REVIEW: Salt & Straw Bottomless Limes!

When Salt & Straw head ice cream maker Tyler Malek opens his coveted creative doors to children under the age of 13 for the Student Inventor Series he doesn’t simply request base and mix-in ideas, he asks them for a story to turn into a flavor. The stories are, as expected, pretty wild and…psychedelic; and his ability to turn those concepts into scaleable, sellable, pint-able entires into Salt & Straw’s history is nothing short of impressive. There have been times in the past where we, as the consumer, only get the story, or a portion of it, to decipher what the flavor was going to be. This year the stories are all well documented and can be read on Salt & Straw’s website, but we also have a more traditional description to help guide which to scoop and which to skip based on personal flavor preferences. 

Those descriptions are usually pretty helpful and clear, but this one left me a bit stumped going into it — and I’m glad I took the risk! Bottomless Limes is described as, “In celebration of a most mysterious holiday, we ribbon in Key Lime cheesecake with hunks of golden pie crust, crystallized with brown sugar and ginger, and shards of sprinkle-studded chocolate bark.”

This ice cream is absolutely chaotic, and I love it. It’s not chaotic in the way Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake is, where there are tons of sweet and salty components in a sea of brown and black, it’s chaotic in the sense that it looks visually perplexing and I can’t really describe what’s going on. What flavor is the base ice cream? I couldn’t tell ya! It’s nearly impossible for me to isolate it without a sprinkle or chocolate shard popping onto the spoon, which, for someone who loves texture, isn’t a problem at all. My best guess for the base is vanilla, but it doesn’t really sing with any particularly classic floral vanilla notes, so I’ll simply scoop on and enjoy its smooth dense texture and premium mouthfeel.

The most prominent flavor that jumps out at me upon tasting, and the one I hoped would be very present, is the golden pie crust. The crust is unmistakably graham cracker, with a beautifully buttery brown sugar and molasses essence that tastes like the foundation of any perfect cheesecake. I don’t feel its gentle grittiness as much as I taste it, and I love how its presence seems to pop up in every other bite. There are occasional bigger chunks of the crust and they have a dense soft chew that’s every bit as wonderful as the real deal on a slice of NY’s finest.

Also in every other bite, or nearly every bite, are the variably sized shards of chocolate. There’s both a darker bittersweet chocolate and more traditionally sugary white, which adds a firm crunch and great sweetness to the delicious sea of controlled madness. There are also super crunchy ball-shaped Christmas-colored sprinkles which bleed into the base for more visually appealing chaos. It’s like an epic technicolored chocolate chip ice cream at its core, and it’s so fun to eat.

With a name like “Bottomless Limes!” I expected the flavor to be overly citrusy, but it isn’t, and I really appreciate the balance on display. The key lime cheesecake pops up in big bright green chunks throughout, and once the ice cream is properly tempered it has the perfect smooth and luscious cheesecake texture with bright acidity and tangy depth. There is no mistaking this dense swirl for anything other than cheesecake, and it pairs surprisingly well with the more bitter notes from the chocolate bark. One moment the pint is sweet, then tangy, then cheesy, then crunchy, then creamy — and it all works. It’s a very heavy ice cream that needs extra time to temper, but once you practice patience you will be rewarded with an amazingly decadent experience.

Once I read the story by 12-year-old Rae and learned that this flavor was inspired by a bottomless pit, this pint made a whole lotta sense. Eating it does remind me of a spiral into chaos, like endlessly falling into the abyss, but it’s a very tasty plummet with complex complimentary flavors that come together in tasty execution as brilliantly as they look.

Rating: 9.5/10

Found at: Salt & Straw ($13.00)

REVIEW: Haagen-Dazs Black & White Cookie

As a lifelong West Coast Cali boy, black and white cookies aren’t too prevalent in my sweet treat catalog. I’ve had a couple of them over the course of 20 years and thought they were fine, but recently had one that really won me over. It was a cake-y, buttery, cookie-adjacent experience that gripped me so much I ate three in three days and then sought out others to try. The ones that followed weren’t as convincing as to their legendary status on the East Coast, but they’re officially part of my preferred cookie-sphere now…and I want more. All the time. 

Which brought me to another “pint” from the Haagen-Dazs City Sweets Collection, which thus far has underperformed; but how could I pass up the chance to see if my new found love for this regionally beloved baked good translates into ice cream? The aptly titled Black and White Cookie is vanilla bean ice cream with soft cookie pieces and ripples of chocolate frosting.

As the age old optimistic adage goes, the third time’s a charm, and I finally struck gold (or maybe silver) with this new Haagen-Dazs flavor. The vanilla bean ice cream is what I expect from HD. It’s rich and creamy with a genuinely round and fragrant floral vanilla taste that has the intense, sharper presence of extract as well as the more earthy-tasting vanilla bean speckled throughout. It has a smooth and milky finish that lays a perfect foundation for the two mix-ins.

The cookie pieces are abundant and soft with a cake-like chew that gets even gentler the longer the ice cream tempers. Texturally they’re perfect, but the flavor leaves a bit to be desired. They aren’t bad by any means, just a touch boring. The sizable cookie chunks don’t have any notably buttery or salty essence to compete with the strength and sweetness of the base, so they exist more than they impress.

But the fudge ripple makes up a lot of the ground that the cookies leave uncovered, not only with a delightful bittersweet chocolate taste but with perfect thick and sticky fudge texture. The dense fudge against the creamy vanilla is a tried and true combination that instantly triggers memories of vintage scoop shop and McDonald’s sundae’s in the best way.

While the taste of the cookie chunks fall a bit short of making this experience mesmerizing, it is absolutely an ice cream worth picking up if you see it in the grocery store, especially if it’s on sale. Not to mention the strong vanilla base with chocolate accents makes the perfect foundation for building your own sundae at home — my current favorite is topping it with Peanut Butter Chex: sensational.

Rating: 7.5/10

Found at: Safeway ($3.49 on sale)

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Topped Dirt Cake

2022 began for Ben & Jerry’s with a follow up to last years seven pint Topped line. It took me a lot longer than anticipated to track them down, and I’ve scooped multiple flavors that came out since the new Topped pints were announced, but I’m glad to finally get a chance to dig into them, starting with ode to a favorite childhood dessert. Dirt Cake is vanilla pudding ice cream with chocolate sandwich cookies and chocolate cookie swirls, topped with milk chocolaty ganache and chocolate cookie crumble.

A lot of folks, including my girlfriend, seem to have a fetish for cookies and cream ice cream. While I’m not one of them, I definitely appreciate a solid take on cookies and cream and always thought it odd that B&J didn’t have a straight forward take on the scoop shop classic in their lineup. They have Milk & Cookies, which is a fun elevated take on the profile, as well as Mint Chocolate Cookie for all the peppermint people (me), but nothing more standard for the more basic scoopers. C&C enthusiasts can rejoice, because this is a wonderful and ever-so-slightly different rendition on an iconic flavor, sprinkled with a bit of nostalgia.

The vanilla pudding base isn’t distinctly pudding-y, which is largely a textural difference that can’t necessarily translate into something frozen like ice cream, but it is different than the normal B&J vanilla. It might be a touch more sweet? Very similar to how the pudding ice cream swirl works against the darker base in Chocolate Therapy, there’s just a little something different than your typical floral vanilla. Whatever the small tweaks to the flavoring the gurus did, it works, and I really enjoy it as a backdrop to all the chocolate mix-ins.

Speaking of the mix-ins, there’s tons of them and they’re awesome. The pieces of chocolate sandwich cookies are of admirable size with a nice very gentle crunch that leads to a squish. The bittersweet flavor of the cookie wafers works splendidly with the vanilla pudding, and the swirl blends into the base and chunks, tying everything together so that every bite has the essence of cookies and cream. Especially with the additional cookie crumbs on the top of the pint, it’s impossible to not feel like you’re diving face first into a frozen sea of creamy Oreos.

And that milk chocolate ganache on top? Perfect. The milk chocolate has a distinctly sweeter and creamier flavor than the cookies with an epic thickness that takes everything to the next level. Softer than chunks of chocolate but firmer than fudge, I like to preserve the topping to spread throughout my bites to make every 3 or so spoonfuls particularly decadent and exciting. 

In my heart of hearts a true dirt cake flavor would have some gummy worms, but as someone who loves that combo and continues to go back to it despite the fact that I might lose a tooth, I totally understand why B&J chose to omit them. Whether you’re a cookies and cream fanboy or just someone who appreciates a well-executed and classically decadent pint this is absolutely one you shouldn’t miss.

Rating: 8.5/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

REVIEW: Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel

Haagen-Dazs recently released a new City Sweets collection, comprised of both bars and “pints” (14 ounce containers instead of what should be 16, but they’ve been doing this since 2009 so it’s no new controversy). The new ice creams go for a straight forward dessert-centric and “indulgent” profile, paying homage to black and white cookies, cake pops, and one that called my name immediately: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel — chocolate ice cream with creamy peanut butter swirls and lightly salted pretzel pieces.

This “pint” is…confusing. Chocolate Peanut Butter is one of the stand out staples from HD, so adding the hit-or-miss pretzels should make its success dependent on the mix-in, but this is not the HD chocolate I thought I knew. Simply put, this ice cream tempers like shit. 

As you can see in the pictures it stayed really firm and hard to scoop after over 10 minutes on the counter, nearly 15. To peel behind the curtain: when I review a pint I’ll usually let it soften for 5-10 minutes, do some scooping and picture taking, then let it sit in the bowl for another 5 or so before it’s at its perfect temperature. This ice cream simply never let up, I couldn’t get a decent spoon shot and it was frustrating; but eventually I figured it out — peanut butter overload! 

There is so much peanut butter mixed throughout that it never found its smooth and creamy sweet spot. If that was the only issue I would have been fine with it, but the base doesn’t taste right either. It’s extremely light. The chocolate flavor is mild and boring and lacking any kind of character that can stand up to the salty magnificence of PB and pretzels. A lot of my fellow reviewers complain about B&J’s chocolate (I actually like it!) but THIS is a true mediocre chocolate, especially coming from a company known for having some of the best base quality in the grocery store.

That being said — the mix-in game here is stronger than anticipated. As mentioned earlier, tons of peanut butter, maybe to the detriment of the pint as a whole, and also lot’s of pretzels. The pretzels have an admirable success rate of crunchiness too, probably 80%, which I’ve learned over the years is on the higher end of realistic. This flavor feels like HD tried to take more of a B&J approach and hit on the mix-ins but missed on the foundation that makes their company great — the quality of the ice cream.

Rating: 5.5/10

Found at: Safeway ($3.99)

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Chance

And the award for the most uninspired celebrity ice cream collab of all time goes to…Chance the Rapper!

Look, this new collaboration between the Chicago rapper and frozen grocery titans Ben & Jerry’s is far from unique, but it surprised me with how delicious it is! Mint Chocolate Chance is mint ice cream loaded with fudge brownies.

The mint base is milder and less minty than the peppermint one used in Mint Chocolate Cookie. It has a nice balance of mint with an undercurrent of vanilla, that when combined with the lusciously dense mouthfeel reminds me of an after dinner butter mint. I’m a fan of the divisive mint and chocolate combo so I enjoy it when it’s aggressive, like in B&J’s Minter Wonderland, but this is a nice change of pace and it’s a super smash-able profile that’s undeniably classic.

Where this pint really succeeds is in the execution of the brownies. The description says the pint is “loaded” and it is is, in fact, teeming with baked chocolate deliciousness. As the lone mix-in it needs to deliver, and the brownies are not only present but a shining example of why they are one of B&J’s best inclusions. 

They’re soft and chewy with an impressively gooey texture that starts to veer into fudge swirl territory on some of the edges. The brownies don’t bleed as much as toffee or caramel but they feel like more than one static texture; much more than something like a fudge flake would provide. Their rich chocolate taste compliments the mildly minty base perfectly for a one-two-punch that’s more enjoyable than the bare description implies.

On the surface this is a boring release from one of the most exciting companies in ice cream, but that blasé presentation is ousted by flawless execution. A pint that could have been completely forgettable becomes a reminder that there’s plenty of beauty in artful restraint.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

REVIEW: The Social Breakfast with Nonna D & Poppy

When Ample Hills changed ownership and the heart and soul behind the company became The Social, one thing was for certain: Nonna D’s cookies weren’t going anywhere. Today’s pint is a reimagined version of a tried and true AH classic. “Breakfast with Nonna D & Poppy” is maple syrup and donut infused ice cream with pieces of Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace Cookies.

This new spin on Brian and Jackie’s original Oatmeal Lace creation replaces the cinnamon base with a doughnut-infused one, and it very well may be an upgrade. I LOVE cinnamon, and Nonna D OG was a staple of Ample Hills with a robust and fantastic spicy cinnamon foundation; but the unique palate and subtle flavors on display in this base are astounding. Both flavors are slight but I get more doughnut than maple, which I didn’t expect at all. I actually taste the fried cake doughnut flavor and can envision the greasiness fusing into the cream. The maple is secondary but still there, rounding out the doughnut aura for a base that’s just as delightfully tasty as it is texturally smooth and decadent.

The oatmeal lace cookies are as good and plentiful as ever. Their perfect caramelized texture absolutely sings in this ice cream, bringing both a sticky chew and slight crunch to the creamy base. There’s a bit of oat-y toothsome-ness that feels right at home with their deep brown sugar flavor. They have always been an excellent mix-in and their amplified presence as the sole inclusion lets them shine as brightly as they should.

While there may not be an apparent connection between the maple doughnut and the oatmeal lace, they combine for a pretty unexpected and magical moment. When the right bite gets on my spoon the two fuse for a flavor-meets-texture experience that reminds me of the hard-fried outside of an old fashioned doughnut — a type of greasy crunch I’ve never experienced in frozen form. It may not have been the intention, but this pint captures the essence of a doughnut in a more convincing fashion than any ice cream I’ve ever scooped; a feat that is much harder than you might imagine — it’s wonderful.

Rating: 9.25/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: Bad Walter’s Dream Team

Chocolate and peanut butter: a love story as old as time, and a combination I am ALWAYS down to smash. The February flavor of the month from Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream utilizes this iconic pairing and boosts it with a little twist. Dream Team is dark chocolate custard with butter crunch toffee and peanut butter swirls. 

I don’t usually do this but I want to start with the bad. It’s really not that bad, don’t worry, but my only negative about the pint. Despite the alluring streaks on the outside and the big glob on top there wasn’t as much peanut butter as I had hoped! There was some there, for sure, but after that strong opening slather I didn’t get anymore significant PB until I reached the very bottom, more than 3/4 of the way down. I’m guessing this means the swirls sunk, possibly from not freezing fast enough, and I missed a pivotal part of the dream team for a lot of this scooping experience. That being said, when I got the PB it was creamy, salty and fatty in the best way.

The dark chocolate custard is dark and divine. It has properly deep bitter notes while still being sweet enough to eat like a dessert. It tempers differently than the Bad Walters I’ve had in the past, much slower and not quite as decadent and creamy for a custard.  It reminds me more of a gelato with a bit less luscious mouthfeel and more flavorful purity. Although it’s not exactly what I expected, I don’t mind it, probably a result of the heavy handed cocoa powder, as the dark chocolate flavor REALLY comes through. It just needs an extra five minutes (about 15 total) to get to the level of creamy I’m looking for, and I’m always willing to wait longer to get my precious pints where they need to be.

The shining star of this pint is the toffee. Man oh man the butter crunch toffee is flawless. It’s cut into the most perfect size — big enough to bring crunch but small enough that it doesn’t get too hard — and delivers everything I want from a mix-in. It’s buttery and sweet with a chomp that leads to a caramelized crumble with a hint of salt that I wish never ended. Sometimes toffee in ice cream can threaten the integrity of our teeth, not here, it only threatens my sanity now that it’s gone!

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Bad Walter’s ($13.50)

REVIEW: The Social A Velvet Affair

Love is in the air! To be fair whenever I’m scooping premium ice cream I’m pretty starry eyed, but this now automatic (and awesome) February flavor combo really strikes a love-nerve with my Valentine; so when this limited pint from The Social dropped I knew I had to get it. “A Velvet Affair” is silky white chocolate ice cream with generous pieces of cream cheese frosted red velvet cake.

White chocolate is under-utilized in ice cream bases and it’s a very welcome switch up. Not only is it welcome but it’s one of the strongest ones I’ve ever had. Granted, it’s pretty rare to come across, but this is DISTINCTLY white chocolate. It’s a hard flavor to succinctly describe but it’s sweet and creamy without the floral notes of vanilla or dairy-forward flourish of a sweet cream. It has none of the bitterness of milk or dark chocolate and none of the saltiness of more complex bases like last week’s popcorn. It’s devoid of so many flavors and yet it’s perfectly white chocolate with a notable smoothness and luscious mouthfeel — I love it.

The lone mix-in, pieces of red velvet cake, are abundant. The entire pint from top to bottom is packed with sexy chunks of vibrantly red moist red velvet love. They have a delightful sponge-y chew and buttery taste rounded out by ever-so-slight notes of cocoa. Some of the frosting clings to the cake as intended and some breaks off in churning rebellion. The frosting is slightly firm and sweet. There’s a density to frosting that stands out in ice cream and it is truly such a wonderful texturally contrasting mix-in. I really enjoy the extra pops of sweetness with a touch of grit every time they arrive on my spoon.

The only element that’s missing from this otherwise stellar pint is the cream cheese. The frosting is cream cheese based but I can’t taste any of it, even when isolated. As much as I love the texture and density of the frosting it lacks the tanginess that defines a proper slice of red velvet. Maybe the white chocolate base is too silky sweet to let it come through or maybe my tang-tolerance is too high. Either way this is a wonderful seasonal pint that you should absolutely add to your order while you can.

Rating: 8.5/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: The Social The Old Ballgame

Reunited and it feels so good! 

I, along with everyone in the craft ice cream scene, collectively wept when Jackie and Brian Cuscuna had to declare bankruptcy and sell their beloved Brooklyn-based company Ample Hills. Ample Hills was one of the first shops to ship their ice cream to my door and I immediately fell in love with their combination of dense rich custard and high quality house made mix-ins. Ample Hills lives on under new ownership — I’ve ordered, and it’s not the same. It’s not awful, but it’s far from the premium product I fell in love with five years ago. 

Thankfully for all of us serious scoopers, Jackie and Brian don’t have a single ounce of quit in their bodies. In the summer of 2021 they launched The Social Ice Cream Parlor, an experience they spoke about in depth on their excellent podcast As The Ice Cream Churns. Their story is absolutely wild — from inking a deal with Disney and making exclusive Star Wars and Marvel ice cream’s to expanding quicker than they could financially support to eventually being crushed by bankruptcy with a final finishing blow from the pandemic we have all endured the last two years. 

Stunning The Social artwork from their website

The Social strips everything back to the basics. Brian is making the ice cream and hand packing the pints while Jackie tackles the ins and outs of the business and social media. They have ample seating to encourage hanging out over a scoop and have added old fashioned cake donuts to the menu that they make fresh in house every morning. It’s a family affair and a love affair, and the passion shows in the product that came delivered to my door in San Francisco all the way from Brooklyn, NY. “The Old Ballgame Popcorn & Peanut Brittle” is popcorn-infused ice cream with house made peanut butter peanut brittle.

Many of the people and ideologies from Ample Hills carried over into The Social, but one major element has changed: eggs. Most of Ample Hills’ iconic flavors were a custard base, meaning they utilized egg yolks in the core recipe; and The Social got rid of the yolks entirely. I loved the original Ample Hills recipe, I even have the cookbook, but this new base is just as dense, rich, and phenomenally creamy as I remember from vintage AH. 

Egg yolks are an amazing vehicle for mouthfeel and texture but their extra fat can also muddy the flavor. The lack of egg yolks in this base pays dividends for the popcorn flavor. It’s buttery and slightly salty with a little bit of caramel flavor poking through and a toasted flavor that permeates throughout. I absolutely love the texture of The Social’s ice cream, it feels traditional and elevated at the same time. Maybe it’s the 70s style swooping rainbow logo that reminds me of progression rock pioneers Yes but this ice cream feels so classic that I could see myself enjoying it in a parlor before I was born.

The peanut butter peanut brittle is the lone mix-in and it is executed perfectly. Peanut butter brittle is a touch different than your average caramelized-sugar variety and the foundation is more creamy and nutty than purely sweet. There are whole peanuts embedded within which have a softer crunch than the dense intense chomp of the brittle’s base. Even though this is the only mix-in, the brittle bleeds a bit into the base and creates a mild caramel-like swirl that pools around the brittle in a very endearing way. I’ll call it brittle blood, and the brittle blood is delicious, bringing a little more extra texture to a pint that truly tastes like digging into a box of Cracker Jacks. There’s something instantly nostalgic about these flavors colliding in ice cream form. For anyone who likes a sweet and salty treat it’s a simple and well-executed duo that’s sure to hit your tastebuds like a home run in the ninth inning. 

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: The Original Cannoli Chips (Powdered Sugar, Lemon, Cinnamon & Sugar, Cookies & Cream)

The Original Cannoli Chips are a product of Golden Cannoli, a Boston-based company founded in the 1970s specializing in cannoli shells and filling. While they got their start slangin’ high quality cannoli components to bakeries in the greater Boston area, they accidentally stumbled upon magic when sampling their shells at a trade show. The reception to the broken pieces of fried dough was so great that they ran out faster than they could distribute them, and as such, the cannoli chip was born.

Potential spoiler alert: I’m a fan of Cannoli Chips. I first got wind of them when they got distribution at Walmart in 2016, and when I was finally able to get my hands on them I was surprisingly amazed. I never posted about them here, but tried a couple of flavors and confessed my love via Instagram. With the launch of their new Lemon flavor the company reached out to me about sending some samples so I thought it was appropriate to give them a proper feature on the skillet. Ladies and gentlemen – The Original Cannoli Chip.

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