There was quite a buzz when rumors started that a new ice cream place would be coming to San Diego. I wouldn’t say San Diego is a big ice cream town at all. As much as I like great ice cream, I only enjoy gelato here because I’ve never sampled ice cream in San Diego that I thought was very good. Having grown up on the east coast, and having lived in many places where there are many choices for great ice cream, well, San Diego just doesn’t cut it as an ice cream city.
Last summer, it was officially announced. Salt and Straw, the Portland, Oregon based, family-run by two cousins, small batch ice cream shop would be opening up in San Diego’s Little Italy area. They finally did open just before New Year’s. Recently, I went down to Salt and Straw and spent a few hours talking with one of the managers about ice cream, the company, and its location here in San Diego. Before I give you the full scoop, though, let me first tell you about my relationship with Salt and Straw ice cream.
We first met about 6 years ago. Back then, Salt and Straw was just getting going. My niece worked for Nike in a suburb of Portland and she would tell me about this red-and-white striped ice cream truck that would come to Nike’s campus and give out samples. She thought I would love some of their flavors. Finally, Salt and Straw opened some shops around Portland and I got to taste their ice cream. They are known for using local ingredients and tailoring their flavors to the food scene in whichever city they’re in. In Portland, they did this with flavors like Voodoo Donut and Portlandia. But truth be known, I never did find a flavor from all the ones I sampled over the years that I really liked. There’s always a long line and even though I can get in the spirit of line waiting and hanging out and watching people, in the end, I felt disappointed when I actually got my ice cream. Somehow the experience of waiting in line for ice cream shouldn’t be more fun than the actual eating of the ice cream!
When I heard they’d be opening up in San Diego’s Little Italy, my hopes were high because I thought some of their flavors using local San Diego food themed ingredients like coffee, chocolate, beer, and avocado might make me a Salt and Straw fan. The long lines were to be expected on my first visit late on a Saturday afternoon. The lines do move fast even though people enjoy the free samples and take their time ordering. After sampling a few flavors that did not appeal to me (Honey Lavender, Avocado and Oaxacan Chocolate Fudge), I settled on two flavors, James Coffee and Bourbon and Freckled Woodblock Chocolate. I was really looking forward to the James Coffee flavor because as you know, I really like coffee :) Unfortunately, I thought the James Coffee flavor was weak and the chocolate flavor only okay. I did sample the Chocolate Gooey Brownie flavor and that was the one I should have gone with to match the coffee flavor.
Fast forward to a week later and I found myself back at Salt and Straw tasting more flavors and talking with one of the managers in depth about all things ice cream and all things Salt and Straw. Turns out that Salt and Straw had been growing faster than I realized. I knew they had opened in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They were also opening in Seattle.
They also have many more employees than I realized: 30 in all just for the San Diego location. On a Saturday alone, they can serve upwards of 600 people. That’s a lot of scooping! About 30% of the people who come to the San Diego location have been to another Salt and Straw and they are very curious about the different local flavors they’ll find in San Diego. Their popular waffle cones are made fresh on-site, and at this location, it’s split down the middle with 50/50 cones to cups.
I asked the manager how she would describe Salt and Straw ice cream. She said it’s eclectic rather than traditional, and I thought this was a simple and spot on way to describe their flavors. They usually offer 12 standard flavors and 5 seasonal ones. During February, for instance, the 5 seasonal flavors were all chocolate based. It will vary every month.
I was honest with the manager and told her I hadn’t been a Salt and Straw fan and had been disappointed with the James Coffee flavor. Turns out the James Coffee flavor was her top pick. Their Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons and the Honey Lavender are the two most popular flavors. After our long fun conversation, the manager insisted I try some other flavors and see if any floated to the top of the list. I’m glad I did.
I tried the Sea Salt flavor, as well as the Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache, Peanut Butter Stout with Chocolate Chicharron, and the Peruvian Sorbet. Turned out that I liked all these flavors better than my two original choices of coffee and chocolate. The one I liked the best is the Peanut Butter Stout with Chocolate Chicharron. The Peruvian Sorbet would be a great flavor for you vegans out there.
Remember, when the manager described Salt and Straw as an eclectic ice cream shop? It turns out I’m a traditionalist when it comes to ice cream! I prefer a simple mint chip, or a coffee/mocha flavor with nuts. And I prefer gelato to ice cream. That being said, Salt and Straw is a fun place with very creative ice cream flavors that vary from location to location. The company itself takes very good care of their employees and has a social action philosophy of giving back to each community where they’re located. The scoopers are some of the most patient people I’ve ever seen, who seem to really enjoy handing out those samples and then seeing which flavor you’ll pick!
Have you tried Salt and Straw ice cream? What was your favorite flavor? What’s your very favorite ice cream in the states? I’ll tell you mine after you tell me yours:) Let the ice cream battle of the best begin!