When we hear the word manifesto we usually think of history class, not ice cream. But Chad Drazin, the creator of Portland's Fifty Licks ice cream, swears by his two part manifesto—"purity of flavor" and "texture above everything else"—and we're grateful for it. His French-style custard-based ice cream is some of the best in Portland.
Each flavor that makes its way on to the menu has to have the "potential to be new classic some day," Drazin says. His flavors are creative, but simpler than those scooped at legendary Portland ice cream shop Salt & Straw. Most balance two elements, like his Blood Orange Creamsicle which pairs a lightly tangy buttermilk base with a blood orange ribbon running through it, or his fresh-tasting Raspberry ice cream, which is sweetened with local honey.
Until a few years ago, Drazin was simply a lover of ice cream who had never sold a pint. After a rough year working for a real estate company in Florida during the housing bust in 2007, Drazin went looking for "a simpler life," he says. A diehard Portland fan, he packed up his life and moved 3000 miles. He toyed with the idea of becoming a furniture maker or returning to beer brewing, which he had done years before, but eventually settled on ice cream. He wanted to do for ice cream what he says local business Stumptown did for coffee: "capture everybody's imagination."
He got to work developing his flavors and ice cream style. His first try, an avocado ice cream, was a flop, but he quickly figured out his formula, which involves small batch production, local ingredients, and a French egg custard base, which creates a creamy and slightly soft scoop. "I've thrown away lots of flavors because I couldn't get the texture right," he says. "My criteria is: If I go back and eat from the freezer I know it's a winner."
In 2009 he bought a truck which he toted to events and outdoor festivals. He added a second one two years later and eventually he went brick and mortar, opening a small brightly lit shop in the Southeast part of the city last August. Throughout, Drazin has stuck to his manifesto, and it comes across in the store's rotating list of seven or so flavors of ice creams and sorbets like his exceptionally creamy Coconut Lemon Saffron sorbet. With a hint of cardamom in it, it wouldn't be out of place in the midst of a fancy meal.
While most of the scoops at Fifty Licks come in house-made, gluten-free waffle cones lined with raspberry preserves, Drazin also likes to mix his sorbets with something a bit harder. His cold sorbet cocktails served in vintage champagne coups come in flavors like the Japanese-inspired Velvet Shiso, which features coconut lemon saffron sorbet with a Shiso leaf, plum wine, and sparkling Reisling. Also on offer is the Nordic Palmer: lemonade sorbet floating in a pool of sparking iced tea made by a local mead company. If you're looking for a jolt, order his Affogato Cubano made with a strong shot of sweet and bitter Café Bustelo and a scoop of his toasted milk ice cream, which has nice Graham cracker taste to it.
With flavors changing seasonally, we're excited to see what's coming next.
About the author: Devra Ferst is the food editor at the Forward newspaper and a freelance food writer. When she's not writing, she can be found in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen. Follow her on twitter @devraferst.