed the same. When we get all excited about Salt and Straw—the famed Portland-based ice cream chain with quirky, city-centric flavors—coming to Seattle, it’s just a hyperbolic case of seeking that unique and fleeting peach ice cream in the summer.
So as much as I might roll my eyes over the latest trendy donut/cupcake/ice-cream/pizza joint to join the fray, in my heart, I get it. It’s with acceptance of our desire for novelty that I entered the new Salt and Straw in Ballard (there’s also a Capitol Hill location) last week with a friend and four 10-year-old girls. Here’s what I discovered that might help you choose from a long, perhaps unpredictable, list of classic and rotating flavors.
1. The “weird” flavors aren’t really that weird. True, I’ve heard stories about Fish Sauce and Blue Cheese and Pear ice cream (and maybe those are still to come), but probably the oddest flavor on the menu was the Beecher’s Cheese with Peppercorn Toffee. In reality, though, it didn’t taste very strange. Mostly just sweet and not very cheesy at all. More like toffee with a peppery kick. You’ll actually find more esoteric flavors at Kurt Farm Shop.
2. Salt and Straw works with lots of other local companies to create their flavors: Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Theo’s Chocolate, Fran’s Chocolate, Westland Distillery, Ellenos Yogurt, Elm Coffee, Intrigue Chocolate, and more. If you like herbal notes in your ice cream, Intrigue’s Green Basil and Chocolate Cocoa Nibs is spot-on. (As an aside, I’m a big fan of Intrigue Chocolate in Pioneer Square, a craft chocolatier that sells truffles infused with herbs and fruits so fresh that you need to eat them within a week.)
3. Sample, sample, sample. We were met at the door with a staffer who told us that we were encouraged to taste (they even have a little box that dispenses tiny,metal spoons at the ready). Among the six of us, we probably tried about 20 flavors before committing—and never once got the hairy eyeball.
4. The Elm Coffee and Westland Whiskey flavor tastes like a very good coffee ice cream, minus the booze. It was the most enticing and disappointing. Get some liquor up in there! Similarly, Ellenos Yogurt and matcha could have easily just been matcha.
5. Honey lavender is a great balance of the two flavors.
6. Vegan ice cream is almost always made with a coconut-milk base. When it’s done really well, the coconut is barely detectable. But in the case of the vegan Rachel’s Raspberry Ginger Beer, it feels like part of the flavor—not bad, unless you’re not a fan of coconut.
7. Crushed pretzel streusel topping. Need I say more?
8. Tasting flights: $11.45 gets the indecisive eater four scoops presented on a tray. It’s great if you want to get a range of flavors without maxing out on free samples (and you can actually sit and enjoy them).
9. The Pomegranate Pok Pok Drinking Vinegar Shake sounds weird, and the first taste might be a bit off-putting, but keep sucking. The vanilla ice cream (my choice for the shake’s ice cream flavor) works wonderfully weirdly against a sweet-sour pomegranate drinking vinegar. If you’ve tried a shrub (basically fruit with vinegar), you’ll know what I’m talking about. That said, $10.50 is a lot for a milkshake. You get a pint of it, but it doesn’t seem much bigger than your average shake.
10. It’s across the street from Hot Cakes. Just sayin’…