REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s The Roxie Road

Popcorn is one of my favorite foods. It’s a volume snack I can put back with light crunchy ease that tastes fantastic AND actually has some fiber and protein to go along with its deliciousness. Whether its the straight ahead low fat sea salt bagged variety, or the naughty oil drenched stuff in a dark movie theater, or a crunchy drizzled sugary treat, popcorn is a mainstay in my diet and I love it. As popular as it is, it rarely finds itself incorporated in my, and America’s, favorite dessert – ice cream. While it may sound kind of strange, the roasty, buttery, sweet and salty potential of popcorn is actually an amazing mashup for making a wonderful ice cream, and for the June Rescued Food series Salt & Straw did just that. Utilizing leftover popcorn from the Roxie Theater, S&S created a popcorn ice cream base and mixed it with their house caramel and a coffee-flour cookie crumble to create The Roxie Road.

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The popcorn flavor in the base is fairly subtle, but comes across in initial bites when I search for it. Beneath the layers of silky smooth high quality dairy are gentle corn notes that finish with a slightly roasted butter flavor. Much more apparent than a straight ahead popcorn flavor is an overall butteriness that aids in the texture and makes it feel and taste like an elevated corny sweet cream. The execution and overall effectiveness of the popcorn experience would have been greatly amplified by a saltier presence, which we know Salt & Straw can do extremely well in their Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons and countless other stellar releases. Even though it’s lacking some salty pop there’s no doubt this isn’t vanilla and it’s a really tasty ice cream.

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The caramel in this pint is the same fantastic S&S caramel that I know and love – thick and rich with an impressively dark burnt flavor that is my absolute favorite caramel in any ice cream. It isn’t particularly salty but does reset my tastebuds to be able to taste the popcorn flavor in the base more prominently, and is a wonderful compliment to pretty much anything it touches.

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The surprise factor in this flavor, and my favorite element, are the coffee-flour cookie crumbles. There are some smaller “crumbles” sprinkled throughout, but also big hunkin’ chunks that explode with a gritty cookie texture and robust coffee flavor that are unexpectedly delicious. The chunks are hard, almost like a piece of toffee, and are equal parts intense coffee grounds and bitter chocolate notes. It’s almost like a super coffee-forward shortbread, crumbling beneath my teeth, and the bitter coffee flavor is very welcome in the sea of sweet creaminess.

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I was ecstatic when S&S announced they were doing a popcorn-infused base, and while it is a fantastic ice cream, I wish it was a bit more popcorn-y. The best popcorn base I’ve ever had was in a Humphry Slocombe seasonal last year called Peaches and Popcorn, and I feel as though I will be forever chasing that buttery salty memory. Regardless of any small flavor preferences, if you like buttery ice cream with sensational caramel and bursts of bitter coffee and are fortunate enough to live in the Bay Area this one is definitely worth at least a scoop, and probably a pint to boot.
Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco)

REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Breakside Brewery’s Spent Grains & Bacon S’mores

No stranger to being the cool kids in the ice cream class, Salt & Straw are kicking off the summer season with an entire line of gourmet flavors using recycled and rescued ingredients.  No, they didn’t dig through the garbage to make a creamy casserole of mismatched scraps, but rather, sought out byproducts of food processes, fruit too bruised to sell at full price, or bread that is too stale to stay on shelves and flipped them into inventive flavors of melty indulgence.  As a country that wastes 40% of our food, this is a great thing to do for the United States, and owners Kim and Tyler Malek estimate this limited line alone will save around 2,000 pounds of food waste.  For Breakside Brewery’s Spent Grains & Bacon S’mores, S&S utilized the flavor of leftover grains and malts from brewing beer and combined them with chocolate chunks and a bacon marshmallow fluff swirl.

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Anytime that I see bacon as a component used in a sweet or non-traditional way I get skeptical that it is there purely for gimmick because of the “everything is better with bacon” hype, but with this flavor that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The marshmallow swirl is composed of 70% or so pure fluffy sweet marshmallow fluff, with an incredible balance of bounce and sugar that is everything a marshmallow should be – it’s perfect.  Dispersed sporadically throughout the ‘mallow are chunks of bacon that cut through the sweetness with a touch of salt and a wonderfully pronounced smokiness that evokes the flavors of a campfire.  The bacon is used not only to add an interesting tasting component, but to elevate the entire s’mores experience to a new, truer level than I’ve had in ice cream and it is fantastic.

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The chocolate, unsurprisingly because it’s Salt & Straw, is incredibly dark and bitter with a big, bold cocoa flavor and an interesting gritty texture.  It tastes very high quality and feels like some of the spent grains were used in the pieces, as there’s a chunky density to the chocolate instead of the typical smooth and clean texture that usually coincides with chips/chunks.

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Rounding the entire s’mores experience out is the actual ice cream itself, which is a slightly gritty yet still silky smooth graham cracker base with light honey notes and hints of earthiness.  The texture feels like a bunch of crackers were ground up and soaked in cream and then churned without any kind of aggressive straining to filter out the bits.  The base is also where the recycled component comes into play, mixing the roasted spent grains from Breakside Brewery in conjunction with the graham to create a deep slightly smoky presence, and there are no odd flavors that seem out of place or boozy for a s’mores ice cream; everything works incredibly well.

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The only element missing from an ideal s’mores experience is gooey melted chocolate, but all the flavors are represented and the execution of the recycled theme is spot on.  A wonderful start to the June line, this one is a must try for people who love marshmallow, s’mores, or bacon used in brilliant new ways.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.saltandstraw.com or in scoops shops in Portland, OR

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