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Review: Ruby Jewel Ice Cream

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Review: Ruby Jewel Ice Cream

Ruby Jewel on N Mississippi Street

Joshua Liberles

Ruby Jewel Scoops out the Local Flavors

Ruby Jewel started off as an all natural ice cream sandwich brand in 2004 when Lisa Herlinger-Esco crammed homemade ice cream between a variety of different kinds of fresh batches of cookies. Those ice cream sandwiches made quite the splash at Portland farmers markets, and before long they were distributed all over the West Coast.

Lisa's sister Becky Burnett came on board in 2010, and the first Ruby Jewel Scoop shop opened its doors on the hip Mississippi Ave in North Portland. A second shop opened two years later in the West End, and Ruby Jewel has carved out a space very much at the center of Portland's relatively recent "farm-to-cone" craze.

Flavors range from well-crafted renditions of classics to more adventurous offerings (such as chevre with chocolate cherry, a seasonal flavor offered when we visited). There are seven excellent constants that have stood the test of time -- vanilla bean, Oregon strawberry, double chocolate, fresh mint flake, caramel with salted dark chocolate, honey lavender and espresso -- as well as two rotating cow-free, vegan options and five flavors that change seasonally.

In keeping with Portland's foodie and keep-it-local vibe, just about all of the ingredients in the ice cream comes from relatively close by. Lochmead Dairies provides the cream base, just as it does for Salt & Straw, and other ingredient providers include Willakenzie Lavender, Nossa Familia Coffee, Rogue Spirits and Freddy Guy Hazelnuts. The ingredients are fresh -- and it shows in the ice cream.

Diving into the Flavors

The first thing you'll notice upon reaching the counter is the servers' eagerness to serve up some samples -- so don't be shy. After exploring several -- including a salted black licorice that reminded me a subdued version of the potent Scandinavian candies I like so much and an excellent, very flavorful chocolate sorbet -- I decided to keep the flavor journey going. Ruby Jewel offers a six-serving flight for just $6; that has to be the dessert deal of the century.

The flight was more than enough for two and could satisfy three, although my girlfriend and I had no trouble licking the six kids'-sized bowls clean. For regular flavors we selected the:
Cardamom -- on the mild side with a vanilla base and a nice, light spice
Oregon strawberry
-- a terrific version of a classic flavor, and a blast of summer flavor in frozen form
Espresso
-- great, robust coffee flavor, and the ice cream base seemed a little richer than other varieties
Double chocolate -- a good standard, but a little sweet for us, and not rich enough for the "double" label

And we chased these with two seasonals:
Chevre, dark chocolate and cherry -- the chevre blended into the cream added extra richness most of the the other flavors lacked as well as a great savory quality
Chocolate orange marzipan -- the marzipan seemed to add more sweetness than almond flavor, and the orange was so subtle it was tough to detect

Overall it was a fun, flavorful experience, and we left happy and bursting at the seams. Several of the ice cream flavors were a little on the sweet side for me, and sometimes elements of the concoctions were hard to pull out because of that.

Gourmet, but Kid Friendly

One element that's often lost in Portland's gourmet food scene is family- and kid-friendliness. That's an area where Ruby Jewel shines -- the decor is cool, but certainly child-inviting, and half the customers I see in there tend to be kids. Also, while I mentioned that some of the flavors were sweet for my palette, I'm pretty sure that's how most kids want their ice cream.

The reasonable prices don't hurt on that front, either. Kid sizes are $2; Singles are $3 and Doubles are $5. Homemade waffle cones are an extra $1. And don't forget one of Portland's real dessert deals: $6 for a flight of six kid scoops! Sundaes are $6.

Made-to-order ice cream sandwiches, featuring any flavor ice cream served between two double chocolate, chocolate chip or lemon cookies are a reasonable $4.

The family that ice creams together...

Joshua Liberles

Ruby Jewel Breakdown

Pros:

  • Inventive seasonal flavors complement the tried-and-true classics

  • Ingredients are all natural, top quality and predominantly local

  • Gourmet, local ice cream at reasonable, kid-friendly prices

Cons:

  • Several flavors could be richer and less sweet for me

  • Crowded in the summer (of course!)

Ruby Jewel's Basics:

  • Ruby Jewel is located at 3713 North Mississippi Avenue in North Portland and 428 SW 12th Avenue in the West End.

  • Website: rubyjewel.net

  • Phone: 503-505-9314 (NoPo Scoops) and 971-271-8895 (West End Scoops)

  • Cuisine: Great homemade ice cream and accompanying baked goods

  • Average tab per diner: $3

  • Hours: Sunday - Thursday, Noon-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, Noon-11 p.m.
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