REVIEW: Steve’s Ice Cream’s Southern Banana Pudding

The modern age of gourmet ice cream can be highlighted by one dense, intense, and hopefully ample, element: the mix-in. Yes, a super premium base is still key, but all of the things that compliment it are what separate many brands killing it or falling short in the gourmet game. Chunks of this and gobs of that all define the evolution of what craft ice cream has become – but where did it all begin? In 1973 in Somerville, Massachusetts, Steve’s ice cream was the first shop to use the term mix-in, and rather than have the classic array of strawberry or chocolate chip, Steve allowed customers to choose whatever they wanted to mix into their ice cream and create flavors as simple as Heath bar and vanilla (the original) or as insane as their mind could dream up. Of course, this concept is much more reminiscent of what would become Dairy Queen’s Blizzard and McDonald’s McFlurry, but the idea of putting multiple, possibly contrasting, elements into an ice cream base was born in the 70’s by Steve Herrell.

Now that you’ve had a brief history lesson, I’ll share the good news that Steve’s is still making premium ice cream with mix-ins galore, and my first taste of his innovation cream-age is Southern Banana Pudding, which combines banana ice cream with banana pudding and a vanilla wafer crumble.

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The banana ice cream is of great quality, with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel that melts effortlessly and leaves a nice velvety feeling on my tongue. The banana pops through very organically without any strange artificial notes and has a flavor that is strong enough that it doesn’t fade too quickly and leaves a lasting banana flavor in between bites. It’s one of the most enjoyable banana ice creams I’ve had and reminds me a lot of a milkshake made with just vanilla ice cream, milk, and bananas – minus the chunkiness.

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The swirl of banana cream pudding brings more solid banana flavor with a sweeter presence than the base and a jelly-like consistency that seems perfectly accurate for a frozen pudding. The two components play off of each other really well, heightening the banana effect and giving the pint more depth than if they were trying to operate on their own. The flavors don’t seem redundant and operate more like a team, delivering the big bold tropical fruit flavor very successfully.

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The final piece of the banana pudding puzzle are the vanilla wafer cookies, which are integrated very well all throughout the ice cream and have softened even more than their usual self with a texture that feels somewhere in between a cookie and a cake. The subtle vanilla flavor of the cookies is indistinguishable amongst the huge wash of banana, but the textural contrast is great and as well executed as I would expect from the company that started the mix in revolution. All of the components work harmoniously on the spoon and channel the indulgent Southern treat with success.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Grocery Outlet ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Food Runners’ Banana Bread Pudding

Salt & Straw’s June Rescued Food line of ice creams is one of the most interesting and engaging things I’ve seen a craft company do, and San Francisco got blessed with some seriously amazing flavors. Joining forces with SF based Food Runners, they took all of the unused pastries from bay area startup meetings and put them to good use, instead of in the trash can. While Food Runners usually take these baked goodies and deliver them to people in need, this month S&S bought them from the company and turned them into the fantastic Food Runners’ Banana Bread Pudding, which combines a spiced banana ice cream with chunks of bread pudding and a sesame caramel swirl.

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This is not your standard banana ice cream. Immediately the distinct flavor of squishy over ripened bananas smacks me in the face, with a taste that is so different and much sharper than what many banana bases offer. There’s a cutting, almost syrupy sweetness to hyper-ripe bananas that comes through beautifully and is balanced out and complimented by the high quality dairy. Rounding out the profile is a healthy dose of nutmeg, and with the use of that spice the banana base BECOMES banana bread ice cream, as the unique strong banana flavor mingling with spices and sweet honey notes is instantly recognizable as one of the most beloved quick breads in the game.

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For the actual bread part of the bread pudding equation, S&S made a cinnamon-spiked custard and tossed all of those destined-to-be-garbage pastries into it to create one big mismatched wheel of flavor. This is one of the most interesting elements of the flavor, as every pint, and likely every scoop, is going to be slightly different. I had a massive chunk of what felt like layers of crunchy filo dough or some kind of pie crust, and a bite with raisins, and another bite that tasted like cinnamon roll streusel. It’s a lot of fun. The element of surprise makes digging into this ice cream pure enjoyment, and the undercurrent of the cinnamon flavor drives the banana bread essence even farther.

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The final piece to this bread pudding puzzle is the sesame caramel, which, like most S&S swirls, is executed with skill and finesse. When eaten in conjunction with the other components the caramel adds the sweetness and gooey-ness you’d expect, but is a lot less dark and burnt tasting than the standard S&S caramel. The caramel helps marry the other two elements together in ooey-harmony, but when you taste it on its own it absolutely bursts with sesame flavor. The unmistakable earthy flavor that drives tahini is very present in the sweet swirl and adds a deep savory quality to the experience that brings the rescued food theme home.

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Simply put, this is Salt & Straw at their absolute finest – mixing delicious decadent flavors with innovation and purpose in ways that not many brands can accomplish. There’s plenty of intense decadence out there without the creativity, and plenty of elevated ice cream churners without the whimsy, but S&S manage to achieve both simultaneously and this is a glowing example of what makes them some of the absolute best in the expanding world of gourmet ice cream.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco)

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