It's our last evening in Oregon after two weeks of happy exploration that have taken us from river gorge to organic farmland to foggy coast and finally to Portland itself. We discover a city that has become a hopping food and wine (and beer) destination. We've just dined well for the second time at PaaDee, a hip yet cosy neighborhood Thai restaurant; we're getting ready to head back to our hotel to pack up for the return journey to L.A. the next morning.
"Let's just drive around a little," my husband Jeff suggests. "We really haven't seen much of Portland." We head toward a cool, artsy neighborhood he's read about, zigging and zagging down tree-lined streets with craftsman-style homes that make me want to move here permanently. A long line of people snakes down one side of Alberta Street. It's not a movie screening--just a lot of families making a beeline for what's become one of the most talked-about ice cream shops in Portland--Salt & Straw.
The wait is about a half hour, but we decide it'll be fun. We need something sweet to offset the salty, sour, spicy noodles we devoured at PaaDee.
I hobnob with the family in front of me. They include an excited 3-year-old boy whose father is twirling him upside down to keep him entertained. When his head accidentally bumps the pavement with a resounding thud, his parents comfort the child with descriptions of the delightful treat ahead. Walking distance from their house, Salt & Straw is the family's ice cream go-to destination, not just in summer but year-round. The flavors change seasonally, with all things berry popular in mid-July. This is the start of the berry season in Portland, with farmers market stands sporting colorful flats of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, plus local berries seldom found elsewhere. Among these is the famed marionberry, a hybrid blackberry developed at Oregon State University in the 1940's and extremely prolific and popular in Portland and surrounding Willamette Valley.
The little boy, whose tears have miraculously vanished, has his heart set on the Strawberry with Lime Cilantro Cheesecake. "All the flavors are great here," his mom says--with the possible exception of the turkey ice cream that showed up last fall in time for Thanksgiving.
When we finally arrive at the front of the line, a young woman offers us tastes of as many flavors as we want. I try some of the top-sellers, including Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero, Birthday Cakes & Blackberries, and Cucumber & Raspberry Sorbet. Somehow, I manage to skip Black Raspberries & Smoked Ham. Some popular non-berry flavors include Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon, Chocolate with Gooey Brownies, and Pear with Blue Cheese. Just the names make my mouth water!
I settle for the vanilla (actual name: Double Fold Singing Dog Vanilla) and the raspberry sorbet. Jeff goes for a fresh waffle cone filled with Birthday Cakes & Blackberries and Sea Salt with Caramel. Unusual--and delicious! We both leave with satisfied smiles on our faces. Not a bad way to end a vacation!
Just a word on Salt & Straw: Started almost exactly two years ago by two cousins, its website bills it as "Portland's farm-to-cone ice cream shop." The ice cream is made in small batches using "the best sustainable and organic ingredients Oregon has to offer," along with some ingredients sourced from "handpicked" farms and producers around the world, the site states. The Alberta store's interior is fairly retro, with reclaimed-wood shelves, vintage ice cream scoops and other goo-gas that date back to another era. Yet the flavor mixes have a definite 21st Century tease-your-tastebuds edge.
For the moment, there are just three shops in Portland, but the word is out: Salt & Straw is coming to Los Angeles' Larchmont Village next month--and already has an ice cream truck roaming Southland roads. According to L.A. Times Daily Dish, the new store will feature California flavors and ingredients, like Stumptown coffee, olive oil and goat cheese. Sounds ok to me--just no turkey ice cream, please--unless you call it something else!