According to our four year-old selves, one of the triumphs of adulthood is being able to eat ice cream whenever we want. And it’s true — we can eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — but this perk of maturity is often wasted on $6.75 pints of Ben & Jerry’s during 2 AM runs to Homer’s. I get it, sometimes you’re in for a night of problem sets and Hum papers and you desperately need caffeine, pizza bites, and Phish Food, but I also think that we should occasionally embrace our grown-up-ness and treat ourselves to the fancy ice cream that only Portland has to offer in such scope. So, I waited in line and demolished the sanctity of my diet to give you the inside scoop on four of Portland’s best ice cream shops: Cloud City, Ruby Jewel, Salt & Straw, and the newly opened Pinolo.
The real ~jewel~ of Ruby Jewel is its location. Right next to Por Qué No, a record store, and a slew of cool bars, if you’re looking to explore the lesser-known side of Hawthorne, hoof it down to 47th and get a scoop. With regard to their ice cream, this is definitely a place for purists. Although it boasted a few original flavors, like hard cider and root beer (which are also vegan), Ruby Jewel is the place to go if you want to get a scoop of cookies & cream rather than an über hip strawberry balsamic/goat cheese/Himalayan salt concoction. That being said, Ruby Jewel was the only store I sampled that offered ice cream sandwiches; even if their ice cream is lacking, their use of tongue depressors in lieu of spoons gives them that weird Portland vibe. The outdoor seating area is large and the pricing average, though they do charge an extra dollar for a cone. Long story short, the 3-mile trek down to Ruby Jewel is only worth it if you’re already planning a trip to Hawthorne.
Salt & Straw:
Salt & Straw is the magnificent foil to Ruby Jewel—you’ll have to wait in line so long that you’ll want to claw your eyes out, but the ice cream is perfection. I’ll admit it, I did go to Salt & Straw on a Saturday night at 10, so I was kind of asking for it (please go at a weird time so you don’t suffer as I did!). After waiting in line for 35 minutes, I finally got my turn to waste everybody else’s time by tasting as many flavors as I could get my hands on. And let me tell you, this month has it going on. While Salt & Straw’s classic collection has plenty to brag about — honey lavender, cinnamon snickerdoodle, and pear & blue cheese — the late summer harvest flavors were transcendent. And even though “late summer harvest” is an incredibly pretentious name and totally Los Angeles-esque, the smoked cinnamon apple flavor was the ice cream equivalent of making sweet love to a sexy lumberjack decked out in plaid — sugary but with enough of a kick to keep you entertained. If you go to Salt & Straw, please dear God, go soon before these flavors are deposed by their wintry counterparts.
Pinolo, on Division just a few blocks from Salt & Straw, is the newest gelato place in Southeast Portland. Not surprisingly, it’s been receiving a lot of press (its flavors are in Italian and it has rustic lighting, a true hipster’s paradise), but I’m sad to report that the gelato does not live up to the hype. Even though everybody and their mother was at Salt & Straw when I went, Pinolo’s space is so poorly laid out that only one customer can be served at a time, and it therefore had an unnecessarily long line. Pinolo also doesn’t offer many flavors — 5 gelatos and 6 sorbets, to be exact — but if you’re easily overwhelmed, this might be the place for you. The flavors were nothing extraordinary, but their texture was what ice cream has always dreamt of being. At any rate, if you’re hankering for traditional Italian flavors, like stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chunks) or bacio (Nutella), I suggest you hit the Division food carts, stop by She Bop, and try Pinolo’s gelato.
Cloud City, quite obviously, has the best location given that it’s only several blocks up Woodstock. And let me tell you, their flavors are just as good as Salt & Straw’s, if not better, given that you don’t have to drive/take the bus to try them for yourself. Cloud City has the nicest staff — none of the hipster mixologist types that you find at Salt & Straw — and the best pricing of all four stores (only $3.25 for a scoop). They don’t have much seating and there are always kids trying to cut in line like it’s their God-given right to eat ice cream, but I’d say that the huge variety, fun flavor combinations, and unicorn chalk murals are worth it. Combining the best parts of Ruby Jewel and Salt & Straw, Cloud City offers traditional, boring flavors like chocolate and awesome flavors like flamango (mango + habanero), depending on your mood. Though the Woodstock neighborhood isn’t as hopping as Hawthorne or Division, Cloud City is the perfect place for a quick ice cream run between hellish trips to the library.