August 12th, 2011 | by RUTH BROWN Food & Drink |

First Bite: Salt and Straw Ice Cream

The best publicized ice cream in Portland

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New ice cream scoop shop Salt and Straw only opens its doors on Northeast Alberta Street today, but you've probably already heard about it.

Since May 2011, the ice cream company—which has been operating a small cart on the same street for three months—has been featured on Eater PDX, KPTV, Fox 12, the Portland Monthly (three! times!) the Washington Post, OPB, Serious Eats, KOIN, the Oregonian, the Wall Street Journal, and, yes, Willamette Week

"Damn," you may be thinking, "that must be some great freakin' ice cream. Everybody's talking about it and it hasn't even opened yet!"

Yes and no.

Salt and Straw has a really good PR firm. We've all received plenty of press releases, free pints, and invites to several media events. There's a lovely website and a catchy catch phrase ("farm-to-cone"). I hold in my hands right now a beautifully printed, five-page "fact sheet" on everything from the ingredients to the logo designer to the seasonal flavors that will be available this Christmas.

Luckily, Salt and Straw's ice cream is worth writing about. It's not, in my opinion, the best ice cream in the city (Ruby Jewel, Cool Moon and Scoop all put up a pretty formidable fight for that title) but it is almost certainly in the top five straight out of the gates, and it is probably the most interesting and ambitious.

At a media preview yesterday, I got to taste my way through much of the menu and check out its newly furnished digs at 2035 NE Alberta St.

The good: Owner Kim Malek and her cousin, ice cream maker Tyler Malek, are lovely people who clearly care have a great passion for what they do, and have put a great deal of time into learning their craft and developing their product. The ice cream ($3.75 for a scoop, $8 for a pint) has more fat (17%; and really, if you're going to eat ice cream, why not?) and less sugar than your average scoop.

The better flavors are the more traditional—there's a lovely chocolate with brownie bits that lacks the cloying sweetness of Ben and Jerry's equivalent, and my favorite twists the faddish salted caramel style on its head by swirling really good caramel throughout a sea salt flavored ice cream. There's an outstanding sundae ($6.50) that takes PokPok's sweet sticky rice (apparently Andy Ricker actually taught them the recipe himself), layered with pineapple, a scoop of vanilla and bits of cinnamon bread.

The store itself is gorgeous, decorated with vintage trinkets and salvaged wood.

The not-so-good: Some of the weirder flavors don't quite hit the mark—there's one with barbeque sauce and baked beans and one with beer and bacon, which are both about as appetizing as they sound. Some just aren't quite as weird as they sound.

There is an astounding amount of merchandise for a neighborhood ice cream store that has only just opened: t-shirts, bags, cards, buttons, etc.

While Alberta Street is riddled with kiddies these days, Salt and Straw is on a stretch of the street with less foot traffic (across from the Know), and will have to develop a following in its own right to keep the crowds coming in.

With such good PR behind it, I don't think that will be a problem.

Disclaimer: If it wasn't clear earlier: Willamette Week didn't pay a red cent for this ice cream. 

GO: Salt and Straw, 2035 NE Alberta St., 208-3867, saltandstraw.com. 12-11 pm daily.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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