Salt & Straw loses authenticity through overcomplication

Story by Audrey Ernst
Staff Writer

Photos by Katelyn Hernandez
Staff Photographer

Cardamom Black Pepper & Port Truffle probably isn’t the first flavor that comes to mind when thinking about ice cream, but at Salt & Straw, it’s an option in its wide variety of eccentric flavors. The Portland-based ice cream shop opened in Old Town Pasadena last November, bringing with it unusual — and, admittedly, bizarre — flavors such as Dandelion Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies & Cream, Honey Lavender, and Chocolate Rose.

However, Salt & Straw is excessive in its attempts to set itself apart from other ice cream shops and falls into the trap of developing wildly unorthodox flavors. The store brings unnecessary elements into their ice cream, depriving their tastier, tried-and-true takes on classic ice cream flavors of the attention they deserve.

The Pasadena store incorporates aged elements in a contemporary design, mixing all of the warmth and nostalgia of an old-timey ice cream parlor with a sleek, trendy feel that stays in touch with a modern theme. The walls of the ice cream shop are made of aged wood, bearing branded novelty items and snacks for the road available for purchase, as well as spotlights on a set of flavors that rotates monthly. The January theme was “Vegandulgence,” so the store’s ice cream highlights were entirely vegan, featuring flavors such as Toasted Oat Milk & Cookies and Lemon Cheesecake Crumble.

The Black Olive Brittle and Goat Cheese is a long-time staple flavor offered at Salt & Straw. A scoop of this flavor has the cold, creamy texture of a delicious traditional ice cream, but is accented with rich goat cheese, striking an unfamiliar, but not entirely unwelcome, combination of sweet and savory. However, the pleasant taste of the ice cream was made inedible by the addition of olive butter brittle: the olive flavor completely overpowered the subtle goat cheese and turned an otherwise interesting ice cream into a bitter mess. In fact, the brittle was so strong that it seemed like more of an afterthought, added simply for the sake of having another unusual flavor to market.

Along with atypical flavors, Salt & Straw also offers more conventional flavors. These are the flavors that the artisan ice cream shop has elevated into something unique and delicious, while managing to remain in true to simple and clean flavor profiles. Traditional ice cream flavors — vanilla, chocolate, and mint — were converted into delicious interpretations like the Double Fold Vanilla and Chocolate Gooey Brownie, which tastefully added new ingredients — marshmallow bits and pieces of brownie — transforming the well-loved (if slightly boring) flavors into the highlights of the menu.

Salt & Straw is commendable for their bold experimentation and willingness to develop unusual and exciting flavors. Although some of these experiments were unsuccessful, there’s no doubt that Salt & Straw can cater well both to people looking for a little bit of adventure with their dessert and those who simply want an elegant play on a personal favorite classic — that is, if these customers pay a higher price and take a small risk in each flavor they pick.

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