When it comes to Asian dessert crazes, Portland is somehow always the last to get the memo. San Gabriel Valley boba spot Zero Degrees dropped franchises in Nevada, Florida, Texas and even Beaverton before bringing its intoxicating mix of Asian and Latin flavors to Portland. Bubble waffles got a similar delay. And now, two years after the Thai rolled ice cream fad reached the pages of Forbes, Portland finally gets its first taste of topping-stacked, fresh-frozen ice cream spirals.
Watching the rolled ice cream get made at new sunny Goose Hollow parlor 22 Below is both entrancing and a little ooky. It's also a bit like stir fry in reverse. The ice cream makers at this Eugene-based chain spread out a syrupy, lactose-free, coconut-milk base—yes, the ice cream is vegan unless you put non-vegan stuff on it—across a circular pan supercooled to negative 22 degrees. They swirl the coconut base with flavors ranging from green tea to banana to lavender, before making it into a melty Blizzard goop, using big metal paddles to chop in fruit, graham crackers, Butterfinger or peanut butter cups.
Finally, creamtenders spread out that chunky mixture again and again across the below-zero metal pan until it cools enough to be flattened into a solid frozen sheet. Using spatulas, they then separate the ice cream into discrete ice cream roll-ups, served axis-up in a paper cup. It's an impressive production, almost like watching bakers pound and knead dough before making instant bread.
But to the adult palate, the resulting ice cream bowls ($5.45-$6.85) are almost oppressively sweet—perhaps a by-product of using coconut milk instead of the dairy stuff. A lavender-honey Honey Bee was the approximate experience of a suckable nectar tube made semi-solid. The pineapple chunks in a piña colada milkshake actually provided a less-cloying refuge from the sugary onslaught.
22 Below is wildly popular already with roving packs of teens and tweens, but those with more a temperate sweet tooth are best off ordering kid-sized bowls with savory inserts—in particular a Salty Breeze with pretzel, caramel and sea salt. Novelty seekers can roll with hot Cheetos, a s'more sundae with toasted marshmallows, or sheets pocked with a rainbow of Fruity Pebbles.
The menu also sports classic bobas, milkshakes and "popping sodas"—lightly carbed fruit syrups with thin-skinned boba—as well as the world's smelliest takoyaki octopus balls swimming in bonito flakes.
If you're here, it's to taste wild-style ice cream rolls kneaded with peanut butter cup or velvet Oreo, smothered in whipped cream and bits of even more stuff. Consider it a nouveau take on the froyo bowl for the architecturally inclined.