REVIEW: Vice Cream’s Higher Grounds

We all like to get a little high. My favorite way to start the day is a nice caffeine buzz, and the best way to end that day is with a nice creamy scoop. While every day doesn’t end with ice cream, you betcha every morning breaks with a steaming cup of the blackest of the black, so it should be no surprise that fusing these two joys of life seems nearly as common as chocolate, vanilla, and caramel. Fueling all of our favorite crutches, Vice have come through with Higher Grounds, which combines a dark roast coffee ice cream with a mocha fudge swirl, chocolate cookie crumbles, and espresso pillows.

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This is a really great coffee ice cream. It’s bursting with dark and bold coffee flavor and just enough sweetness to keep it in the realm of sugary desserts. The bittersweet intensity is rounded out beautifully by a perfectly smooth and dense creamy texture that finishes with pure lush dairy notes. It’s by far the best base I’ve had from Vice and one of the better coffee flavored ones I’ve had from the grocery store in general.

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The element of this flavor I was the most curious about are the “espresso pillows” and it turns out that’s just a really cute name for chocolate covered espresso beans. The pillows are bold and crunchy with a strong coffee bean flavor that cuts through the intense coffee presence of the ice cream for a real coffee lovers treat. The bittersweet chocolate coating adds a touch of sweetness to the dark party and I really love chomping on beans intermittently during this caffeine-fueled cream dream.

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It’s hard to tell how much coffee flavor is in the mocha swirl among all the other coffee-forward elements but it’s syrupy and adds a nice different texture to the overall experience. In an ideal world it might be a little thicker to live up to the “fudge” name, but as it stands with its Hershey’s syrup swagger it’s perfectly acceptable and does its job well.

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The cookie crumbles are the least interesting part of the mix, but also the only one without coffee so they’re a pretty necessary component. They’re little crunchy balls that remind me of a chocolate topping that would come with a cookie-themed yogurt, and I don’t dislike them but don’t really love them either. I would have really enjoyed some Oreo’s or more varied pieces of cookie, but the constant presence of the crunchy bits brings a nice toothiness to the pint that holds up.

Higher Grounds isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means but it’s a damn fine coffee ice cream for those who really like their flavors big and bold. Super creamy, super potent, this pint is a winner.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

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REVIEW: Tillamook’s Speculoos Cookie Caramel

Now that it’s officially the last week of July it’s time to get those spice-engines-a-revvin’. Sure, there’s bound to be some more beautiful berries in my future, but from August through December it’s a lock for my tastebuds to get warm and cuddly. Aside from the ever-prominent pumpkin spice and gingerbread, nothing screams spicy splendor quite like speculoos, and when you put that flavor into an ice cream? Real summer finale fireworks potential. Tillamook’s Speculoos Cookie Caramel combines a speculoos cookie butter ice cream with cinnamon spiced cookie crumbles and caramel.

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REVIEW: Gelato Fiasco’s Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel

Gelato Fiasco are a Maine-based gelato company who began scooping to locals in 2007 and have since found distribution in over 2,000 grocery stores in the United States. They’re one of those East coast companies who’s presence has been pretty meager in the Bay Area, but as with many smaller brands, 2018 has seen a rise in their visibility and some of the more unique flavors are starting to pop up on my side of town. As a company that strives to “offer bold, intense flavors with a dessert whose commitment to quality and integrity is unmatched” I’m pretty stoked to delve into their creamy universe. Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel combines a mascarpone gelato with pistachio nuggets and a caramel sauce.

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I was really looking forward to scooping this flavor and I’ve gotta admit, I’m fairly bored with it. The mascarpone base is relatively thin and lacking any of the rich cheesy funk that I’m looking for. It has a decent sweetness and isn’t bad, but it just isn’t exciting in any way. I know it’s a gelato so I’m not expecting a heavy fattiness, but the big pop of flavor I want, or even a subtle nuanced finesse simply isn’t there. It does have a good texture, although it finishes a bit thin, and is light years away from similar bases made by companies like Coolhaus.

The second letdown for me in this pint are the “pistachio nuggets” which to be quite honest are much more like pistachio flakes. I love pistachios, both poppin’ them out of their shell for a snack and as an ice cream mix-in, and they’re so finely chopped here that I barely get any of their unique fatty flavor or texture. They’re about the same size as the chopped peanuts that come with a McDonald’s sundae, which might work if they were sprinkled heavily on top, but they’re so thinly dispersed that I miss any real pistachio presence.

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The best part about this flavor by far is the caramel sauce, which once again isn’t too prominent, but is very delicious. Thin and sweet with a slight touch of salt it has the consistency and flavor that I crave in a great swirl and the bites with a nice glob helped elevate the experience to something pretty enjoyable. Had there been some bigger pieces of pistachio to go along with the sauce I would have ate this one in sheer glee.

For an introductory review to the skillet this is a pretty mediocre outing, but I haven’t lost faith in Gelato Fiasco and will try a couple more flavors before moving on from the brand. I will never judge a company on one flavor alone, and this might just be a rare miss for a generally well regarded churner bursting their way into the west coast mainstream.

Rating: 6/10

Found at: Sprouts ($5.99)

Note: you may have noticed the wild lack of photos in this review compared to my usual posts – somehow my other two or three pictures of this ice cream vanished 😦

REVIEW: Little Debbie S’mores Cake Rolls

It’s the last week of July, which in commercial snack land means Halloween is right around the corner. Yes, even though in California, and especially in the Bay, we have yet to hit our temperature max, I know in my spooky spicy cinnamon-pumping heart that once that second week of August rolls around there will be pumpkins EVERYWHERE. So before I start spiraling into the autumnal abyss, it seems fitting to cap things off with one last summery s’mores treat, especially since I’m a pretty big cheerleader for Little Debbie’s Pumpkin Spice Rolls. Little Debbie’s S’mores Cake Rolls combine a graham cake with crème filling and a chocolate drizzle.

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REVIEW: Blue Bunny’s PB ‘N Cones

There are little things in life that shouldn’t make me as happy as they do but I can’t deny the legitimate excitement they bring me. Finding my first pint of Blue Bunny is one such thing, and I am gleaming. Ice cream is at the top of my “I could eat this forever” pyramid, but I love variety, and as such, I prefer pints over all other sizes of larger containers. Blue Bunny usually comes in much bigger tubs, and since I barely get a chance to come across BB in San Francisco anyway, I’ll take whatever I can get. But a pint? Of Blue Bunny? This is amazing. PB ‘N Cones combines vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirls and dipped cone pieces.

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The vanilla ice cream is exceptionally smooth and creamy with a beautiful light and refreshing mouthfeel. Not light in a bad, fluffy, low calorie kind of way, but light on the tongue like a perfect soft serve with more richness. The vanilla flavor is subdued but present with a classic sweetness that’s just right for putting back in joy without blinking an eye.

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The chocolate covered cone pieces are executed flawlessly. They’ve kept all of their crunch and pop through the smooth dairy with a wonderful brown sugar flavor accented by creamy milk chocolate. Waffle cones are one of the most iconic ice cream accompaniments, and their success being a mix-in relies almost exclusively on their execution. With no soggy-ness in sight Blue Bunny really nailed it.

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Peanut butter will always be a welcome addition to any pint in my freezer and that rule of thumb is no different here. The swirl is present but not dominant with a nice saltiness that cuts through all the other predominantly sweet components. It isn’t the saltiest peanut butter swirl I’ve had but brings the necessary contrast and wonderful fatty nutty notes that make it one of the greatest things ever. Since I’m such a fiend I wouldn’t mind a little more ribbon action, but it weaves in and out of bites pleasantly, perfectly tempered and creamy without seizing up.

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Once again Blue Bunny have shown that they are the kings of the lower calorie ice cream game. No, it’s not light ice cream, but it’s a far cry from the 300 calorie per serving offerings from Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs; and eating BB is just as enjoyable as the more fattening options with lotsa fun factor to boot. PB ‘N Cones doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to overall flavor profile, but it delivers exactly what it promises and makes me a real happy bunny, er…boy.

Rating: 7.5/10

Found at: Grocery Outlet ($1.99)

REVIEW: Macaw! Foods Protein Bars

Earlier this year I was approached about the opportunity to design my own protein bar with The Bar Shack. I did that and really enjoyed it, and now that same company have developed a line of ready-to-buy protein snack bars under the name Macaw! Bars. The bars are made of all natural ingredients with a base of date paste and various nut butters, supplemented by protein powder, organic dark chocolate, and a myriad of flavorful accents. Each bar is more of a nutrient-dense snack than a true protein supplement for me, clocking in with 12 grams of fat and just 10-11 grams of protein for a 240 calorie treat. For my intake, a protein bar is usually only worth it when it has 20 grams of protein for 200-230 calories, but those also come with the presence of heavy artificial sweeteners and preservatives. These may be for you, they may not, but from Chocolate Brownie to Lemon Poppy there’s something for everyone, and I’ve broken down a bunch of flavors today on the skillet.

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ Oreo ‘N Cake

Baskin Robbins have been really slackin’ off lately. I made it my mission when I started the skillet to review every Flavor of the Month and be the ultimate go-to for anyone curious about BR’s creations. You may have noticed the last two months have been silent on this site for the 31 flavored brand, and that’s not because of personal fatigue, but because of BR’s rare back to back months of repeats. May brought back the solid Mom’s Makin’ Cookies and last month saw a second dip of Caramel Macchiato. I was sure that for July, National Ice Cream Month, and a month that has become synonymous with epic Oreo collabs, would yield a new scoop for me to dig into. Nope. It’s back to back to back repeats, but there is a caveat with this month’s call back.

July 2018 see’s the return of Oreo ‘N Cake, a flavor that proceeded the birth of the skillet and one that I really enjoyed when it came out in 2015. In fact, I liked it so much that during that hot July three years ago I scooped it three times, and according to BR’s website, this is their most popular Flavor of the Month of all time. Oreo ‘N Cake combines a cake flavored ice cream with Oreo cookie pieces and a chocolate cake batter ribbon.

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