Friday, August 24, 2018

SS Frutas Plantain Chips

SS Frutas is an international food importer and distributor.  They work with farms in South America to harvest "exotic" fruits to bring to other countries.  Their main products are plantain and yucca chips.

As a lover all snack foods, and chips in particular, I was eager to try them.  I didn't find the yucca variety, which would be my top pick, but I did try the plantain chips in several varieties.
"Gluten-free, nutritious and delicious vegan plantain crisps. They are a good source of potassium without artificial colors, added flavors nor preservatives."
If this matters, yes, they are vegan, gluten-free, etc, etc.  They market them as a healthy snack, but I was fairly surprised to see that the single serve bags had 440 calories in them, much, much higher than your average bag of potato chips.  Interestingly, the Naturally Sweet ones have considerably more protein (and sugar obviously), than the other varieties.

SS Frutas makes 3 varieties: Salted, Spicy, and "Naturally Sweet". They all contain simple ingredients: plantains and oil for the Naturally Sweet, plantains, oil, and salt for the Salted, and plantains, oil, salt, and spices for the Spicy.

The result?  Yup, plantain chips.  No more, no less.
The salted were ...  well, plantain chips, salty ones.  Crispy, banana-like yet starchy, fried.  Decent thickness, not broken up, not too oily.  Salty.  Not much to say here.  I think my favorite of the two kinds I tried, but I really needed something to dip them in to satisfy.
Naturally Sweet.
The naturally sweet were ... well, sweeter plantain chips that weren't salted?  I'm not sure what I was expecting really.  Again, just crispy, fried, banana-eque chips.  Kinda sweet.  But not dessert.  Not sure where these would fit into my life.  Not sweet enough to be a dessert item, but certainly not what I wanted with a savory meal.  Meh?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

King Kone

Update Review, August 2018

I only discovered King Kone in 2017, but I was blown away by my two visits that year (see my original review, below).  So when it was time to visit my family in New Hampshire in the summer of 2018, I had a clear priority: King Kone.  We needed to stop while en route to my parent's house on the way back from Boston.  No question.  I was sad that I wouldn't be returning via Boston (headed to Montreal after NH), and thus, would have only one opportunity to visit.

I made the most of it.  And after visit #3, I can say ... it is still the best soft serve I've ever had.  And my frequent ice cream eating mother agrees.  It really doesn't get better than this.   Texture and  consistency are just spot on every time, ridiculously creamy.  The flavors that aren't fake or cloyingly sweet, but are intense in the right ways.  Perfection.

The lineup on our visit this time featured 4 new flavors, all of which sounded interesting to me, plus their standard vanilla and chocolate.  The full lineup:
  • Banana 
  • Strawberry
  • Bananaberry (Banana & Strawberry Twist)
  • Maple
  • Pistachio
  • Maple Nut (Maple Pistachio Twist)
  • Vanilla 
  • Chocolate 
  • Twist
I sampled banana, strawberry, maple, and pistachio before ordering my full size item, as I was interested in all 4, plus, they really do make the best vanilla ever.  All were good (more below), and  I settled on two flavors ... but they weren't ones available as a swirl, so I asked to have them layered one on top of each other, like they had always done for me before.  No go.  I even said they had done it before, but they said it was against the health code.  Boo.  
Maple & Vanilla, Crunch Coat, Kiddie.
So I got in a cup, with a cone on the side, and just scooped it into the cone and made myself a small cone, and then another cone, and another ... It actually turned out to work great, as it was it wasn't a big melting disaster that I had to frantically lick, I could make little cones, and let the other melting ice cream melt into the bowl.  I didn't mind doing this at all, and in some way, might have even preferred it.

I also got the crunch coat, because I adore that stuff.  I again adored it, it added a fun texture, color, sweetness, everything.  I wish I could buy this stuff, and that more places had it instead of just sprinkles!  It didn't work quite as well when not on a cone though, because it mixed in rather than staying on the outside.  Still great texture, but, mixed in, which was just different.  It also meant that I ran out of it, but that happens with normal cones anyway.  So my future suggestion to self?  Get extra crunch coat on the side, to keep dipping my self-made cones.  And, um, just ask to buy a cup of just crunch coat to take with me?

Anyway, the ice cream.  All 4 flavors I sampled, and both that I picked, were basically creamy ice cream perfection.  The texture is just incredible, soooo creamy, and it melted perfectly.  Love it.  All were sweet, but not too sweet.

I decided on maple and vanilla.

The maple was a really interesting flavor, not anything like the delicious but very sweet intense maple creamee from Mac's Maple.  It was an entirely different maple experience, sweet, and yes maple, but it tasted more like maple pecan almost?  My mother and I both got this flavor, and both enjoyed it.

I mixed with vanilla to tame it just a bit.  The vanilla was classic soft serve, just, perfected.  Sweeter than most, but not in a fake way.  Creamy, just, incredible vanilla soft serve.  It doesn't get better than this.

As I hoped, the two flavors balanced each other nicely.  I was very happy with my choices.

Other flavors sampled:

Banana: Well ... yes, this was banana soft serve.  It was creamy, it was intensely banana flavored, and not in a fake way.  The fact that they use real fruit and infusions rather than powders and syrups was evident.  It was a good banana flavor, and probably really good with chocolate dip or chocolate soft serve, for a "chocolate dipped banana" kind of thing.   But I don't love banana flavor, so this one wasn't for me.  I appreciated its intensity ... for someone else.

Strawberry: This was very good.  My second choice to the maple, but I really didn't think strawberry and maple would go together, so, I opted for maple and vanilla instead.  I don't generally go for strawberry ice cream (usually hard serve ... not something I see often in soft serve), but, this was fruity, creamy, sweet, and really quite tasty.  With the banana it really was strawberry banana, reminded me of Starbursts candy of my youth.  If it wasn't for the maple that I liked more, I would have gladly gotten a vanilla and strawberry mix, with topping, and been quite happy.

Pistachio: This didn't taste like pistachio at all to me.  I can't really pinpoint what it tasted like, and it was a fine taste, just, not really pistachio.  It was definitely fine, the ice cream creamy, but not a top pick since I liked the others more.

Original Review, 2017

I have a serious love of soft serve ice cream - the real stuff, the kind you find at little New England roadside ice cream stands, the places that are only open in the summer.  I have my favorite spot in my home town (Dairy Twirl!), and although I've tried all the others around there, I don't often find myself seeking out new ice cream places around town during the limited time I'm on the east coast in the summer.  Dairy Twirl is good and reliable, and most places don't really match the quality.

But on my recent trip home, I wanted to find a place for my mom and I to stop for ice cream on our way to Boston, when she returned me to the airport.  I did a bunch of research, looking for somewhere right off the highway.  That was an easy requirement, but, I also wanted somewhere that would be awesome.  And I found it.

King Kone, in Merrimack, NH.
King Kone!
King Kone was everything I wanted it to be.

Easy to take a slight detour to from the highway, adorable, and, well, delicious.  My mother, who is even more of an ice cream aficionado than I am, said it was the best soft serve she's ever had.  After several visits, I completely agree.

The ice cream is creamier, smoother, and more flavorful than any other ice cream shop I have visited.  It is also sweeter, and I think I'd prefer the sweetness toned down a bit, but, it is still the best I've ever had.


King Kone is located on the side of the road, right off the highway (Route 3), down the street a bit further from a handful of fast food establishments.  It has been there longer, more than 40 years.
Old-School Signage.
Everything about King Kone is old-school, starting with the sign, complete with a ice cream cone man wearing a crown, aka, the King Kone?

They take cash only, by the way.
Parking and Side View.
King Kone has some parking, but on our visit (3:30pm on a warm Friday afternoon) the lot was entirely full.
Front Window, Seating.
King Kone is a classic ice cream stand, with no interior space, just a window, with signs out front, and some picnic tables.

And yes, it is shaped a bit like a castle, you know, for the king.
Picnic Tables.
The space out front has a single set of picnic tables, and a little space to mill around, but not much else.  Many people seemed to take their ice cream back to their cars, but I'm always such a disaster with sprinkles falling off and ice cream running down my arms, that going inside a car is risky business.  Luckily, we grabbed a spot at the table.

The neighboring properties all have signs asking you to respect their space, and in particular, not come sit on their grass.  I feel bad for the neighbors, but, yeah, King Kone doesn't have much space.


King Kone features soft serve using a unique base from Oakhurst Dairy from Portland, Maine, rather than Hood or any of the larger scale bases used by most other ice cream shops in New England.  They use all natural extracts and emulsions to craft the flavors rather than just syrups.  They care, a lot, about the quality of the ice cream, and it shows.
King Kone does have a little bit of food in addition to ice cream offerings: hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs, tacos, and chili.  I didn't see anyone ordering them though.

Ice cream is obviously the focus, soft serve only.  No hard serve, no frozen yogurt, no dairy free options, etc.  Just soft serve ice cream.

Ice cream is available as a cone or dish, in "standard" sizes (kiddie, small, medium, large) with a small assortment of toppings: rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, "crunch coat", and three types of dip (chocolate, cherry, peanut butter).  Sundaes are also available, with a few liquid toppings (hot fudge, strawberry, butterscotch, pineapple), as are "Razzles", soft serve with mix-ins blended in, and basic ice cream sodas and frappes.
Flavors for the Week.
King Kone offers 5 flavors at a time.  They have 3 soft serve machines, each of which holds two flavors.  One always contains classic vanilla and chocolate, available as a twist.  The other 4 slots are filled with 3 flavors of the week, plus another vanilla or chocolate slot for a twist with one of the weekly specials.

If you ask for a sample, you are given a very generous sample, on a sundae spoon.

Visit #1: May 2017

On my first visit, our options were:
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Twist (Vanilla/Chocolate) 
  • Peach
  • Peaches & Cream (Peach and Vanilla Twist)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Banana
  • Peanut Butter & Banana Twist
Peanut Butter & Vanilla, with Crunch Coat, Kiddie. $2.85.
I love peanut butter soft serve, so I certainly had my eye on it the moment I read the flavors of the week.  But, the "Peaches and Cream" mix also sounded good.  So I asked to sample both the peach and peanut butter.  Both were good, but I knew they wouldn't combine well.  The peanut butter had the edge, so I went with it.

However, I didn't want *just* peanut butter, but it was on the same machine as banana, so my options were peanut butter, or peanut butter and banana twist.  I asked if I could have vanilla and peanut butter, and I was told no.  I specified that I didn't want them twisted, and suggested just one on top of the other.  It is always interesting to me to see how different places handle multiple flavors, the response is really different everywhere.  Some places won't do it for the smallest sizes, but will for others.  Others, like J.P. Licks let you pick two and they do a single layer of each, and others, like my favorite Dairy Twirl in my hometown, allow you to pick even three (yes, in the smallest size!) or if you pick two, they layer them twice.  Here, the person taking my order was amenable to trying to do two flavors, so I asked for vanilla on the bottom, peanut butter on top, which she did with no problem.

Both flavors were incredibly creamy, rich, smooth, ice cream.  They melted perfectly in the hot weather.  No ice crystals, just, absolutely perfect texture.

The vanilla was very, very good.  It wasn't a boring vanilla, it had some real flavor to it, but, it was sweeter than most.  The peanut butter had nice flavor, you could taste the peanut butter, but, it wasn't the most intense I've had, and it too was a bit sweeter than average.  My mom also commented that her flavors (chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, in a dish), seemed to have more sugar than usual.

I had no idea what "Crunch Coat" was, but the image on the sign showed something crunchy, so I was very excited to try a new cone-friendly topping.  I love having sprinkles on my cones because I like having something on the cone, but, sprinkles aren't exactly delicious on their own.  Crunch Coat also includes rainbow sprinkles, for a pop of color too!

I'm still not entirely sure what Crunch Coat is ... it seemed to be candied peanuts, mixed with the sprinkles?  But the nuts were coated in something more than just regular candied nut coating.  It was really crunchy, flavorful, and very sweet.  The chunks are bigger than sprinkles, so the eating experience is even more fun than just regular sprinkles.  On a hot day though it was a bit hard to deal with, I think the weight of the crunch made it slip down faster than sprinkles, so I had to lick very fast.  It was also really a bit too sweet, at least, it was when combined with the sweet ice cream.  Still, I really liked it.  (Side note: I didn't grow up in Dairy Queen world, but, apparently, this is something they serve too?)

The rainbow sprinkles were good, and, like other reviewers had said, they aren't the same generic brand most places have.  Better colors, a bit crunchier, less waxy, less like plastic.

The cone was a standard Joy cone, full size.  Many places use smaller cones for kiddie cones / baby cones / x-small, but here, it was a regular full size cone, containing far more ice cream than I am accustomed.  It was not stale, but obviously just a standard Joy cake cone, which I never actually want (I like to lick ice cream from a cone, but I never actually like the cones).  Luckily, I had a spoon left from my tasting that I was able to use to extract the plentiful ice cream from the cone.

I went with the kiddie cone, and it was a fairly large cone.  Not a monster or anything, but certainly not what you'd want to give a 5 year old, particularly because of the usage of a regular cone as the base, rather than a special smaller one.  I wasn't actually particularly hungry when we arrived, so it was a bit more than I wanted, but on a normal day, I think the quantity would be just right.

Overall, this was a success.  I was glad to have two flavors of ice cream when I got a bit sick of one, and I'd happily get either again.  I liked both my coatings, and I'd get them again too - the crunch coat because I really liked the experience of eating it, the sprinkles because I love sprinkles.

A kiddie cone is $2.85, with each topping $0.35.  I liked that they charge differently for toppings on different sizes, aka, for a medium ($4.50), each topping is $0.50 instead.  It makes sense to charge based on consumption, it just isn't something I've seen before.

Visit #2: July 2017

I was back in New Hampshire several weeks later, and, I planned my transit back to Boston to include a stop at King Kone.  My mom did not object.

Our flavors this time were:
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Twist (Vanilla & Chocolate Twist)
  • Lemon
  • Cake Batter
  • Lemon Lush (Lemon and Cake Batter Twist)
  • Mint
  • Mint Chocolate (twist)
As before, the flavors all sounded great, so I tried a few, and then made my decision.  As before, all were good, and I would have been happy with any.  The flavors were all good, the texture perfect.
Vanilla & Mint, with Crunch Coat, Kiddie. $2.85.
I liked the lemon.  I liked the cake batter.  But the mint was my favorite of the weekly specials.  Not content to pick just one flavor, and not wanting chocolate (the swirl option), I decided to ask for vanilla too (I didn't think mint and lemon or cake batter would mix very well, and, well, they make a seriously good vanilla).

Last time I asked for two flavors, my server had never done it in a cone, but was more than willing to try it.  This time I was told no.  I could do it in a cup, as a side by side.  But not a cone.  I pressed, saying I had it that way once before.  I still got a no.  Two different servers got involved, and each told me no.  I probably looked like I was going to cry or something, because, they finally agreed.  I asked for mint on the bottom and vanilla on top since I wanted the crunch coat again and thought it would go best with the vanilla, but, she made it backwards.  At least I got my two flavors though?

The mint was, uh, minty?  A really nice mint flavor, refreshing, creamy, perfect.  It didn't go great with the peanuty crunch coat though, and would have been better with chocolate sprinkles or chocolate dip probably.  Or in the bottom of my cone, as I intended.

The vanilla was again fantastic.  A simple flavor, but so well done.  So creamy.  Seriously, most creamy soft serve I've ever had.  It melts perfectly too.  I loved it, particularly with the crunch coat.

I'm sold on crunch coat.  I think it adds a great texture, sweetness, and fun.
Vanilla / Chocolate Swirl, with Peanut Butter Dip, Kiddie.  $2.85.
A companion went for classic vanilla chocolate swirl, but ... he added my favorite type of dip: peanut butter.

I demanded a try.  If King Kone's ice cream quality, and sprinkle quality, was much higher than everywhere else, I hoped that their dip too would blow my mind and exceed expectations.

The dip was good, but, it was like most other dip I've had.  No better, no worse.

One thing we did notice is that dipped cones were taller and thinner, with more of a peak, whereas coated cones were shorter and wider, with no tip.  I wonder if this was intentional, or, just coincidence based on my other two.

Other Flavors:
  • Cake Batter:  This was a great flavor, it tasted like good cake, not fake.  But it was very sweet, too sweet for me at the time.  Perhaps swirled with another flavor it would be less intense?
  • Chocolate:  I'm not one for chocolate ice cream in general, but when Ojan couldn't finish his cone, I tried it.  It was ... well, chocolate ice cream.  Not for me, but I loved how creamy it was, like all the others.
  • Lemon:  As I've said many times, I don't like lemon desserts, so you wouldn't even expect me to give this one a second glance.  But, I loved the lemon at Dairy Twirl, so, I wanted to give King Kone a try.  It was very good.  Lovely lemon flavor, slightly tart, but still fairly sweet.  Creamy and perfect texture like the others.
  • Peach: Great texture like the other flavors, sweet, creamy, a bit fruity.  I liked it, but I opted for other flavors instead that I liked even more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Queues de Castor / BeaverTails, Montreal

I arrived in Montreal, for a very quick 2 day business trip, driven by my parents from their home in New Hampshire, since I was visiting them prior.  The plan was to drop me at hotel, get a snack, and for them to get back on the road, with a 3.5 hour drive ahead of them.  I presented a few options to my mom, all the things I wanted to check out, that I thought might appeal to them.  Poutine.  BeaverTails.  Soft serve dips.  Both my mom and dad were very clear.  They wanted the BeaverTails.  Soft serve they have all the time.  They really were not into the idea of poutine.  But fried dough?  That was their style (and, in fact, when I was at their house, they quasi-seriously proposed driving to the nearby town, 35 minutes away, to attend the summer fair, each pay $10 to get in, *just* to get fried dough.  Its a very rare treat for them).
So, to BeaverTails we went, called Queues de Castor in Quebec, because, French.  The location we visited was in Old Town, hence the stone front.

What is a BeaverTail?  Yes, it is just fried dough.  No different from what you find at any fair, beach boardwalk, amusement park, or ballgame concession stand.  The inspiration for the "Snowshoe" desserts I had my first time to Canada, at The Crazy Canuck, in Waterloo.  But not something they have easy access to in rural NH.  And with a name that makes my mom giggle.  "I just want to say I ate a BeaverTail!", she said, several times excitedly.  

BeaverTails is a chain throughout Canada, started in the 1970s in Ottawa, for a fair.  It is now a large franchise, with about 140 locations, mostly throughout Canada, and a few in the US.  BeaverTails does have a few other items on the menu, all things I do like: fries, poutine (of course), and "Beaverdogs", pastry wrapped hot dogs, but from what I can tell, most people don't get those things.  BeaverTails and nothing else.  Or maybe ice cream, from the co-located ZooMoo ice cream parlour, with gelato, hard ice cream, frozen yogurt, and vanilla/chocolate soft serve.

I'll admit I was tempted by the sundae option though, with ice cream base, sauces and other toppings, and, balls of fried dough surrounding them.  I nearly went for that option, but decided I had no reason to believe their soft serve would be any good.  BeaverTails it was.
Trio of BeaverTails: Avalanche (minus Skor), Classic, Apple Cinnamon.
We each ordered one BeaverTail, and sampled each others.  There were only 9 options, no ability to craft your own, nor to add your own toppings.  That was always my favorite thing at the summer fair, loading on the powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, and Bavarian cream to different sections as I pleased.  Here I had to pick just one, and someone else would do it for me.

I really didn't know which to select, as options ranged from very simple cinnamon and sugar to creations with spreads and toppings, and the classic things I grew up with, powdered sugar and Bavarian cream, were not options.  Many had chocolate hazelnut spread or chocolate components, which I didn't opt for, since I didn't want caffeine.  I was fairly tempted by the "Coco Vanil", which is actually the Oreo one, not for the crushed Oreos on top, nor the drizzle of chocolate sauce, but for the vanilla icing.  I saw one kid nearby with it, and it looked melty and tasty, and I considered getting it just without Oreos and chocolate sauce, if they'd let me.  I was also tempted by the "Killaloe Sunries", classic cinnamon and sugar, but also, lemon to boost it up a bit.  But that seemed boring, and I knew my father would go Classic, and share.

They were handed over immediately after I completed payment, topped to order, the pastries fairly fresh, as there was a steady stream of guests.  We each sampled all three, but mostly stuck to our own choices.

All were fine.  Not memorable.  I don't see a reason to return.
Outdoor Seating.
There is no seating inside, but outside are a handful of tables.  It was very windy when we were there, and our napkins, and those of everyone else around us, kept flying away.
Classic: Cinnamon & Sugar.
"A sprinkle of cinnamon & sugar."

My father is a traditional man, and his food choices are not adventurous.  Cinnamon and sugar was all he wanted.  He made a good choice, and my mom admitted she wished she had followed his lead.  It was well coated with cinnamon and sugar.

It also gives the best view of the pastry, oblong, not too thick, not too fried, not bad like the base funnel cake at California's Great America theme park.  Just very basic, very generic, fried dough.  No reason to rave about it, no reason to take a bite and throw it out.  It was what it was.
Apple Cinnamon.
 "Apple pie filling with whole apple slices and caramel sauce."

My mother opted for the one that sounded the least good to me: apple cinnamon.  I expected apple gloop from a can, and, well, that is exactly what it was.  Exactly like my horrible experience being lead astray by the Yelpers who encouraged me to get the Apple Pie version at the funnel cake stand at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.  Lots of goo, soft mushy generic apple slices.  Tons of toppings, very sweet, and totally dominated the pastry.

She was clearly quite disappointed, and tried to be a trooper, saying "it tastes like apple pie ...", and, after sampling it myself, I said, "yeah, like gas station apple pies!", and she sadly said yes.  She didn't finish it, and gave it to my dad, who clearly didn't want it either.

This was the loser of the group.
Avalanche (Minus the Skor®).
"Cheesecake spread, Skor® bits, and caramel sauce."

I went for the "Avalanche", the most crazy sounding, at least by name.  I was seconds away from ordering the Oreo one just for the vanilla icing, and realized that I could get this one without the Skor instead, and still have a creamy sweet white topping, plus caramel.  I was trying for something as close to Bavarian cream as I could get!  The person taking my order didn't seem phased at all by my asking to have the Skor left off (which I only did because of the chocolate, I do love toffee!).

Mine was ... ok.  I'll admit I was fairly sad at first, but it grew on me.

The bare ends and edges gave me a chance to sample the pastry on its own.  I appreciated that was it was decently warm (not super fresh and piping hot, but not cold), and that it really wasn't too oily.  It almost had a hearty taste to it, which surprised me.  It was thin and not super puffy inside nor crispy outside, but it was fine.

The "cheesecake spread" was the part that needed some expectations re-setting before I started liking it.  It didn't taste anything like cheesecake.  It tasted just like sweet frosting.  Which, since I was tempted to get the Oreo one with its vanilla icing, really wasn't a problem.  Sweet frosting, sure.  Generic drizzle of sweet caramel? Sure.  Much like my mother's, it was loaded up with topping, and very sweet.  Once I was ready for sweet, and "generic sweet", I liked it, but it certainly wasn't cheesecake, and it certainly wasn't high quality.

So overall, fine.  I think my favorite of the three, although the cinnamon sugar was a close second, just, totally different.
Queues de Castor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato