In the beginning, there was froyo.
Frozen yogurt was the start of the "create your own dessert" trend, in which customers could go into shops, dispense hefty servings of cold stuff into tubs and top it with any toppings they desired. Then the craze slowly faded, as everyone realized they'd rather just down a pint of ice cream instead.
So when Memoz Dessert Cafe opened earlier this year, promising customers the chance to build their own dessert, it was fair to be skeptical. But upon entering the red-accented, 28-seat cafe, it becomes clear this is a much different experience.
The brainchild of Seattle native Aaron Allina and his wife, Julie, Memoz doesn't emit the homogenous ambience of seemingly every other eatery promising a customized experience. Instead, the space has a charming intimacy and, on our visit, was filled with families eagerly indulging in sweets or waiting patiently for their creations over a game of Uno.
The customizations begin by choosing from a selection of cookies or pastries, many of which are gluten-free or vegan and took only minutes to bake. From there, two tablespoons' worth of mix-ins are added from a list of over 40 options that include mint chips, caramel bits, blue cheese, black pepper and sweet corn. Finally, you can finish off your personalized concoction with Baked Alaska, ganache or flat icing at an additional price.
It's a fun process. But getting it right takes some experimenting. So we decided to whip up three strange combinations, to see if we could stumble upon Portland's next great dessert.
Dessert 1: The Tamale Boy from Bedrock
The first dessert began as a raw scoop of what was destined to become a peanut butter oat cookie. It was ferried down the counter to the next phase of the operation, where mix-ins are selected. These included M&M's, Fruity Pebbles, smoked almonds and Hot Tamale candies which were rolled into the dough, forming a vibrant mass that made its way to the oven. After taking only minutes to bake, ice cream was added to the toasted cookie and caramel drizzle made for the final touch, if only because it came at no further cost.
The Fruity Pebbles had grown soft and chewy in the oven's heat, and the M&Ms dissolved to form a sticky confection among the ice cream. The Hot Tamales, though a contentious choice in the moment, complemented the sweet structure by adding the slightest hint of spice to each bite. Structurally, the smoked almonds gave the cookie a reassuring foundation that ensured it wouldn't melt into a soggy heap.
Dessert 2: Sarah Palin’s Chocolate Explosion
The second dessert was crafted with more foresight, combining M&Ms and peanut butter chips with brownie batter. Poured in a mold and placed in the oven, it was then topped with Baked Alaska, Memoz's most popular topping, if only because of its 'Gram-worthy appearance post-blowtorch.
Unlike the cookie before it, the brownie held its shape and proved to be densely rich with chocolate, just as our servers predicted. A classic dessert of the Gilded Age in its own right, the dollop of Baked Alaska was a dessert in itself. The brownie disappeared in a flash.
Dessert 3: The Ice Cream Uni-Corn
Our final creation consisted of cinnamon-and-sugar pull-apart bread. Contained within the bread was a mixture of sweet corn, black pepper, orange slices and peaches, and it was topped with vanilla ice cream from local Heartbreaker Neighborhood Kitchen and a coating of coarse sea salt. The combination of orange slices and peaches made for a saccharine taste equally matched by the corn and ice cream, while black pepper stood out as an aromatic attribute. The peculiar union of flavors proved that, at Memoz, you can't go wrong no matter what you choose.
EAT: Memoz Dessert Cafe, 3494 N Williams Ave., 503-477-6030, memozcafe.com.
10 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 10 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.