Stand in Line for Some Sweet Cold Treats at the New Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw serves up unique flavors (Courtesy of Salt & Straw)

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of high-end ice cream. Dessert is often best without too many bells and whistles, and I've found myself repeatedly underwhelmed by the many highly touted ice cream spots.

The new Salt & Straw, however, did not disappoint.

Yes, even at 9 p.m. on a Monday, there was a line. And yes, two single scoops (one cone, one cup) and a small brownie sundae cost $24 total after tip. But if you can afford the time and the money, it's worth it.

The line at Salt & Straw's new Fillmore location.
The line at Salt & Straw's new Fillmore location. (Kelly O'Mara)
The serving bar and flavors.
The serving bar and flavors. (Kelly O'Mara)

Started in Portland in 2011 by Kim and Tyler Malek, Salt & Straw has four locations there, five in Los Angeles, and now one (soon, two) in San Francisco. The first Bay Area spot opened on Fillmore Street two weeks ago, with a second location expected later this year in Hayes Valley. The appeal for that long line out the door is in the high-quality ingredients, typically sourced from local purveyors like Sightglass Coffee and Dandelion Chocolate here, and the handmade one-of-a-kind flavor combinations. Most famously that's included things like pear and blue cheese, or Oregon ham soft serve -- neither of which are available in San Francisco yet. The duo has also partnered with breweries and even school kids to create new flavors.

Most notably, they've created locally-inspired limited time flavors that change monthly. For San Francisco in April that includes: cinnamon ancho and cajeta, with goat cheese from Tomales Farmstead Creamery; green apple mayo sherbet, made with apple juice from the Sierra Nevada foothills, apple cider vinegar from Sonoma, and Berkeley olive oil; cascara shrub with candied hibiscus, from coffee bean and apple cider vinegar shrub from Berkeley; strawberry coriander leaf sorbet, with a coriander leaf essence from Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes; and caramelized almond s'mores, made with Annie's graham crackers and Feve Artisan Chocolatier almonds.

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The store, itself, also has local touches, with designs from local artists and a shelf of treats or odds and ends you can buy.

Carmalized almond s'mores
Carmalized almond s'mores (Courtesy of Salt & Straw)

We tried the carmalized almond s'mores. The bite from the caramel and the salt of the almond mixed perfectly with the chocolate and graham crackers. More than many s'mores flavors at other ice cream shops, you could really taste the graham crackers, which added a nice after-taste.

Salted honey marshmallow and walnuts in a fresh cone.
Salted honey marshmallow and walnuts in a fresh cone. (Kelly O'Mara)

While the speciality flavors attract all the attention, don't ignore the classics, which take up the other half of the chalkboard menu. These include things like salted ganache, and sea salt with caramel ribbons. My favorite flavor was the classic salted honey marshmallow and walnuts. It was a perfect blend of salty and sweet.

Plus, waffle cones are made fresh behind the counter -- and smell as delicious as they taste. You can order a single ($5) or double scoop ($7), split your scoops among different flavors, and add extras like sprinkles, salt, or a fresh waffle cone. If you really can't decide, tasting flights of four flavors for $11 might be the way to go. They come in four small glass bowls on a board, much like a beer tasting flight.

Or, simply order a pint out of the freezer and skip the line. You can also join the Pints Club to have five pints of the seasonal flavors delivered straight to your door.

Pints are available
Pints are available (Courtesy of Salt & Straw)

The last thing on the menu are the special sundaes and shakes. The brownie sundae seemed like a good test of an ice cream shop standard. We tried it with their doublefold vanilla, handmade brownies, hot fudge, and hazelnuts. That sounds like a huge dish, but it wasn't. It came in the regular-sized small cup, with the brownie packed at the bottom. While it was rich and filling, it was probably my least favorite of the things we tried -- just because the bar for unique flavor combinations was so high.

I had been prepared to be underwhelmed, but instead was impressed by the fresh and creative ice cream. Get yourself in line.

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Salt & Straw
2201 Fillmore St., San Francisco [map]
(415) 829-2803
Hours: daily, 11 am. to 11 p.m.
Facebook: Salt & Straw Ice Cream
Twitter: @saltandstraw
Instagram: SaltandStraw
Price range: $$ ($5/scoop)

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