Summer is finally here! Maybe?
Honestly, with this finicky Pacific Northwest weather, it's hard to tell. Generally, though, July 4 represents the official start of the warm-weather months in Portland, which also heralds the start of frozen confection season. It's the time of year when natives and tourists alike descend like a swarm of ravenous mosquitos on a handful of better-known and often mediocre places to devour whatever cold snack is on trend at the moment.
Skip the lines. Hell, skip the ice cream altogether, if you prefer. Instead, check out a few of Portland's finest but lesser-known frozen delicacies. We've culled the list for you here:
Cendol at Gado Gado
Combine a pile of snow cone-consistency ice, palm sugar syrup and coconut milk, then add green gummy worm-like, pandanus-flavored noodles made from tapioca and rice flour, and you have cendol, Southeast Asia's favorite frozen sweet. The dessert has been mostly MIA in Portland until recently opened nouveau Indonesian hot spot Gado Gado had the guts to put it on its menu. This version includes some soft pieces of jackfruit, red beans and freeze-dried corn kernels. Weird, yes, but also sweet, refreshing and entirely sensible when the temp hits 90. Gado Gado, 1801 NE César E. Chávez Blvd., 503-206-8778, gadogadopdx.com. 5-10 pm Wednesday-Monday.
Paletas at Ome Calli
A Beaverton strip mall doesn't exactly evoke the feeling of a Mexican plaza on a hot summer's eve, but that should not keep you and your brood from channeling the vibe. In plazas throughout Mexico, families sit under shady trees with a frozen popsicle in hand to beat the heat. Those popsicles, or paletas, begin with the likes of zapote negro, a black fruit with a deep brown sugar flavor, guanabana (soursop) that tastes like a cross between banana and pineapple, and mamey, which tastes of papaya and sweet potato. All may be exotic in Portland, but are common south of the border. Ome Calli, in a tidy spacious storefront with adjacent parking, sells these and many others, along with ice creams in equally uncommon flavors such as elote, horchata and cotija cheese. Ome Calli, 12795 SW Canyon Road, Beaverton, omecalli.com. Noon-8:50 pm daily.
Gelato at Pinolo Gelato
In Italy, gelato and its dairy-free cousin, sorbetto, are elevated to high culinary art. That's the firmament from which Southeast Portland's Pinolo Gelato and its affable proprietor, Sandro Paolini, sprang. Originally from Pisa, Paolini is a quality obsessive who engineers every batch using fresh fruits from impeccable sources, including his own customers' yards. His simple flavors, such as fior de latte, straccietella (Italian chocolate chip) and hazelnut (using only Piedmontese nuts) are simply wonderful. It's the seasonal sorbettos, like never-too-sweet frozen versions of fresh-picked fruit, that leave every other local shop in the dust. Champagne mango, strawberry enhanced with elderflower and lemon-basil were recent hits, but order whatever you might find at local farmers markets. Pinolo Gelato, 3707 SE Division St., 503-719-8686, pinologelato.com. Noon-9 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; noon-10 pm Friday-Saturday.
Baobing at EC Kitchen
After crushing a savory Taiwanese specialty or two—the housemade sausage is divine—a giant bowl of Taiwanese shaved ice (aka baobing) is your next power move at EC Kitchen. The portion is ample for two or three overheated warm-weather diners and runs $8.75. The texture of the machine-shaved-to-order frozen base is halfway between granular snow cone ice and powdery Hawaiian shave ice. Sweetened condensed milk is added next, followed by a choice of toppings. For summer, go with strawberry or mango (or a combination of the two), and don't forget to ask them to add tapioca balls, the same chewy stuff that comes at the bottom of a glass of Taiwanese milk tea. EC Kitchen, 6335 SE 82nd Ave., 503-788-6306, eckitchenllc.com. 11:30 am-8 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 1-6 pm Sunday.
Shave Ice at Wailua
It may lack an ocean view, the laid-back vibe, and range of island flavors typical of its Hawaiian counterparts, but the frozen treats at Wailua Shave Ice are no ka oi by Portland standards. The key is ice that's shaved in a specialized machine to the texture of fresh-fallen powder, which is then compacted just so by hand. It comes out sort of like a matzoh ball—tight enough to hold its shape, but loose enough to permit generous measures of natural fruit flavoring to seep all the way through to the center, then down to the bottom of the dish for a cooling slurp or two. Each of the short slate of luscious combinations is priced at $6.50. The Lava Flow, with pineapple, strawberry and coconut, is the most popular, though we like Da Mango One, which adds a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk to the fruit flavor. Wailua Shave Ice, 1022 W Burnside St. (inside Union Way arcade), 808-652-9394, wailuashaveice.com. Noon-8 pm Monday-Thursday, noon-9 pm Friday-Sunday.
Ice Cream at Cool Moon
For conventional ice cream, we've long loved Cool Moon best. Though its original owner sold out in the recent past, the new operator has mostly charted a steady course—save for the abandonment of the Real McCall, a multiscoop tribute to a couple of Oregon icons, Gov. Tom "Visit, but Don't Stay" McCall and Farrell's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor's Portland Zoo. The chocolate flavors are more Valrhona than Hershey's, and there remains a solid core of unusual—but consistently creamy—naturally flavored and well-balanced offerings. Definitely order the kulfi, redolent of cardamom and rose water, Thai iced tea and Mexican-influenced horchata cookie. Cool Moon, 1105 NW Johnson St., 503-224-2021, coolmoonicecream.com. Noon-10 pm daily.
Soft Serve at East Wind Drive-In
We can see the emails now: "Dear WW: What's with all the fancy pants commie weird shit? It's the 4th of July, fercrissakes!!!" Well, for the Trumpistas out there, we have something for you, too. For that nostalgic Americana feeling perfectly calibrated to Independence Day—or any hot summer occasion, really—meander east through the Gorge in your 2,000-pound death machine. After checking out Multnomah Falls, the Bridge of the Gods and the sturgeon at Bonneville Dam, swagger over to the East Wind Drive-In. It's a been-there-forever throwback to '50s burger joints and shake shacks serving soft serve cones taller than a toddler. It's not gourmet, but it is still better than most of the trash the lemmings will line up for in Portland. Order your cone with flavorburst, stripes of fluorescent, Jolly Rancher-style flavorings applied to the swirls of soft serve as it's dispensed from the ice cream machine. East Wind Drive-In, 395 Wa Na Pa St., Cascade Locks, 541-374-8380. 7 am-6 pm Monday-Friday, 7:30 am-6 pm Saturday-Sunday.