As the weather gets hotter there’s no better way to cool off than with a refreshing milkshake. With summer right around the corner I decided to fulfill my monthly journalistic due diligence by exploring four of Southeast Portland’s best milkshakes with my tasting team of Franklin High School juniors Lev Michaels and Donagh Palmer. Together, in my blue prius, we set out on a journey that would redefine how we looked at Portland’s dessert scene. We tried four of Southeast’s finest shakes including Salt and Straw, Burgerville, Fifty Licks, and Dairy Hill.
#4: Salt & Straw
Salt & Straw has made a name for themselves when it comes to strange flavors and long lines. Milkshakes, on the other hand, are rarely associated with the popular ice cream shop and perhaps for good reason.
Salt & Straw boasts an environment that says ‘keep Portland weird’ but in an obnoxiously posh manner. The Salt & Straw milkshake is priced at $10.95, by far the most expensive shake on our list. “$10.95 for a milkshake? Who am I? Bill Gates?” Said Michaels upon seeing the price. Customers can make a milkshake from any flavor on the menu, although I can’t imagine who would want to spend $11 on an ‘Arbequina Olive Oil’ shake. Taking into consideration the pricey investment, we played it safe and chose Chocolate Gooey Brownie as our flavor of choice.
While visually appealing, the shake did not live up to its price. Michaels commented on the anti-climactic nature of the purchase by saying, “It’s insanely expensive for them to just put ice cream in a blender and call it good.” Perhaps we didn’t choose the right flavor, but Michaels was correct; it tasted like we were just drinking half melted ice cream. “The chocolate flavor was almost solid. It made me feel like I was slurping up the mud in a dog park after a spring rain, but overall it was enjoyable,” Palmer proclaimed.
Throughout our numerous trials we found that the straw had a proud impact on our final impressions. For Salt & Straw, “the straws were lacking in quality and crumpled easily,” remarked Palmer. The paper straws were indeed ineffective unless you assumed the role of a human vacuum machine. The displeasure launched us into a full on sugar fueled attack on Salt & Straw. “They replaced good cheap ice cream with stupid expensive inane flavors which are an insult to the customer,” said Michaels, “If Salt & Straw is the Lebron of Portland then I’m Skip Bayless.”
Despite Michael’s ranting and the unfulfilled expectations, the milkshake wasn’t anything horrible. If you go to Salt & Straw we would just recommend you stick with the ice cream and signature waffle cones.
When it comes to plain and simple, Burgerville gets the job done. With an earnest fast-food setting, their milkshakes are hard to critique and taste especially good after bombing an AP test you didn’t study for.
After leaving much of the AP Physics 2 free response section blank or littered with random scribbles, the tasting team and I rewarded ourselves with a trip to Burgerville. The chain offers a number of classic flavors including Sweet Cream, Classic Chocolate, Fresh Strawberry, Mint Patty, Hazelnut, and Portland Cold Brew. Each flavor also offers a non-dairy, plant based “Bliss” option. 12 oz shakes come in at $4.39, and 16 oz at $5.49.
I always go with Classic Chocolate; it’s a sure bet and never disappoints. The thick chocolate goes especially well with a side order of fries for dipping. Palmer commented on the Mint Patty shake saying, “It had a nice thickness and consistency. The flavor reminded me of the fresh smell of mowing over mint in my backyard.” He was even satisfied with the chocolate pebbles which “added to the overall experience.”
Unfortunately the straws were not up to par. “It’s a solid milkshake for its price, but the cheap straw makes it almost undrinkable,” said Michaels. Despite the adversity, he did manage to finish his Strawberry shake.
We love Burgerville for its more affordable prices and wide array of options. Burgerville is a testament to the fact that you don’t need pretentious mismatched flavors to create a solid milkshake.
#2: Fifty Licks
A toned down, but still snobby version of Salt & Straw, Fifty Licks lived up to the milkshake hype. With flavors made for matching, the ice cream parlor delivered a simple, tasty shake.
Fifty Licks allows customers to mix usually two, but up to three flavors in order to create their personalized shake. The tasting team took a risk combining Oregon Strawberry with Coconut Lemon Saffron, a venture which proved to be controversial. While the flavors didn’t blend perfectly, the combination was exciting and refreshing. Palmer once again voiced a horribly vivid opinion; “Good sweetness, but the lemon saffron sat on my tongue like a wet paper towel.” Michaels and I enjoyed the combo more, and as a team, we decided that since it was our decision to mix the flavors we had to be polite with our scores.
To Fifty Lick’s credit, the straws were paper and functional. We found that because milkshakes are so thick, straws become integral to the tasting process. No one wants to ‘drink’ a milkshake with a spoon; then you are literally eating melted ice cream. The shake was $8 and honestly not that different in quality from Burgerville, but the straw really set it apart.
We would be excited to go back and try to forge better flavors, maybe with three flavors next time. Just be careful what you mix!
#1: Dairy Hill
Dairy Hill is altogether an unexceptional ice cream store, but their milkshakes hold a special value. Unlike Fifty Licks or Salt & Straw, Dairy Hill is much more on par with Baskin Robbins’ modest, classic take on ice cream.
We didn’t go in with high expectations, and were frankly a bit disappointed when we saw a medium milkshake was $8, but our mood quickly turned for the better. Dairy Hill has three specialty shakes: Extreme Coffee, Nutty Buddy, and Black Forest. After a moment of debate we chose the Black Forest version which as described on the menu is “Bordeaux cherry ice cream with hot fudge and chocolate sprinkles, whipped cream and cherry on top.” The shake was much larger than any other we had received, justifying its price.
After a few minutes of contemplation Palmer made his assessment saying, “The marrying of chocolate and cherry flavors elicits the feeling of putting the final piece in a strenuous jigsaw puzzle.” “It’s good; 7.5 out of ten,” said Michaels. The texture was perfect, and to be fair to Palmer, the chocolate sprinkles did add a nice touch to the subtle sweet cherry flavor. The large size left us all satisfied. Even the straw, albeit plastic, delivered!
We like that Dairy Hill didn’t leave room for their patrons to make stupid decisions when it comes to combining flavors. Instead they take the initiative to make their own creative shakes that actually are tasted and approved. We are already thinking about a time to go back and try the nutty buddy (peanut butter, rocky road, banana shake). For us, Dairy Hill easily took the cake, or should I say, the shake!
At the end of the day, the tasting team reached an important conclusion; milkshakes are best consumed with some fries or a full meal. Going to ice cream parlors and ordering milkshakes just doesn’t feel right. Why would I want to blend perfectly good ice cream into just a slush of its previous form? For this reason, the tasting team decided that milkshakes should only be ordered alongside a nice meal at a fast-food restaurant or diners. However, our search was not to find the most satisfying shake, we were looking for the very best which ultimately led us to this important conclusion.