My first taste of Salt & Straw came during a midsummer visit to my hometown of Portland, Ore. I arrived well-versed in the lore: The company started as a food cart with eight flavors in 2011, they moved to a storefront with lines streaming out the door, and they were now poised to expand even further [my trip came after the second and third Portland locations were announced, well before the L.A. store].
Still, I wasn’t ready for what I saw on Alberta Street. The buzz was audible from a block down. The line wrapped around the building. The way people talked about Salt & Straw reminded me of Seinfeld‘s Soup Nazi; there was a reverent mythos and a feeling that this was a destination of its own, a place you inked into your travel itinerary.
I ordered two scoops, sea salt with caramel ribbons and the flavor-of-the-month with a name pirated from a Portlandia sketch [Was it strawberry balsamic, tahini and cardamom, or just straight olive oil?]. The odder flavor descriptions allowed me to hang onto a few shreds of skepticism, but even those soon evaporated.
Upon first lick, Salt & Straw became the best ice cream I’d ever tasted.
In the years since, the creamery has continued to grow while honoring Portland with their flair for the weird (garam masala and cinnamon cauliflower, kimchi and rice, bratwurst and mustard). But here’s the kicker: Virtually everything they come up with works (besides the bratwurst). They emphasize complex flavors over saccharine sweetness and insist on bold thinking, making the Portland institution the perfect place to start our tour for National Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day.
- “Molé Rojo Flan.” Salt & Straw (Portland, Ore.). The ice cream is flavored with ancho chilies, cinnamon, and Mexican vanilla. The flan is made with Restaurante Guelaguetza‘s molé rojo and then mixed into the base in a classic bit of Salt & Straw mayhem.
- “Netflix.” Coolhaus (food trucks in NYC, L.A., Dallas, and Austin). Sometimes, the Coolhaus crew goes fully off-the-wall (fried chicken and waffles, Peking duck) but nine out of 10 times, the taste is worth the risk, like this white cheddar popcorn base with Doritos.
- “Chocolate Potato Chip.” Atticus Creamery + Pies (Los Angeles). Potato infused ice creams are officially becoming a thing. This rendition pairs potato chip base with swirls of chocolate, hitting that magic salty and sweet combo.
- “Rose and Pink Peppercorn.” Chauhan Ale & Masala House (Nashville, Tenn.). “Rose is a flavor profile very popular in India,” Chef Maneet Chauhan tells us. “But if it’s not used with a deft hand, people think they’re eating perfume.” Chauhan balances the rose with Madagascar vanilla and pink peppercorns, creating a sweet-spicy-floral hybrid.