Remember a few years ago, when artisanal hard-packed ice cream was all the rage? Everybody in Portland was lining up for dense scoops of bee pollen and cilantro topped with dehydrated creme brulee.
Well, as with all food cycles, things have swung back around. Soft is the new hard, and so SaniServ machines are popping up across Portland, squirting out light, sweet frozen treats.
We licked our way around the city. Here's how they stack up.
1. Wiz Bang Bar
Pine Street Market, 126 SW 2nd Ave., 503-384-2150, saltandstraw.com/wizbangbar. 10 am-11 pm daily.
We had: This is one of our favorite new spots in town, so we've had pretty much everything in seven visits. Get one of the sundaes ($8.50).
The much-hyped new soft-serve spot from the over-hyped Salt & Straw, Wiz Bang is already drawing big lines at the downtown food court that houses it. Well, look for us in line. The soft serve is good, but nothing groundbreaking. The sundaes made from that soft serve, on the other hand, are exquisite—each built on a starchy treat from the in-house pastry program and sauced and sprinkled with exceptional accoutrements. MARTIN CIZMAR.
820 NE 27th Ave., 503-234-7151. basiliskpdx.com. 11 am-10 pm daily.
We had: Watermelon and grape cones ($2.50).
This new spot in the Zipper pod is quickly gaining acclaim for monstrous, golden-fried chicken sandwiches. Basilisk has a breaking ball, too—soft-serve cones and cups flavored with a rotating selection of Kool-Aid. The soft serve is the densest and sweetest in town—even more so when the machine was on the fritz—and the candied sweetness of the Kool-Aid walks dangerously close to the edge. It stuck just to the right side of richness for us, and gets bonus points for the rotating flavors and the low price for cones. MARTIN CIZMAR.
609 SE Ankeny St., Suite C., 503-740-2907. khaomangai.com. 11 am-9 pm daily.
We had: Coconut-lemongrass ice cream ($4), Thai iced tea float ($6)
The coconut ice cream at Thai chicken spot Nong's Khao Man Gai may be the most single-mindedly sumptuous soft serve in town, a fat-sugar wallop of coconut milk and half-and-half that fades to fragrant undercurrents of lemongrass and pandan leaf. And for a couple bucks extra, you can drop your scoop into a bittersweet, floral tea float that's basically an uptown take on Thai iced tea. It's terrific. But nonetheless on our recent visit, the soft-serve machine must have been having some trouble with temperature control: Every sixth bite or so contained the distracting crunch of an ice crystal. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
22 SE 28th Ave., 503-206-7315, cheeseandcrack.com. 10 am-10 pm daily.
We had: Espresso-sprinkled soft serve on a ganache-filled cake cone ($3), marshmallow-cookie-ganache sundae ($7).
Cheese & Crack is basically a picnic with windows. And every sunny afternoon, you might see kids at this posh Kerns shop who look like they speak French. But screw 'em: This is soft serve for adults. To drive the point home, you can get your sweet-cream soft serve dusted liberally with espresso powder— balancing custardy sweetness with bitter tannins, and stacking your sugar high with a caffeine jolt. The $7 sundae, meanwhile, is a semi-frozen take on the s'more: a heavenly cake of singed marshmallow on top, cookie in the middle, and rich ganache on the bottom. But you know what? Same as with s'mores, that rich chocolate base is as much distraction as bonus. The marshmallow-cinnamon top is, however, a work of art. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
3538 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-206-4757,
themapleparlor.com. Noon-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, noon-10 pm Friday-Saturday, noon-6 pm Sunday.
We had: Regular-sized cashew maple and summer almond cherry blend ($5.25).
The Maple Parlor's mission is to be dietarily versatile—it has traditional soft serve and froyo, but also vegan, gluten-free, paleo and low-glycemic options. And yet, there's something good enough to feel indulgent for anyone. A young boy stared me down in the lobby, and as our eyes met, he provocatively smiled and raised his eyebrows with all the grace and sleaze of a 60-year-old bachelor, as if to say, "You don't know what you're getting yourself into, honey." Well, he was right. The cherry lurking beneath that summer almond flavor added just enough sweetness, while still letting the nuts hang in the forefront. RUSSELL HAUSFELD.
2515 SE 136th Ave., 503-761-1151. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday.
We had: A small cone with ice cream heaped 4 inches over the brim ($1.75), with a green apple flavor burst (20 cents).
Cruiser's has been cruising since the 1950s fetish of the '80s—previously, it was Double E's—and it has that oddly canned feeling of a replica, with checkerboard blue floors, pink walls and claw-crane toy machines. You can neglect the burgers, and shun the fries. But the soft-serve menu offers strange innovations. For a mere two extra dimes, you can blast your unholy towering swirl of sugary chocolate or vanilla soft serve with any mix of 10 "flavor bursts," from butter pecan to blackberry to a chemical-tart, neon-green apple that is almost awe-inspiring in its trashiness. It tastes like a childhood ill-spent and fondly remembered. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
7. Dairy Queen
5605 SE Division St., 503-235-0238. dairyqueen.com. 11 am-9:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.
We had: Royal Rocky Road Blizzard, cherry dipped cone, Dilly bar, hot fudge sundae with nuts, Oreo Blizzard.
This Division drive-thru has barely changed in 47 years. I know this because my parents met up there so they could make out on Mount Tabor, and because I carb-loaded there before soccer games at Franklin High School across the street. One thing that has changed is the view of the high school. Once the most picturesque ode to secondary education in the city, Franklin's marvelous façade is now partially obstructed by the monstrous wall of the newly built athletic center. Fortunately, the soft serve on hand is still singular: creamy, sweet and inoffensive. It's even better in a Blizzard. JORDAN GREEN.
8. Mike's Drive-In
1707 SE Tenino St., 503-236-4537;
3045 SE Harrison St., Milwaukie, 503-654-0131;
905 7th St., Oregon City, 503 656-5588;
mikesdrivein.com. 10 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday,
10 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday,
11 am-10 pm Sunday.
We had: Strawberry soft serve (99 cents).
Mike's Drive-In really wants to give you soft-serve ice cream. Usually only 99 cents a cone or free with the purchase of a basket meal on family night, it's difficult to leave Mike's without soft serve in hand. I bought the strawberry soft serve and was given almost double the amount compared to a $3.95 cone at Back to Eden Bakery. The dairy-rich, no-frills glob of pink unicorn poop I got from Mike's inspired a wave of nostalgia for the homey Midwestern dairy barns and diners of my childhood. RUSSELL HAUSFELD.
14021 NE Glisan St., 503-255-0750, ringsidegrill.com.
We had: Strawberry custard sundae ($7.50).
Very few people know this, but there are some rich people in Gresham. And when those rich people want a bloody steak after playing 18 holes, this is where they go. Originally branded RingSide East and mirroring the stuffy West Burnside steak house, this clubhouse restaurant at the Glendoveer Golf Course rebooted last year. Instead of focusing on chocolate mousse and creme brulee, the Glendoveer location has a soft-serve frozen custard machine and makes sundaes. The custard itself is less rich than most and had some crystals, and RingSide was out of shortcake, so we got a makeshift version with super-sweet roasted strawberries and pillowy toasted marshmallows. MARTIN CIZMAR.
10. Sunshine Tavern
3111 SE Division St., 503-688-1750, sunshinepdx.com. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday, noon-11 pm Saturday, noon-10 pm Sunday.
We had: Soft serve ($6) with magical shell ($2), pie crumble ($1) and sprinkles ($1).
We had the misfortune of catching Sunshine Tavern's soft-serve machine early in the day, so the melty consistency of the sundae was excusable. The flavor was not: tinny and insubstantial on the tongue, dried out by the pie crumble (aka ground graham crackers) and sprinkles, which should not cost $1. Some redemption can be found in the magic shell, a generous pour of hot fudge that serves as a counterpoint to the watered down vanilla base. JORDAN GREEN.
2217 NE Alberta St., 503-477-5022;
Southeast Division Street and 28th Place (cart);
backtoedenbakery.com. Alberta: 8 am-10 pm daily. Division: 10 am-6 pm
Sunday-Wednesday, 9 am-9 pm Thursday-Saturday.
We had: Vanilla-chocolate twist ($3.95).
Soft serve has a pretty high floor. And so there is nothing terrible about Back to Eden's options: vanilla and chocolate. We included this option so people living a plant-based lifestyle have an option. The vanilla-chocolate twist cone I tried was creamy and melted in my mouth, leaving a sugary film coating my lips like you would expect of average soft serve. RUSSELL HAUSFELD.