REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Calamari Contest

One of the most stunningly eye-catching and vibrantly colored pints I’ve ever had the pleasure of scooping arrives in honor of Netflix’s dazzling and most streamed show ever, Squid Game. Part of the very limited 2021 Gone Viral Pack, Salt & Straw’s Calamari Contest combines teal and pink tracksuit ice cream with bone marrow fudge and dalgona honeycomb.

Conceptually this pint is immaculate, one of the coolest, deepest, and most thought-out ice cream’s I have ever seen. Taste-wise, it really is a tale of two halves. The teal ice cream has an amazing almond flavor that I don’t think I’ve ever tasted from S&S before. It’s smooth, creamy and perfectly sweet without being over the top. The pink ice cream tastes like…nothing? Okay, not nothing but it’s devoid of any of the signature salty or floral notes that define a lot of Tyler’s fantastic bases. It might be as close to a standard sweet cream as I’ve had from him; which next to the brilliant almond, doesn’t taste like much.

It’s also kind of odd — the two bases temper entirely differently. I always give my pints a proper 10+ minutes at room temperature before shooting and scooping and with this one the teal got perfectly tempered, edging towards too soft, while the pink remained hard and kind of stiff. I can’t think of too many times where S&S went with a dual base and this might be why.

The mix-ins are also totally split down the middle — literally and figuratively. The Dalgona honeycomb chunks are absolutely incredible, and exclusively on the teal side. They have an extraordinarily gentle and sophisticated crunch with airy pockets of sugary splendor that dissolve as soon as I sink my teeth in. It’s miraculous how perfect they are and how fragile they feel — quintessential Salt & Straw magic. The high concept is once again on full display, as Dalgona candy plays a pivotal role in one Squid Game’s challenges, and suddenly it feels as though I’m eating an episode.

The bone marrow fudge coexists with the pink side and is much more of a ganache than a fudge. It’s thick, dense, and hard, with an even firmer texture than the usual fantastic S&S salted ganache. Unlike the ganache, this has very little sweetness and actually leans towards savory as opposed to bittersweet. Something about the bone marrow adds a note of meatiness and I don’t really like where it takes the profile. The savoriness combined with the beautiful-looking but bland-tasting base makes the pink half of the pint more experimental but unfortunately far less enticing than the teal.

This is a tough one to grade. The concept and vision are a 10/10, the teal side is a 9/10, and the pink side is a 4/10, which leaves me with a 23/30, so let’s call it a 7/10 — a rating that could be higher for you depending on how savory your like your ice cream, it’s just not my style!

HUGE thanks to Salt & Straw for sending this pack my way to try — an amazing way to start the new year.

REVIEW: Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes Ice Cream

Over the last five years of being a professional (…right?) junk food reviewer the biggest thorn in my side has been the lack of a Walmart within 50 miles of where I live. San Francisco says a big “NOPE” to the big box store that notoriously pays its employees low wages, and generally, I’m okay with not supporting the chain; but it gets some exclusive products that I MUST try or I will disintegrate. My heart broke into 10,000 pieces when I found out the new Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes ice cream was only at Walmart, but thanks to a perfectly timed dog sitting weekend I was able to spend a night in a city with a Walmart and get this limited time Christmas pint.

The ice cream features a vanilla base with pound cake pieces, red frosting swirl, and green sprinkles. LD’s Christmas Tree Cakes are among their finest products, and this ice cream does a really good job of paying homage to the cheap and comforting treat. The pint is 700 calories and I took it home for $2.49, so I knew what I was getting myself into, and with appropriate expectations I really enjoyed it.

The base is light and overrun as all hell, but in this context it works well. It has a mellow vanilla flavor and smooth almost fluffy texture akin to Cool Whip, but it’s not gummy or unpleasant like some cheaper (Breyers) ice creams. There’s quite a bit of frosting that not only looks cool and seasonally sound but adds a nice sweetness and syrupy texture that I love. 

The cake pieces, although small, do their job in bringing some dense chew and slightly buttery flavor to the the pint. They’re a little firmer than the Tree Cakes themselves but not in a way that’s off putting. As much as the other two components work, the element that really brings the cake-turned-scoop experience to another level are the green sprinkles. They’re just like the ones that sparkle on top of Debbie’s Trees and add the perfect sugar crystal crunch to almost every bite — so simple and so incredibly effective.

This is a low calorie and low price tag ice cream that looks and feels like the holiday spirit without any of the more expected flavors like mint, gingerbread, or egg nog. It’s a fun switch up, essentially a light birthday cake ice cream with really endearing packaging, and I wish I could scoop it again, but I won’t lose any sleep over its exclusivity. 

Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Parker House Rolls w/ Salted Buttercream

At virtually every holiday gathering with my dad’s side of the family, going back over 20 years, a bright orange package of King’s Hawaiian Rolls have made a prominent appearance. As a youngster I gained the reputation of being a Kings Hawaiian enthusiast (addict?), downing multiple rolls with a proper slathering of butter at the start of every meal…and sometimes after. I don’t eat them with as much ferocity as an adult, but they will forever have a place in my heart. For 2021 Salt & Straw have reimagined the entirely of their coveted Thanksgiving menu, including an inventive take on the almighty bread and butter. Parker House Rolls with Salted Buttercream is a salted sweet cream ice cream with a salted buttercream swirl and chunks of Parker house rolls.

I’ve had a ton of salted bases, most notably vanilla, but I think this might be my first foray into a salted sweet cream. The base is slightly savory with a decent saltiness and a super smooth, dense, premium texture that tempers like a dream. The salt paired with the sweet cream reminds me a bit of cream cheese. Although it has no tang, without the floral notes of vanilla or a dominant sweetness it carries a similar richness to cream cheese, which I really enjoy.

The fifth ingredient on the label is King’s Hawaiian Rolls, above everything except dairy and sugar, and that heavy-handed distribution is brilliant. The rolls stay soft and almost gooey in the ice cream, and their signature sweet flavor shines through the salted base perfectly. I have no idea how they did it but Tyler and the Salt & Straw crew managed to preserve everything that makes these rolls so special; it tastes like magic. According to their website the rolls were glazed with fresh churned buttercream before being put into the ice cream and I’m willing to bet that helped translate the mix-in to the ice cream with such impressive pizazz.

The salted buttercream, whether actually swirled or broken off from the tops of the rolls, is amazing. It’s rich and thick and buttery with an almost firm texture and amazing sweetness that only gets deeper from the added sea salt. It’s one of the densest and intense frosting swirls I’ve ever had and it absolutely steals the show in this simple but very effective pint.

On paper this flavor reads like a bit of a hat on a hat — a salted base with a salted swirl and a bread-y mix-in that’s sweet and also salty — but it absolutely works. Salt & Straw have taken the most mundane of Thanksgiving sides, bread and butter, and turned it into a complex and layered ice cream that’s simultaneously nostalgic and brand new all at the same time. Delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Salt & Straw ($13.00)

Click here to read my shorter Instagram review of Sweet Potato Pie w/ Double Baked Almond Streusel

REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Goosebumps: Monster Blood is Back!

When I read that Salt & Straw collaborated with R.L. Stine to create a Goosebumps ice cream the 90s kid inside of me animorphed into a baby tazmanian devil and started space jamming my head into the wall with excitement. Okay…maybe that’s a bit much, but I was STOKED, and even more stoked when I saw the scoop shot covered in green goo that instantly conjured up memories of the book series’ dripping logo. I could even hear the menacing sleuth-like synth notes and crawling piano line from the 1995 TV show’s theme song; good memories. Created in conjunction with the latest book in the SLAPPYWORLD series, Monster Blood is Back!, the ice cream of the same name combines a salted mango ice cream with streaks of fruit punch flavored “monster goo”, and strawberry bark fangs.

Popping off the lid this pint instantly looks the part, with a deep pool of green goo staring me in the face, and it’s beautiful. The salted mango base was a smart choice, bringing a strong fruity flavor without being too sweet, as often mango ice creams can be. It’s an authentic taste with notable creaminess that feels fresh and expertly balanced, as Tyler and the team at S&S have a tendency to do with their namesake: salt. 

It’s wonderful that the base is slightly salted because the goo is SWEET. Super sugary and thick with amazing viscosity that clings to the spoon as I scoop. Fruit punch is a pretty accurate description as it’s no doubt fruity but there aren’t any distinct, or real, dominant fruity notes. Definitely some citrus (I get more orange than anything), mixed with some tropical pineapple flair followed by boatloads of sugar. It reminds me of something that I would squeeze out of a tube straight into my mouth in 1997, and for this chilling creation that’s pretty much flawless. When the goo combines with the base they compliment each other in a very refreshing and summery way, and for how off-the-wall this ice cream looks, it tastes really natural and bright. 

The strawberry bark fangs are the least notable part of this pint but they play a very important role: texture. The flavor is much more white chocolate than it is strawberry, and their gentle chew reminds me of softened chocolate chunks, not quite as soft as ganache, but not super crunchy either. It’s ideal that the flavor is subtle because the base and swirl have so much character there’s potential to clash. When I isolate a fang away from the other components I get a slight tart strawberry flavor and it’s nice. The fangs are studded with Pop Rocks for the occasional burst of extra explosive mouth fireworks, and while not as wild as in S&S’s Pirates of the Caribbean ice cream, it’s still a playful and satisfying touch. 

Eating this ice cream is FUN. It pulls at the nostalgia strings while simultaneously pushing the creativity forward, presenting something legitimately scoop-able and worthy of a visit to your local Salt & Straw, or delivered to your front door via their website. As a big fan of both the Goosebumps franchise and crazy craft ice cream, my only complaint is that this didn’t come in a limited edition pint container adorned with 90s-era Goosebumps artwork that I could add to my ice cream shelf…but I’ll let that slide for the sake of this supernatural success.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Salt & Straw ($13.00)

Note: this ice cream was sent to me for RND purposes but in no way effected my review or rating.

REVIEW: Bad Walter’s 46

Bay Area I’ve gotta let you in on a little secret – there’s some cool underground ice cream shit happening in Oakland. Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream began as a quarantine hobby for owner Sydney in the spring of 2020, and has snowballed into churning out weekly limited pints since October. From what I’ve been able to sample, I’m impressed. Bad Walter’s makes super premium custard bases that are, wait for it…lactose free! I know, I’ve never had anything like it either.

Last week’s limited run flavor was “46”, inspired by today’s inauguration. It features a brown sugar ice cream with chocolate dipped Ruffles and a peanut butter swirl. Y’all know how I love my sweet and salty so I HAD to taste this. 

Truthfully, this was the most impressive and authentic brown sugar base I’ve ever had. It’s incredibly smooth with a decadent mouthfeel, but what really took me by surprise was the depth of the brown sugar flavor. Initially it reminded me of an epic brown sugar cereal milk, but the more it stacked the richer the flavor became. By the end it reminded me of the filling in a See’s Bordeaux truffle, which is one of my favorite chocolate’s of all time. Less-typical bases, like brown sugar, tend to fade away after the initial bites, but this one never let go.

Bad Walter’s peanut butter swirl is exactly how I like my peanut butter swirls — more salty than sweet with a slick fatty texture but thin enough to actually temper with the ice cream. Just as satisfying as sticking your spoon in the jar! My only issue with it is I wish there was more. The top superficial layer of the pint had the swirl’s best showing, and while the swirl never entirely vanished I would have loved a couple more epic spoonfuls to allow the saltiness to play off of the stunning sweet base.

Similarly, the chocolate dipped Ruffles were executed very well – nice and crunchy with a salty potato taste highlighted by just a touch of bittersweet chocolate. Once again, perfect execution, just lacking a bit on the actual quantities to make this pint something undeniably out of this world. I was reminded of this same mix-in being used in one of my favorite ice cream’s of all time, Salt & Straw’s Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake, and how if I got some chunks akin to the boulders found in those pints I would have been in sweet and salty heaven. 

Despite the slightly underwhelming density of the mix-ins, which is largely a preference thing, I really loved this ice cream, and I love the entrepreneur spirit of Sydney and her ice cream company named after her pesky pup. If you’re interested in grabbing a pint of what she comes up with next make sure to follow Bad Walter’s on Instagram and place your order on Sunday night for pickup the following weekend. And fair warning: it sells out quick!

Rating: 8/10 

Found at: Bad Walter’s ($10.00)

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Punch Line

The fourth and final pint from Ben & Jerry’s and Netflix snuck itself into the indulgent holiday season with the least indulgent profile of any in the collaboration; but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, I think it’s pretty refreshing. Punch Line combines a comedic duo of brown butter bourbon and almond ice creams with roasted almonds and chuckles of cherries.

I’ve always been skeptical of the effectiveness of dual bases, and fortunately here it works, since one does almost all of the heavy lifting. Almond is the most pronounced flavor, one of my favorite flavors that’s terribly underutilized in ice cream, and I really like this take on it. The brown butter bourbon is extremely mild, with virtually no booziness and just a hint of burnt buttery flavor, that again, sits in the background while the almond kingpin calls the shots. 

The almonds are nice and toothy with a pleasant mildly roasted flavor that pumps up the volume on the excellent floral and nutty taste in the base. They don’t bring a ton of flavor but their texture is crucial in keeping each bite interesting. The cherries are perfectly sweet and juicy with no iciness and virtually no tartness. They’re naturally sugary and work wonderfully in tandem with the almonds to bring two contrasting textures. I’m honestly surprised by how much I like this pint!

While Punch Line may not be the most inventive of the Netflix collabs, I actually enjoy it more than the bloated-and-confused-doing-way-too-much Boots on the Moooo’n and just as much as the also simple and excellently executed Chip Happens. Punch Line is like an alternate universe spumoni without the chocolate, and much like this whole line has been to 2020, it’s a surprisingly fun way to end the year.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ Chocolate Del Fuego

Putting spicy into sweets is one of the hottest trends in the junk food universe. Sweet Heat Skittles and Starburst, Fire Sour Patch Kids, Butterfinger Smokin’ Hot Peanut Butter Cups, Fiery Snickers, and recently even a spicy spin on the lunchbox staple Fruit By The Foot. Yet as this fad has blown up over the last couple of years, it hasn’t really crept its way into the frozen aisle. No Choco-Jalapeno Ben & Jerry’s or Chili Mango Haagen-Dazs have popped onto my radar, but Baskin Robbins made the call that September was the right time to drop their own take on a Mexican classic. Chocolate Del Fuego combines chocolate ice cream fused with hints of cinnamon and chili with chocolate chips and a spicy tres leches swirl.

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REVIEW: Humphry Slocombe’s OCHO PB&J

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ice cream inspired by candy bars is something I can always get behind. Even better yet, if that candy bar recreation can tug at some deeply rooted childhood nostalgia it’s really up to the churners to lose, cause Imma be a mark through and through. To kick off the buildup to their tenth anniversary San Francisco OG flavor-smiths Humphry Slocombe joined forces with Oakland candy company Ocho to transform their PB&J chocolate bar into a scoop-able frozen treat. Ocho PB&J combines a milk chocolate ice cream with Ocho Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar pieces and a raspberry jelly swirl.

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Y’all already know I get down heavy with peanut butter and chocolate, and I think only lunatics don’t love the allure of a good PB&J, but for me the combination of all three flavors in one doesn’t always work. They’re three strong tastes that can at times compete too heavily for the limelight with a component getting lost in the mix or it all feeling like simply “too much”. Humphry Slocombe figured out how to remedy this and they executed it perfectly with the milk chocolate base. While HS are known for bolder choco-takes like Malted Milk Chocolate and Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt, this ice cream carries a much lighter chocolate flavor that takes a backseat to the jelly without too many commanding cocoa notes. It’s smooth and creamy but not too heavy, with just enough darkness to bring a hint of chocolaty presence.

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What’s really surprising about this flavor is that the only element with peanut butter in it are the candy bar chunks, because I get taste bud wafts of PB emanating through every spoonful. It isn’t strong enough to make me think that it’s a straight peanut butter ice cream but the nutty-ness comes through on bites without any lovely crunchy candy bar chunks. Humphry aren’t known for having flavors packed with lots of mix-ins but I’ve noticed them upping the density recently and this pint follows suite. There are plenty of decently sized hunks of bar that snap and chomp with wonderful chocolate peanut butter flavor that’s downright fun and addictive.

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The raspberry jelly swirl is the same house made one used by Ocho in their bar and it’s pretty much perfect. Decently thick but nice and runny with sweet tart berry notes that play to the strengths of both peanut butter and chocolate swimmingly. I really enjoy Ocho’s candy bar, but I think this ice cream version may be even better balanced for my palate as the dairy helps temper the more aggressive sweetness from the actual candy. No matter which way you scoop it, this is one of Humphry Slocombe’s strongest releases of the year and a fantastic version of the childhood classic that feels just so slightly fancy with its raspberry swirl and grade-A triple threat balancing act.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Humphry Slocombe ($9.99)

REVIEW: 7-Select Go! Yum Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Even though it’s still August, as Halloween candy lines the grocery store shelves and the breakfast cereal’s have gone full on orange, I was beginning to wonder if I would have anything new to scoop leading up to the equinox. I knew some of the best pumpkin ice cream’s from the main brands would make a triumphant return but who would pull a fast one and drop a gourdy surprise? Coming straight out of left field before the Pumpkin Spice Latte even hit Starbucks, 711 answered the call. I’ve never formally reviewed any of their ice creams on this site but have done a number of mini reviews on my Instagram, and for those who don’t know, 711 makes some pretty impressive and fun cheap ice cream. Go! Yum’s Pumpkin Pie combines pumpkin pie ice cream with cinnamon graham ribbons and pie crust pieces.

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The pumpkin pie ice cream is relatively mild in flavor with a dominant squashy pumpkin flavor brought to life by cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I’ve always loved the way the natural smooth and creamy texture of pumpkin puree compliments the richness of dairy to achieve a great balancing act that feels decadent without being too heavy. 711’s ice creams fall somewhere in between the super premium fat content of Ben & Jerry’s and the lighter but still premium quality of Blue Bunny. There’s absolutely no fluffy or gummy consistency but it also doesn’t have an intense density to it. It’s simply really solid mid-tier ice cream that’s perfectly in line with what I’ve had from Go! Yum before.

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Without a doubt the best part of this pint is the cinnamon graham ribbon. While I’ve had many great graham ribbons, like in Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake, this is the first time I’ve had one laced with cinnamon, and it’s awesome. It has a gritty graham crunch with sweet buttery notes that finishes with the gentlest zing of spice. I adore graham in ice cream and the cinnamon compliments it perfectly while also adding a bit more depth to the mellow spicy flavor in the base. The swirl is also thicker and comes along with some bigger bolder chunks than a lot of other graham ribbons, and the ice cream as a whole earns some extra points just for this one very strong component.

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The pie crust pieces are also really successful, and rather than just be soggy bland doughy bites, they have a touch of buttery caramelized crunch to them that brings another layer of texture and different taste than the ribbon. I oftentimes find the crust to be the least interesting part of a pumpkin pie and this mix-in takes the pint up a notch rather than drag it down, which is a surprising and welcome addition.

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Like most pies, and a lot of ice cream’s, this one gets better with a little extra love from whipped cream. I’m not sure why no mainstream companies have made a pumpkin pie ice cream with a swirl that replicates an integral part of the Thanksgiving experience, but that’s really my only gripe with this flavor as a whole. Given the strength of 711’s swirl game in Toasted S’mores and Mint Cookies and Cream, I wish they included one more layer, but as it stands this is a good and economically sound choice for getting your frozen pumpkin fix this spooky season.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: 711 ($3.99)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Beet Red Velvet Cheesecake (V)

It’s August, which means in Salt & Straw land it’s time to put some veggies into ice cream. The idea may seem a little strange at first but last year’s Carrot Cake Batter & Hazelnut Praline was hands down one of my favorites of the year, and the Chocolate Zucchini Bread was no slouch either. Vegetables can be pretty incredible for a vessel of sweetness when paired up properly, whether for texture, flavor, or in this case, even just color. Beet Red Velvet Cake is a chocolate and beet coconut ice cream with chunks of homemade super dark gluten free chocolate cake and ribbons of vegan vanilla cheesecake.

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