Suddenly, everybody hates Salt & Straw.
"Fuck Salt And Straw" handbills are popping up on utility poles, and vegans aggrieved by foie gras ice cream are literally holding street protests outside the shop. My social-media streams are filled with derisive comments about the nonsensical flavors and the class of tourist drawn to wait in line for arugula ice cream.
Things were very different in 2012, when the chain ramped up expansion across Portland and Los Angeles. In those simpler times, the people of this dewy land still blushed when Portland drew acclaim from afar. The food critics raved. The "snarky" other weekly wrote of recent culinary-school grad Tyler Malek that "one senses what it would've been like to speak with a young Thomas Keller, Wylie Dufresne, or Marco Pierre White. Greatness awaits him on his chosen path."
There was but one holdout—me. I never liked Salt & Straw. I wrote a review about the absurdity of the place, highlighting the under-sweetened base and the flawed flavor combinations. "Career suicide," one of my colleagues called it, and he wasn't joking.
But believe me when I say this: Wiz Bang Bar, the new soft-serve spot from the owners of Salt & Straw, is really fucking good.
There are some things that need improvement, and early inconsistencies could prove troubling if shortcuts are taken, but everyone hate-sharing the tone-deaf piece Malek wrote for Vice's food site ("How I'm Reinventing Soft Serve in Portland") owes it to themselves to queue up for one of the (gulp) $8.50 sundaes.
What's so good about it? Well, for starters, that super-creamy base, a pure and tastefully restrained thing. The vanilla tastes a lot like buttery Dairy Queen, the chocolate fudge tastes like the powder left behind in a Hershey's wrapper, and the sea salt and caramel tastes like Marshmallow Fluff. My only disappointment was the ancho chili with no heat. My two favorite ice-cream places in town, Cool Moon and What's the Scoop, have managed to create tasty flavors with a kiss of spice. And avoid Wiz Bang's gross ham-flavored custard, a sop to its overthought Salty roots.
If you get a cone ($3.95, $4.95 dipped), you'll be reasonably happy—especially if it's basic vanilla dipped in chocolate.
The sundaes steal the show, though. Each includes a different house-baked pastry, which gets ice cream and sweet toppings. And every single one I've had has been an outstanding blend.
The best in four visits? It's a tie between the Rhubarb Sour Straws and the PBJ. The rhubarb sundae starts with basic vanilla custard on top of butter mochi, a dense Hawaiian bread made with coconut milk, then gets lightened and brightened with strips of sour-candied rhubarb and lemon curd. The peanut butter and jelly has a slab of sweet toast on the bottom, with bright local marionberry jam and crumbled peanut butter cereal.
There are some logistical problems—it takes about six minutes to get your sundae after ordering, and the shop doesn't have Olive Garden-style buzzers like neighboring Olympia Provisions, so you're expected to stand in a busy pathway, getting jostled by passersby. The vanilla machine has been on the fritz on a few visits, so the carefully balanced flavors in the sundaes had the wrong base ice cream.
And the rest of Pine Street Market is something of a shitshow—but we'll leave that for an another issue. Career suicide, Part II.
EAT: Wiz Bang Bar is at Pine Street Market, 126 SW 2nd St., 503-384-2150, saltandstraw.com/wizbangbar. 10 am-11 pm daily.