Local ice cream moguls Salt & Straw are often the butt of Portland weirdness jokes, but the company—founded in 2011 and still run by cousins Kim Malek and Tyler Malek—has proven over and again that ice cream seekers are as interested in strange and unusual flavors as they are in the classic Fudge Brownie.
Salt & Straw more or less cycles through new flavors every month, sometimes working with student inventors or children's book authors to try on new taste approaches. Last year, they unveiled a series of four flower flavors (and a sherbet) to celebrate spring and Mother's Day. This year the flowers are back with two more kinds of weird flower ice cream power.
We stopped by to try scoops of all the flower ice creams on offer. Here's what we thought:
Mathilde's Hibiscus and Coconut Sherbet
This sherbet seems to be the whole reason for the season. A collaboration with Mathilde's Kitchen, it calls in tastes from the chef's hibiscus flower ginger brew that you may have seen in local grocery stores. Mathilde Wilson used to run a Haitian food cart at Portland Mercado (and one on Northeast Alberta before that), but now specializes in a line of drinks celebrating Haiti's national flower: hibiscus. The Salt & Straw sherbet is strong on the coconut with a satisfying ginger ghost haunting the whole affair. Its hibiscus comes through with a soft, tart bite that you can feel at the back of your throat. Plus, it's vegan!
Jasmine Milk Tea and Chocolate Almond Stracciatella
Second runner-up is this creamy little perfection of milk tea and chocolate. The jasmine flower is pleasantly present, but not fragrant on the taste buds. When they say "stracciatella" they mean gelato—specifically a kind created by slowly dropping ribbons of chocolate into cream. As the cream freezes, the ribbons break apart into little delicious broken pieces of chocolate. Sure, almond is here too, but everyone jived well together, all the way to the last bite.
Pistachio Rose Water with Strawberry Mochi
One of this year's new flavors, this confluence of tastes takes after its pistachio and mochi parents the most. My scoop was decidedly not strawberry-like—and redheads need to eat strawberries to live—but the delicate and light "oh, she just left the room" nature of the rose water combined with the rice hints of mochi worked beautifully.
Rhubarb Crumble with Toasted Anise
YOU CAN'T REALLY TASTE THE ANISE, and that's a problem for my fernet-glugging sensibilities. This lovely little darling is straight-up rhubarb crumble ice cream, and carries with it the buttery sensibilities of a cake- or pie-style frozen dessert. The rhubarb is fresh and barely tart under all the sweetness that traditionally accompanies this spring vegetable. It might make sense for the least adventurous in your flower flavor-questing pack.
Saffron and Honey with Crystalized Flower Petals
The other new flavor this year, initially I liked Saffron and Honey the best. Crystals are always a plus, and the purplish candied cornflowers really popped against the scoop's cheerful goldenrod hue. You won't get a ton of saffron flavor—that's for the color—but the honey's sweetness is just right. Unfortunately as the dessert wore on things began to get a little too potpourri. Saffron and Honey went from favorite to least in one sitting, but we remember the initial affection we had for this scoop and are convinced this one could still put in a good showing, in moderation or paired with a more basic flavor friend.