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)