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: Salt & Straw The Ice Cream of Moo

It’s that time of the year again where the geniuses (psychopaths?) at Salt & Straw hand over their coveted creative duties to children, cranking out the scoops of their dreams in the Student Inventor Series. A fan favorite since 2011, the series has spawned some bonafide classics like Cinnatopia and a whole lotta absolutely crazy pints plucked straight from the curious depths of developing brains, like Lots a’ Nacho. One of the more straight forward and less-fruit-heavy creations this year is The Ice Cream of Moo, which combines silky salted chocolate ice cream with studded clusters of candied caramel cashews and hunks of maraschino cherry-laced chocolate ganache. 

The chocolate base initially took me by surprise, but I think I’ve settled into appreciating it. The texture is a bit lighter and airier than the epic density I’m used to from Salt & Straw. It isn’t actually airy like like a cheaper ice cream with high overrun, it’s definitely still super premium, just a touch more churned than I’m used to. The flavor is a relatively light and milky chocolate taste that reminds me of a Wendy’s chocolate frosty, or a malt cup without the malt, plus some delightful saltiness. The salt causes the base to temper quicker than your average S&S pint, and since it’s described as “silky” I think it definitely fits the bill. It’s a solid foundation but ultimately the least interesting part of this ice cream.

There are only two mix-ins but there’s plenty of them! The candied caramel cashews bring a different type of saltiness to the profile, with a hint of burnt sugar that has no doubt seeped into the base to cover up some of the cocoa’s typical bitterness. I love the flavor of cashews and that unique fatty earthiness comes through surprisingly well. What I’m not quite as fond of is the texture. The texture isn’t bad, but it’s more cashew than it is candied, as in, it has the softer chew of a roasted nut as opposed to the hard crunch of a praline. I still enjoy eating them but I would have loved a crunchy component to really add some chomp-y depth to the pint.

The highlight of The Ice Cream of Moo, unsurprisingly, is the cherry-laced chocolate ganache. Salt & Straw’s chocolate ganache is one of their greatest mix-ins, one of my favorite EVER, and that classic salty, super bitter, deeply rich flavor is on full display in this new cherry-ified iteration. The ganache is so dark and so intense I wonder if that’s why the base seems light, because there are lotsa cashews and lotsa lovely chunks of ganache from top to bottom. It carries a wonderful buttery chew that’s downright addictive, with little pops of fleshy acidity from the house made maraschino cherries. It’s not only a highlight but a component I could eat on its own forever and ever, and honestly worth the price of admission on its own.

While the base and cashews leave something to be desired in their execution, I can’t deny how fun this ice cream is to eat. There’s an addictive quality to it that made me down half the pint in one pretty quick sitting. It’s salty and sweet and bitter all at once, with earthy undertones and a very playful concept that’s more attuned to an adult palette. A fitting addition to the Inventors Series in its 11th year, but just shy of being one I can see being summoned back from the Vault a couple years from now.

Rating: 7.5/10

Found at: Salt & Straw ($13.00)

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: 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: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s

It’s finally officially autumn. Which means that the inside of Trader Joe’s looks like a pumpkin goblin vomited all over the entire store. And it’s goddamn beautiful. While many brands started rolling out their spooky seasonal selection in August, Trader Joe’s tends to wait until a more tasteful mid-September, but when they bring it, they BRING it. Pumpkin soup and pumpkin chips and pumpkin spreads and pumpkin pasta and on and on and on. Of course, not excluding pumpkin cookies. Somehow in my autumnal escapades last year I didn’t pen my thoughts on Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s. In fact, I didn’t even eat them last year. But the time has come for me to formally enter TJ’s mock-eo into the pumpkin catalog. Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s are pumpkin sandwich cookies with a pumpkin cream filling.

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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: 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)