REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Thanksgiving Dinner of Ice Cream 2017

Thanksgiving is the grandest meal of the year, and for the fifth time since they started in 2011, Salt & Straw are turning that epic feast into an immersive and inventive ice cream experience like no other. It isn’t just channeling the feelings and magic of the family-centric holiday, but actually fusing the savory salty flavors into wild new versions of America’s favorite dessert. This review is a little different than most, as rather than have a pint or scoop and pick it apart, I went into their new Hayes Valley location in San Francisco and had a full flight of the Thanksgiving Dinner of Ice Cream offerings all at once; eating them sequentially as if I was partaking in a meal. A Salt & Straw flight comes with four flavors so I had to add one on the side, in a waffle bowl for ultimate dipping and crunching satisfaction, and opted to put start the meal in said crunchy bowl.

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Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecans:
Sweet and spicy sweet potato ice cream with maple sugar caramelized pecans and maple marshmallow fluff.

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This scoop might sound strange at first, but it’s a pretty recognizable profile that translates really well into ice cream. The base is sweet and cinnamon-y with an overall flavor reminiscent of sweet potato pie that is absolutely delicious as an ice cream. The sweet potato’s organic consistency helps make the texture extra creamy and is perfectly succulent smooth. The caramelized pecans are rich and fatty with an amazing sugary pop that reminds me of sticky pecan pie in the best way. The maple marshmallow swirl is incredible, as is all marshmallow when touched by S&S, and while all the ingredients are very similar, there’s no doubt this ice cream is better than any sweet potato casserole I’ve ever had. This is the only flavor in the lineup that doesn’t have any distinct savory notes and it is an absolute slam dunk. Very scoop-able, very pint-able, and the shining star of pure deliciousness in this series. Rating: 10/10

Buttered Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Buttered mashed potatoes ice cream with a gravy fudge swirl.

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Yes, this is quite literally potato ice cream, and surprisingly, it works. Thanks to the use of yukon gold potatoes the texture is mostly smooth and creamy with a bit of potato grittiness that immediately starts to play mind games with my tastebuds. There are nuances of butter and garlic, but the overall profile still leans sweet. The swirl is thick and gravy-like, with a texture that screams fudge and a flavor that screams a chicken-stock-kissed caramel with a hint of bitterness. It’s slightly savory but not so much that it’s off-putting, and the relatively basic flavor of potato makes it less likely to clash with other scoops if you wanted to do a little mash up. For as bizarre as this one seems it’s actually pretty damn good, and I would eat it again no doubt. It isn’t as crave able as an average scoop of ice cream, but it’s executed well. Rating something like this is really challenging, since it’s in its own niche category, but I will attempt a numerical grade. Rating: 8.5/10

Persimmon Walnut Stuffing
Olive oil and coriander spiked ice cream with homemade toasted walnut stuffing and bourbon raisins.

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I don’t know about you but stuffing is one of my absolute favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner, and that savory bread-y satisfaction is on full display in this scoop. It isn’t weird at all. The olive oil ice cream is lush and beautifully creamy with hints of pepper that play against the general sweetness very well. The bourbon raisins pop with bright sugary notes and the chunks of stuffing are no joke. They are large and in charge. The olive oil and dairy soak the stuffing like a bread pudding and the overall experience is one that is reminiscent Thanksgiving’s best side, but also very scoopable. My only issue with this one was I didn’t taste persimmon at all, and I really wanted to because persimmon’s are fantastic. Rating: 8.5/10

Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey
Salted caramel turkey ice cream with candy-coated crispy turkey skin.

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This is without a doubt the weirdest of the bunch, and as far as crave-ability goes, my least favorite. The base is rich with turkey stock flavor, onions, and spices, yet is still sweet and very rich. I’m a huge fan of sweet and salty, but throwing this savory curveball into the mix is a little challenging for my tastebuds. The turkey skin is buttery and crunchy like toffee but still packs a distinctly meaty and poultry-heavy flavor. It’s bizarre, and for what it’s worth executed very well. It’s not the kind of scoop I would call disgusting, it’s just not one that tempts me to want to eat more. One of the more exciting things I tried was a bit of this and a bit of the mashed potatoes in one bite, and yep, it was just like the classic mix on a real Thanksgiving plate. Rating: 9/10 on execution, 7/10 for my personal taste.

Spiced Goat Cheese & Pumpkin Pie
Spiced goat cheese ice cream with swirls of mashed pumpkin filling.

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Who doesn’t love a good pumpkin pie to finish off the most indulgent meal of the year? I was super looking forward to this flavor, and while it’s good, I think it ultimately let me down the most. Goat cheese can work beautifully in ice cream, and S&S’s own Marionberry Habanero is a great example of this, but for my taste this one is simply too goat cheesy. The base is very tangy and almost tastes like a straight goat cheese log with just a touch of amplified sweetness and slight spice kick. The pumpkin swirl is great, but the ratio leans so heavily towards the base that I never feel like I got quite enough. The bites with equal parts of the two were terrific. Cheesy but spicy and sweet with lush pumpkin flavor – there just wasn’t enough of them to make me love the scoop as a whole. Rating: 7/10

Overall Salt & Straw’s Thanksgiving Dinner of Ice Cream is a total success – full of creative flavors that really do conjure up amazing memories of family and feasting. If you are fortunate enough to have a scoop shop in your neighborhood I highly recommend stopping in for a flight, and if you have an adventurous palate and can afford it, getting a 5 pack of pints delivered to your door would make for a really fun evening of food exploration.

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REVIEW: Graeter’s Limited Edition Pumpkin

While it’s relatively commonplace to find fun seasonal flavors from all the big players in the grocery ice cream game like Breyer’s, Dreyer’s, Haagen Dazs, and Ben & Jerry’s, it’s a much more rare feat to come across a higher end brand sneaking a seasonal release into the frozen aisle. Oftentimes a craft-leaning brand will only get the most likely to sell and core flavors at a store, maybe 4 or 5 varieties tops, and all the special ones will need to be ordered online or picked up at a (non-existent on this coast) scoop shop. A fortunate outlier to this equation has popped up, likely due to the mainstream infatuation with everything pumpkin, and at my local Whole Foods I was able to score Graeter’s spin on the trendy flavor, simply dubbed, Limited Edition Pumpkin.

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As expected from a super premium high fat ice cream, the texture is incredibly smooth, creamy, and dense. The flavor is sweet, subtly spicy, and mostly notably pumpkin-pronounced. The finishing note is pure squashy goodness and carries one of the most authentic and vegetal pumpkin flavors I’ve ever had in ice cream. There are notes of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, but they definitely take a backseat to the gourd-forward ensemble of flavors in the container.

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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Graeter’s, a company that prides itself on presenting classic, mostly refined and uncomplicated flavors executed with pure richness, went a very straight forward route with their pumpkin ice cream. The flavor is simply called “Pumpkin” and not “Pumpkin Pie” or “Pumpkin Spice”, so the spice being more of an undertone is exactly as advertised; but it also limits how good this ice cream can be. Similar to a very well executed vanilla, no matter how good it is it can’t compete with more complex flavors that incorporate multiple textures, mix-ins, and techniques to create a more engaging pint.

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I would love to see a company with very high quality base ice cream like Graeter’s incorporate a caramel swirl or a white chocolate spin on their renowned chocolate chips to bring some extra textural contrast and depth to their fantastic pumpkin flavor. I don’t want to call this one “boring” because it’s very well done, but it isn’t the type of pint I need to seek out year after year as it does’t satisfy any urge a solid pumpkin pie filling can do perfectly well – especially at the higher price point.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Whole Foods ($6.99)

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REVIEW: Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie

You may or may not know this, but ice cream and gelato are not the same thing. Yes, “gelato” in Italian does mean ice cream, and the end results of both processes are similarly delicious, but there are a few key components that make for big differences. Gelato is churned at a slower speed than American ice cream, and as a result has less air and is a bit denser than your average stateside scoop. Even more importantly, it uses less cream and eggs and more milk, which results in a lower fat content and translates the flavors differently, oftentimes more intensely, than typical high butterfat ice cream. Because there’s less fatty interference to coat the tongue, the flavors, especially fruit based ones, shine like they never can in the American stuff.

It’s no secret that I’m a big ole ice cream junky, but I also really love gelato. I’ve had more gelato in random shops or restaurants than purchased pints, and I was surprised that over the course of the last year I gave -zero- love to the classic Italian dessert on this blog. I decided that was unacceptable, and time for a rescoop of a seasonal staple from the biggest grocery gelato name of them all – Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie.

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This frozen take on Thanksgiving’s finest combines a spiced pumpkin gelato with a brown sugar swirl and pieces of pie crust. Immediately upon opening the container there is a massive spicy sweet bouquet of cinnamon and pumpkin, which is impressive because the temperature of frozen desserts often keeps them from smelling anything close to how wonderful they taste.

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The texture is exactly as a gelato should be – smooth and creamy with an airy density that has a velvety-ness more akin to a perfectly made smoothie than your average premium ice cream. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin notes are big and bright with perfect authenticity. The most surprising aspect of the profile is how prominent the nutmeg is, with all of its sweet nuances on full display. The pie crust pieces are mostly on the small side but taste terrific. Many of them are soft with a squishy give, and occasionally one will pop up with a crunchy butteriness that reminds me of the slightly charred outer-crust goodness. The brown sugar swirl is more integrated into the base than it is a stand out component on its own, but it definitely brings a pretty intense sugary pop that weaves through the entire pint.

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My only issue with this flavor, and it’s one that I run into with gelato from time to time, is it is very sweet. The lower fat content is both a blessing and a curse, in that the spices don’t get held back by the fat and are able to show their full potential, but there’s also no fat to mellow the sugar and add depth to the experience. The aspects of gelato that make this pint strong are the same ones that hold it back from being perfect. It isn’t bad by any means, in fact it’s one of Talenti’s strongest offerings, it just becomes a bit too much for me after a serving, and leaves my mouth feeling a bit like my ears do after listening to a great song on mediocre headphones – all treble and no bass…but damn that’s still a good song.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Target ($4.99)

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REVIEW: Jack’s Prime Gobble Gobble Burger

In the realm of burgers there are real burgers, you know, the one’s made with beef or occasionally bison or something fancy, and chicken burgers, and veggie burgers, and then there are…turkey burgers.  The forever less loved patty, standing lonely from the outside looking in, will only get ordered by those avoiding red meat, watching their cholesterol, or suffering from generally broken taste buds.  No one in the history of the world woke up, mapped out their dinner plans, and said “damn, I am REALLY craving a turkey burger…”.  Pause.  Enter – Jack’s Prime.

Full disclosure, Jack’s Prime in San Mateo is my favorite burger spot in the bay area, and it’s one of the few places I will return to eat at at least once a month.  Part of the appeal of return visits for me is a rotating cast of monthly burger specials, and for the month of November it’s their take on a turkey burger called the Gobble Gobble.  The Gobble Gobble burger is a Diestel Ranch turkey patty topped with cheddar cheese, apple cranberry chutney, house made stuffing, romaine lettuce, and mayo on an onion bun.  Yes, it is Thanksgiving dinner in a single bite, and don’t worry, there are potatoes-a-plenty on the side.

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The Gobble Gobble burger with sweet potato fries

Many of the complaints about turkey burgers – they’re bland, or dry, or boring – all get laid to rest with the Gobble Gobble.  Through the clever use of melty cheddar cheese, herbaceous stuffing, and sharply sweet chutney, you never have a chance to lament the fact that there are no glisteny red juice puddles muddying your plate.  All of the elements work in perfect harmony here, with the seasoning on the patty being a bit understated to leave room for the powerful condiments to do their job.  The chutney having both cranberries and apples helps add a sweet and tart component that plays with the overall flavor much like caramelized onions, with the stuffing adding a fluffy bounce and deep onion richness.

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Top of the bun with nice layer of stuffing

When you get a bite with both cranberry and stuffing (which is most of the time) you are immediately transported to Thanksgiving dinner in the most deliciously comfortable way imaginable.  Even the onion bun, which is the most minuscule of modifications to their usual burger bun, emulates that tasty soft dinner roll you use to sop up all the gravy at the end of the years best meal.

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Up close and personal with the onion bun

If you find yourself abruptly out of leftovers and fiending for one last Thanksgiving fix, the Gobble Gobble will be available through the end of the month.  If you’ve missed out and/or are completely sick of cranberries and turkey, you can join me in waiting with fingers crossed for an encore appearance next November.
Rating: 9/10

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Jack’s Prime is located at 3723 S El Camino Real in San Mateo, CA, and are also home to insanely perfect sweet potato fries, the best garlic fries outside of AT&T park, and the most beautifully balanced peppery sweet BBQ sauce you’ll have anywhere not serving brisket.